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LA County urges vaccinated individuals to continue wearing masks amid variant concerns

Due to the increasing prevalence of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, Los Angeles County health officials are asking people — even those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 — to mask up while indoors. Along with the rest of California, the county lifted its mask mandate on June 15, but has seen an increasing number of cases tied to the Delta variant — more than 120 in a two-week span earlier this month — which was first identified in India. LA County's urging also comes on the heels of similar guidance from the WHO, which last week recommended masks for vaccinated people as reports from Israel showed an increase in Delta variant cases among those who had received Covid shots. The CDC said that it does not plan to amend its guidance that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, but Director Rochelle Walenksy said yesterday that "local policymakers need to make policies for their local environment."

Breast and cervical cancer screenings dipped dramatically early on in the pandemic

In another sign of the widespread impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new CDC study finds that breast and cervical cancer screenings in April 2020 were only a fraction of what they had been in previous years. Breast cancer screenings last year dropped by 87% while cervical cancer screenings dropped by 84%, compared to previous five-year averages for the same time. These dips varied by communities, however: Breast cancer screenings fell 84% among Hispanic women, and 98% among American Indian/Alaskan Native women. Similarly, while cervical cancer screenings declined by 82% among Black women, they declined by 92% among Asian Pacific Islander women. The study's authors observed that these rates were beginning to recover by June 2020, but the forgone screenings may mean missed or delayed diagnoses and possibly worse outcomes.

Hospital prices for common drugs are much higher than pharmacy costs, new report finds

A new GoodRx report finds that hospital prices for common generic and branded drugs were several times more expensive than costs at pharmacies, and that there is a wide variation even among hospitals. The report looked at prices for a dozen medicines from 16 hospitals across the U.S. One hospital in Las Vegas listed the pre-discount price of one tablet of a generic version of Zoloft at $57, but a West Virginia hospital's price hovered around $0.50, a roughly 115% difference in price. Between hospitals and pharmacies, the report found the average cost of aspirin among the pharmacies studied was roughly $0.15 per tablet, but among the sampled hospitals, the average price per pill was $6. The report also found only six of the 16 hospitals examined adhered to new CMS rules mandating price transparency, which means that many patients could be shouldering high out-of-pocket drug costs without advanced knowledge. 

Inside STAT: Washington’s antitrust push could limit Amazon, Google’s health care ambitions


An overhead view of an Amazon delivery box with the company's logo shown upside down. (ADOBE)

A major antitrust initiative is brewing in Washington: House lawmakers last week advanced a package of bipartisan bills broadly targeted at giving regulators more tools and funding to limit tech companies’ monopoly power. The move comes as tech giants including Apple and Amazon have stated publicly their ambitions to transform the health space, even more so than they already have. One of the bills in the package would prevent big companies from buying up smaller competitors, a regulation that, were it in place already, may have prevented Amazon's purchase of the prescription service PillPack. Whether this and other bills in consideration will become law is unclear, but the ideas seem to have initial support from bipartisan groups of legislators. STAT's Rachel Cohrs has more from Washington for STAT+ subscribers here

Gene therapy to regenerate cardiac muscle after a heart attack passes a key test in pigs

In a new study, scientists described how they regenerated heart muscle damaged from a heart attack by injecting gene silencers into the cells. Working in pigs, whose hearts are very similar to humans', researchers designed three short RNA snippets to interfere with pathway that has been shown to influence the size of an organism. These snippets were then packaged inside a viral vector to deliver them to damaged, but still alive, heart cells. Three months later, pigs that received the treatment had more reproducing heart cells and less scarring than cells that weren't treated. And although the improvement in heart function was marginal, none of the treated pigs died, demonstrating the safety of a treatment that can cause unchecked proliferation of heart cells. More here.

$2 billion Gates Foundation initiative will include focus on improving family planning services

The Gates Foundation is investing more than $2 billion over the next five years to advance gender equity around the world, including for improving women's and girls' health. The biggest chunk of this commitment, which was announced as part of the Generation Equality Forum this week in Paris, is $1.4 billion earmarked for family planning and health. As part of this initiative, the Gates Foundation and partners will work on increasing options for and access to contraceptives and support for a network of family planning partners. A different initiative, focused on improving women's visibility in leadership roles, will use $100 million over the next handful of years to elevate women into high-ranking positions, primarily in health, law, and economics. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

New cases yesterday (two-week average): 11,073
New deaths yesterday (two-week average): 275

On this week's First Opinion podcast, First Opinion editor Patrick Skerrett is joined by Lizzy Feliciano, who struggled to help her brother find a program that could treat all of his mental health issues. Also joining the conversation is Chuck Ingoglia, the president and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, who shares the provider perspective on Lizzy’s situation and the state of mental health care in the U.S. Listen here.
Correction: Yesterday's item on a United Health Foundation report on health disparities misstated the Foundation's affiliation. The Foundation is affiliated with UnitedHealth Group. 

What to read around the web today

  • Forceps, breast pumps, IUDs: This exhibit puts motherhood on display. The Lily
  • Could editing the genomes of bats prevent future coronavirus pandemics? Two scientists think it’s worth a try. STAT
  • Damage to children’s education — and their health — could last a lifetime. Kaiser Health News
  • Prohibited, unlisted, even dangerous ingredients turn up in dietary supplements. The Washington Post
  • Calls grow for an investigation into FDA approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug. STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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