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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

‘Right now I’m scared’: CDC director warns of a coming spike in Covid-19 cases

As Covid-19 cases begin to spike again in the U.S., CDC Director Rochelle Walensky issued an urgent plea to Americans yesterday to continue following public health measures. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now I’m scared,” said Walensky. Positive Covid-19 cases have increased by 11% compared to the previous seven-day period. Hospitalizations and deaths, a lagging metric, also rose, by 4% and 3%, respectively. There are two possible drivers: A more transmissible and seemingly deadlier variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7, is gathering steam, and states have tossed rules proven to reduce transmission. Hours later President Biden urged states to restore mask mandates.

Real-world study confirms mRNA vaccines' efficacy against Covid-19

There are clinical trials, and then there’s the real world. New Covid-19 vaccine data confirm the very high efficacy of both the Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in health care workers, first responders, and essential workers — people whose high risk for coronavirus exposure placed them at the head of the line for vaccination shortly after emergency authorizations were granted late last year. Among nearly 4,000 study participants in six states from December to March, the risk of infection was reduced by 90% two or more weeks after vaccination. Following a single dose of either vaccine, the risk dropped by 80% two or more weeks later. Crucially, it also showed the vaccines cut risk of all infections, not just in people with symptoms. Read more.

Post-lockdown, fewer people sought medical care for asthma attacks

Three new studies document a drop in doctors’ visits and hospital admissions for asthma attacks last year compared to pre-pandemic numbers. One study in England found 20 fewer episodes for every 100 patients with asthma requiring a doctor’s visit but hospital admissions were unchanged. In Scotland and Wales, emergency hospital admissions fell by more than a third post-lockdown; there was no significant change in asthma deaths. In South Korea, hospital admissions declined not just for asthma but also for pneumonia, flu, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The observational studies can’t prove cause and effect, but the researchers speculate that mask-wearing, social distancing, lower pollution, and fewer cold viruses circulating may have helped people keep their asthma under better control.

Inside STAT: Facing data gaps on trans populations, researchers turn to health records 

Until 2015, most digital health records allowed physicians to enter only a patient’s sex, with only three options: male, female, or other. By ignoring the complex relationship between sex and gender, those limited choices can harm trans and gender diverse patients both psychologically — as they are repeatedly misgendered or deadnamed by providers — and physically, if a record fails to recommend screenings for cervical or prostate cancer, for example. They also leave population health researchers without information to build evidence-based clinical practices that support trans and gender diverse people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. Now researchers are developing tools to help identify trans and gender diverse patients based on signals hidden in their electronic health records. STAT’s Katie Palmer explains.

Consulting Dr. Google isn't all bad, survey finds

Doctors who cringe when patients describe searching the internet to diagnose their symptoms might want to pause before accusing them of “cyberchondria.” That’s the conclusion of a new, pre-pandemic study that asked 5,000 people to pretend their loved one had a medical issue, come up with an explanation, and rate their anxiety afterward — before and after searching. Googling slightly improved the accuracy of the theoretical diagnoses (from 50% to 54%) and didn’t elevate worries among the participants. When it came to deciding when or whether to see a doctor or go to a hospital, there was no difference. “Although the perceived harm of an internet search for health information may be unfounded, the potential benefits are also currently minimal,” the authors write.

New imaging technique could reveal molecules at smaller scales cheaply and accurately

Using a new type of hydrogel, MIT ENGINEERS DEVISED A way to IMAGe BIOLOGICAL SAMPLES DOWN TO A RESOLUTION OF 10 NANOMETERS. (ELLA MARU STUDIO)

Seeing life at the nanoscale could get cheaper. Using an ordinary light microscope, engineers have devised a way to accurately image biological samples such as viruses or human cells at the scale of 10 nanometers — without using electron microscopy or other more sophisticated instruments. To do so, they say in a new paper, they updated expansion microscopy, which enlarges tissue samples by embedding them in a polymer that swells when water is added. They inserted a herpes virus (and later kidney cells) into a new type of hydrogel that maintains a more uniform configuration than previous iterations, allowing for greater accuracy in imaging tiny structures. The low-cost, high-resolution imaging holds promise for understanding the structure and function of molecules.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 69,417
Deaths yesterday
: 701

What to read around the web today

  • The operation formerly known as Warp Speed: Biden leans heavily on the flagship Trump-era initiative. STAT+
  • WHO report: Covid likely 1st jumped into humans from animals. Associated Press
  • Covid vaccine hesitancy drops among all Americans, new survey shows. KHN
  • Why people keep asking which vaccine you got. The Atlantic
  • Humanigen says its drug keeps Covid patients off ventilators. But are some data missing? STAT+

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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