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Federal Agencies Use Facial Recognition from Private Companies, but Almost Nobody Is Keeping Track

June 29, 2021

(The Verge) – A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed near-total lack of accountability from federal agencies using facial recognition built by private companies, like Clearview AI. Of the 14 federal agencies that said they used privately built facial recognition for criminal investigations, only Immigration and Customs Enforcement was in the process of implementing a list of approved facial recognition vendors and a log sheet for the technology’s use. The rest of the agencies, including Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, had no process in place to track the use of private facial recognition. (Read Full Article)

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Fearing COVID, Struggling Malawian Women Forgo Prenatal Care

June 29, 2021

(Associated Press) – Officials say far fewer pregnant women in Malawi are getting the health care they need amid the pandemic, with many forgoing medical visits and relying solely on traditional birth attendants, who provide emotional support and administer traditional herbal treatments but are technically banned by the government from delivering babies because of their lack of formal training. Many families can’t afford clinic visits, or, like Maxwell, the transportation to get there; they also fear they’ll catch coronavirus in a medical facility.  (Read Full Article)

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Mental Health Toll from Isolation Affecting Kids on Reentry

June 29, 2021

(Associated Press) – After relentless months of social distancing, online schooling and other restrictions, many kids are feeling the pandemic’s toll or facing new challenges navigating reentry. A surge in teen suicide attempts and other mental health crises prompted Children’s Hospital Colorado to declare a state of emergency in late May, when emergency department and hospital inpatient beds were overrun with suicidal kids and those struggling with other psychiatric problems. Typical emergency-department waiting times for psychiatric treatment doubled in May to about 20 hours, said Jason Williams, a pediatric psychologist at the hospital in Aurora. Other children’s hospitals are facing similar challenges. (Read Full Article)

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India Signals Alarm About New ‘Delta Plus’ Variant

June 29, 2021

(Medscape) – Public health officials in India are sounding the alarm on another coronavirus variant, which they are calling “Delta Plus,” according to CBS News. The Delta Plus variant, which is a mutation of the widespread Delta strain first identified in India, could be more infectious and cause more severe COVID-19. Officials in India labeled it a “variant of concern” this week. The variant, also known as B.1.617.2.1, has led to an increase in cases in India, CBS News reported. It has also been detected in the U.S., U.K., China, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, and Switzerland. (Read Full Article)

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Delta Variant of Covid-19 Surges Across Unvaccinated Africa

June 29, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – The more-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is surging across Africa, the continent with the least vaccines and weakest healthcare systems, feeding fears among epidemiologists and political leaders of a public-health disaster that could echo the tragedy that unfolded in India in the spring. The speed of the takeover of the variant, which was first identified in India and is forcing governments around the globe to tighten restrictions on social and economic activities, has shocked health experts in Africa, a continent that—in part thanks to its younger population—has recorded fewer Covid-19 deaths than other regions. (Read Full Article)

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Why No One Is Sure if Delta Is Deadlier

June 28, 2021

(The Atlantic) – Other aspects of the virus’s unfolding bildungsroman, however, are much harder to forecast, or even get an initial read on. Researchers still don’t have a good handle on which variants might cause more cases of severe disease or death, a metric called virulence. And while a virus’s potential to transmit can sometimes heighten its propensity to kill, the two are by no means inextricably linked: Future coronavirus strains could trend more lethal, or less, or neither. We keep trying to pigeonhole specific variants as “more dangerous,” “more deadly,” or “more problematic,” but viral evolution is a humbling, haphazard mess—a plot-twisting story we have to watch play out in real time. “We cannot be complacent about ‘Oh, this is the end of the mutations,’” Akiko Iwasaki, a virologist and immunologist at Yale, told me. (Read Full Article)

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The COVID Pandemic’s Lingering Impact on Clinical Trials

