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'I think we are looking at a pandemic': When Covid  became real


(Alex Hogan/STAT; Photo: AP, Getty)

One year after the WHO officially declared a pandemic, STAT’s First Opinion editor Patrick Skerrett asked some coronavirus watchers when they knew the pandemic was about to unfold in a world unprepared for it.

  • For STAT's Helen Branswell, it was Jan. 24, when computational biologist Trevor Bedford exclaimed “Jesus!” during an interview in which she told him the total number of exported cases from China was 29, not 13. “If it’s not contained shortly, I think we are looking at a pandemic,” Bedford told her. 
  • For Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of vaccine developer BioNTech, it was late January when he was reading an article in The Lancet. “It became clear to me that this outbreak would not be limited to China.”
  • For New York emergency physician Uché Blackstock, it was in March when she donned full PPE for the first time since medical school. “I remember masking and gowning up at the beginning of that shift totally unaware of what was to come and feeling a sense of dread.”

Read more.

How Covid has impeded women’s STEMM careers

Eve Higginbotham, ophthalmology professor and vice dean of inclusion, diversity, and equity at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine (Courtesy)

The coronavirus pandemic has significantly impeded the careers of women in academic science, technology, math, and medicine fields, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. STAT’s Theresa Gaffney spoke with Eve Higginbotham, chair of committee that wrote the report.

What are some takeaways?
The vitality of the STEMM community is dependent upon the sustainability of women in STEMM. 

How will the pandemic affect women’s futures?
If institutions do not aggressively correct for this, then we will see fewer women being promoted to professor, to leadership positions. It’s just going to look like the 1950s again. So I would say that it would be the gender recession that we’re seeing in corporate America.

Read their full conversation here.

Covid depresses HIV testing and PrEP 

HIV testing rates and prescriptions for preventive treatment have both fallen during the pandemic, another example of medical conditions whose diagnosis and treatment have been disrupted by Covid-19. In studies presented at a conference this week, CDC scientists charted almost 700,000 fewer HIV screening tests and nearly 5,000 fewer confirmed HIV diagnoses from March through September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. They modeled a 21% drop in prescriptions for PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis — including a 28% decrease in new PrEP users from March through June. Those rates have rebounded from last year’s trough, but not to previous levels. “Strategies that deliver HIV testing and care in innovative, community-tailored ways will be critical to reversing these declines,” a CDC statement says.

Inside STAT: 'A wild year' for school nurses

School nurses have taken on unprecedented responsibilities in the pandemic, including contact tracing and symptom screening. Their role has taken on increased importance in the expanding U.S. vaccine rollout, from sketching out logistics of school-based sites to immunizing teachers and their communities at large. That’s on top of pre-pandemic duties, such as administering a child’s routine medication. Katherine Park and other school nurses in her St. Louis County, Mo., district are also helping out a full-time school contact-tracer by enforcing quarantine regulations for students who are out sick, calling the families of students who might have been exposed, and quarantining classrooms when necessary. “It’s been a wild year,” Park tells STAT’s Rebecca Sohn. Read more.

Lung cancer screening expands to more smokers

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has broadened its recommendations on who should be screened for lung cancer, lowering the age and amount of cigarettes smoked in a move that expands testing to hundreds of thousands more smokers. After reviewing its 2013 guidance, the group now says people 50 to 80 years old (down from 55) who smoked the equivalent of 20 cigarettes a day for 20 years (down from 30 years) should get annual low-dose CT scans. About 90% of lung cancer occurs in smokers; Black men have a higher incidence of lung cancer than white men, and Black women have a lower incidence than white women. The tests themselves are not without risks because false positives and overdiagnosis can lead to unneeded surgery and other treatments.

Locking away loaded guns isn't always enough

If you ask an adolescent how long it would take to gain access to a loaded gun in their home, the answer is not long: More than one-third say less than five minutes if unlocked and somewhat fewer — nearly one-quarter of the 13- to 17-year-olds — say the same amount of time if locked. In a national survey of 280 parent-child pairs with firearms at home, 7 out of 10 parents said their children couldn’t get to their guns, but some of their children disagreed: 22% said they could do so in five minutes and another 15% said they could do it within an hour. Advice to lock all household firearms should include this caveat, the authors write: "Locking all firearms does not necessarily prevent access."

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 57,417
Deaths yesterday
: 1,947

What to read around the web today

  • WHO study finds 1 in 3 women face physical, sexual violence. Associated Press
  • The pandemic can't end while wealthy nations hoard shots. Wired
  • The problem with the CDC’s six-foot rule for schools. New York magazine 
  • Elderly, vaccinated, and still lonely and locked inside. New York Times
  • ‘Does anyone have any of these?’: Lab-supply shortages strike amid global pandemic. Nature

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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