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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

U.S. cities and states increasingly limit remote learning options for the fall

With Covid-19 cases dropping, parts of the U.S. are increasingly moving away from allowing schools to continue offering remote learning options in the fall, with New York City the latest to announce remote learning won't be an option. New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois have similarly said they will do away with remote learning altogether or limit virtual learning options. Proponents for in-person learning have cited the pandemic's toll on the mental health of children, while critics have lamented the lack of vaccine availability for younger populations. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one available for children as young as 12, which still leaves elementary school-aged children without a vaccine option. The vaccine manufacturers said they plan to seek authorization to use the products in children as young as 2 in September, which may come in time for the start of the school year in many states.

New ranking lists U.S. cities with most racially segregated hospital markets

A new ranking of 3,200 hospital systems based on racial inclusivity finds wide variation across many cities in the U.S. The study, which was conducted by the nonprofit Lown Institute, finds Atlanta, Chicago, and Manhattan were among the most racially segregated cities when it came to hospitals. For example, Manhattan's Metropolitan Hospital Center was ranked most racially inclusive, serving a patient population that is 77% non-white. Yet, people of color only make up 33% of the patient population at the nearby Lenox Hill hospital. At the same time, some top-ranking hospitals score low on racial inclusivity: For instance, Minnesota's Mayo Clinic earned the top honors from U.S. News & World Report, but was ranked at 2,516 on this new Lown ranking. 

Optogenetics used for the first time to help a blind patient see again

In a first, optogenetics — where light is used to control genetically modified neurons — allowed a patient who had been blind for the better part of four decades to see. In the study, neurons in the patient's retina had been genetically modified to express a light-sensitive protein usually found in green algae. With the help of black goggles that projected images of his surroundings as light beamed onto his eyes, the patient was able to recognize objects in his vicinity, including a black notebook. And while the patient was unable to see colors or fine details, the success of this early case paves the way for others to similarly be helped by optogenetics. Read more here

Inside STAT: A gene therapy opens a new chapter for children, but challenges endure


A box from the dose of Zolgensma that a patient with SMA was given two years ago. (Kayana Szymczak for STAT)

It's been two years since Zolgensma, the breakthrough therapy for spinal muscular atrophy, was approved. At $2.1 million, it is the world's most expensive drug. But for many families, it's worth it. Kids whose lives would have otherwise been cut short are living past age 2 (the usual life expectancy for SMA). They're also meeting milestones, including walking and talking, that would have once been impossible. But that doesn't mean the road has been easy — or that all kids can expect the same outcomes. “We really try to present a balanced profile that some kids will end up that way if they’re treated early enough, but many kids will only achieve certain gains,” Dave Lennon of Novartis, which developed the gene therapy, tells STAT's Andrew Joseph, who has the full story here.

Poison control calls increasingly are for manufactured cannabis products

U.S. poison control centers are increasingly getting calls for toxicity from manufactured cannabis products, according to new research. Using data between 2017 and 2019, researchers found two-thirds of these cannabis-related calls were for plant materials, while the rest were for manufactured products such as edibles and concentrates. The number of calls for these products also increased over time, from 11% of marijuana-related calls in 2017 to nearly 56% two years later. Calls about exposures to edibles most often involved kids rather than other cannabis products. Although most exposures for manufactured products didn't lead to serious medical outcomes, those that involved vaporized liquid were most likely to have serious consequences. 

Racial disparities persist with mental health diagnoses, new data show

A new analysis from Athenahealth finds that there are racial disparities in mental health diagnoses in the U.S. The analysis was based on data collected between May and December 2020, and includes more than 24 million patients. Overall, the study found that white patients were most likely to discuss their mental health with providers compared to those belonging to other racial groups. The largest gap was between white and Asian patients: white patients were 227% likelier to be diagnosed with anxiety and 213% more likely to have a depression diagnosis compared to Asian patients. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 25,925
Deaths yesterday: 640

What to read around the web today

  • How pharma’s lucrative patent system is complicating the pandemic. FiveThirtyEight
  • The drug trial that could actually produce Covid treatments. Wired
  • Lawmakers pitch a bill to create $30 billion in ‘biobonds’ to jumpstart drug development. STAT+
  • After India: The countries on the brink of another Covid oxygen crisis. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
  • Ro’s acquisition of Modern Fertility puts a spotlight on health tech’s gender gap. STAT+

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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