June 28, 2021

(Nature) – For many regions in the United States, the biggest blows to clinical research came between March and May 2020. Trial enrolments plummeted at many medical centres as prospective participants shied away from risky trips to hospital, and research staff were either furloughed or co-opted to aid hospitals’ COVID-19 treatment efforts. Some trials were deemed too dangerous to continue. Bagiella recalls the decision to pause a heart-transplant trial: transplants, and the treatments for suppressing the immune system that often come with them, were especially risky during a pandemic. She adds that “operating rooms around the country became intensive care units”, so trials involving elective heart surgery were disrupted. (Read Full Article)

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New Alzheimer’s Drug May Be a Catastrophe in the Making

June 28, 2021

(Axios) – The FDA’s approval of a new Alzheimer’s treatment — the first one in almost two decades — should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, it has become a scientific and financial mess. Why it matters: Experts from all corners of the health care world fear the FDA’s decision will undermine medical standards, explode the federal budget and fill millions of desperate people with false hope. (Read Full Article)

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How Twitter Hired Tech’s Biggest Critics to Build Ethical AI

June 28, 2021

(Protocol) – Machine learning engineer Ari Font was worried about the future of Twitter’s algorithms. It was mid-2020, and the leader of the team researching ethics and accountability for the company’s ML had just left Twitter. For Font, the future of the ethics research was unclear. Font was the manager of Twitter’s machine learning platforms teams — part of Twitter Cortex, the company’s central ML organization — at the time, but she believed that ethics research could transform the way Twitter relies on machine learning. She’d always felt that algorithmic accountability and ethics should shape not just how Twitter used algorithms, but all practical AI applications. (Read Full Article)

 

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AP Exclusive: Diplomats Say China Put Squeeze on Ukraine

June 25, 2021

(Associated Press) – China pressured Ukraine into withdrawing its support for a call for more scrutiny of human rights in China’s western region of Xinjiang by threatening to withhold Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines destined for Ukraine unless it did so, diplomats told The Associated Press on Friday. Ukraine briefly joined a statement by over 40 countries, presented by Canada at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday, urging China to allow immediate access for independent observers to Xinjiang. Some human rights groups have alleged Chinese mistreatment of Muslim Uyghurs and others in the region. (Read Full Article)

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Over a Dozen Vaccinated Doctors Dead as Indonesia’s Virus Cases Surge

June 25, 2021

(Medical Xpress) – Over a dozen fully vaccinated doctors have died of COVID-19 in Indonesia, a medical association said Friday, as the Southeast Asian country battles a rash of severe cases in inoculated medical workers and highly infectious new virus strains. Infections have surged in the nation of 270 million people in the past week, passing two million cases on Monday as hospital occupancy rates soared to over 75 percent in Jakarta and other hard-hit areas. (Read Full Article)

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Delta Variant Triggers Dangerous New Phase in the Pandemic

June 25, 2021

(Science) – When the coronavirus variant now called Delta first appeared in December 2020, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, it did not seem all that remarkable. But when it descended on New Delhi a few months later, its impact was devastating, with almost 30,000 cases reported daily in late April. “Suddenly … it is dominant and completely sweeps away Alpha,” which until then was most prevalent in the city, says Anurag Agrawal, who leads the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi. New Delhi seemed unlikely to suffer a big new outbreak because so many of its residents had already been infected or vaccinated, Agrawal says. But those protections seemed to barely slow Delta, which is more transmissible and may evade immunity, he says: “It went from a 10-foot wall around the city to a 2-foot wall you could just walk over.” (Read Full Article)

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The Pandemic Led to the Biggest Drop in U.S. Life Expectancy Since WWII, Study Finds

June 25, 2021

(NPR) – A new study estimates that life expectancy in the U.S. decreased by nearly two years between 2018 and 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the declines were most pronounced among minority groups, including Black and Hispanic people. In 2018, average life expectancy in the U.S. was about 79 years (78.7). It declined to about 77 years (76.9) by the end of 2020, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. (Read Full Article)

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Africa Is Running Out of Oxygen

June 25, 2021

(NPR) – Hospital wards across Uganda are filling with COVID-19 patients as the country faces an aggressive surge in cases. One of the biggest issues have: a serious shortage of oxygen. Over the last month, the number of daily reported infections has increased tenfold, showing no signs of letting up. Cases have jumped from less than 100 a day in mid-May to 1,584 on June 18th. “ICU bed capacity is now full, almost at 100%,” says Willy Tabu, a physician based in Kampala who helps coordinate Mercy Corps response to the pandemic. And it’s not only beds that are a concern.Tabu says severely ill COVID patients need oxygen, but the supply just isn’t there. (Read Full Article)

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The Doctors Are Not All Right

June 25, 2021

(Vox) – Medicine is, ironically, a profession that punishes some doctors for getting mental health care. Many physicians work under intense pressure and are exposed to trauma on the job. A worrying number of doctors die by suicide each year. Yet structural barriers — enforced in part by medical boards and hospital systems — frequently discourage doctors from accessing care that could save their lives. One of those barriers is a fear of what can happen to doctors who receive treatment. In dozens of states, medical boards ask physicians sweeping questions about their health histories that would require them to disclose a diagnosis or treatment for mental illness. Similar questions come up when doctors apply for hospital credentials or insurance reimbursements. A disclosure can trigger a call to appear before the state board, a demand for medical records, or even a psychiatric evaluation. In the worst cases, doctors may be restricted in how they practice medicine or even lose their licenses. (Read Full Article)

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A Crucial, Overlooked Question on the New Alzheimer’s Drug: When Should Patients Stop Taking It?

June 25, 2021

(STAT News) – Doctors who care for Alzheimer’s patients told STAT it will be critical — and exceedingly difficult — to know whether the drug is working, and if it is, whether those effects are waning with time. It’s a risk-benefit calculus inherent in the decision to start or stay on any medication. But with a drug like Aduhelm, which comes with the risk of serious side effects and a steep price tag of $56,000 a year, the stakes are even higher. And that math is made only more complicated by the contentious debate over whether Biogen even showed enough benefit to warrant the drug’s approval. (Read Full Article)

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Seattle Scientist Digs Up Deleted Coronavirus Genetic Data, Adding Fuel to the Covid Origin Debate

June 23, 2021

(Washington Post) – An American scientist has incited a new skirmish over the origin of the coronavirus, reporting that he has retrieved potentially significant genetic data about SARS-CoV-2 that had been stored and later deleted from a digital archive at the National Institutes of Health. Jesse Bloom, a computational biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, posted his findings on the preprint server bioRxiv, where papers that have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a journal have been landing by the thousands since the start of the pandemic.  (Read Full Article)

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Hospitals Are Selling Treasure Troves of Medical Data—What Could Go Wrong?

June 23, 2021

(The Verge) – Healthcare organizations and hospitals in the United States all sit on treasure troves: a stockpile of patient health data stored as electronic medical records. Those files show what people are sick with, how they were treated, and what happened next. Taken together, they’re hugely valuable resources for medical discovery. Because of certain provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), healthcare organizations are able to put that treasure trove to work. As long as they de-identify the records — removing information like patient names, locations, and phone numbers — they can give or sell the data to partners for research. They don’t need to get consent from patients to do it or even tell them about it.  (Read Full Article)

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The Only Way We’ll Know When We Need COVID-19 Boosters

June 23, 2021

(The Atlantic) – To keep our bodies from slipping back toward our immunological square one, where the virus could pummel the population again, researchers are looking to vaccine boosters—another round of shots that will buoy our defenses. Around the world, scientists have already begun to dole out these jabs on an experimental basis, tinkering with their ingredients, packaging, and dosing in the hope that they’ll be ready long before they’re needed. When exactly that will be, however, is … well, complicated. Nearly all the experts I spoke with for this story said that the need for boosters is looking more and more likely, but no one knows for sure when they’ll arrive, what the best ones will look like, or how often they’ll be needed, assuming they’re part of our future at all.  (Read Full Article)

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WHO Identifies Issues at Russian Vaccine Plant

June 23, 2021

(Medical Xpress) – The World Health Organization said Wednesday it had uncovered problems at a Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine production site that Moscow insisted had been resolved. WHO approval has been sought for the Sputnik V jab created by Russia’s Gamaleya research institute, which is already being used in 40 countries. The UN health agency inspected four Sputnik V manufacturing sites. (Read Full Article)

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