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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Good morning! Another reminder: Tomorrow is the deadline to enter our 2021 STAT Madness competition to choose the most exciting biomedical discovery or innovation of the past year. Details here

Biden's biggest Covid-19 challenges, starting on Day One

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President-elect Biden. (JIM WATSON/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The official U.S. death toll from Covid-19 has topped 400,000 people, more than the entire population of Tulsa, Okla. As STAT’s Helen Branswell notes, it’s also alarming that about 14% of those people died in January 2021 — “and we're not yet three weeks in.” Against that reality, the Biden administration faces challenges that start with pulling in FEMA and the National Guard to make vaccinations happen, a tactic more familiar during hurricane season. STAT reporters explain what's involved in all these urgent tasks, including changing minds on masks, improving a worn-down supply chain for just about everything, and boosting morale among burnt-out health care workers. More here

WHO needs a 'Chernobyl moment' to reform pandemic response, reviewers say

World leaders analyzing the leading global health agency’s response to the emerging coronavirus compared the current pandemic to the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. That deadly power plant accident and a subsequent government cover-up forced changes at the U.N. nuclear agency, former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said. Faulting both China and WHO for their weak reactions to the pandemic, they asked if this was a “Chernobyl moment” for WHO and the global health system. (China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying disputed whether China had reacted too slowly.) “The bottom line is WHO has no powers to enforce anything," Johnson Sirleaf said. “All it can do is ask to be invited in."

Covid-19 long-haulers, tell your story

“Long Covid syndrome” is the collection of lingering symptoms that plague people who have recovered from their Covid-19 infections but are far from returning to their normal lives. Dozens of clinics have opened across the U.S. to help people cope with brain fog, muscle weakness, numbing fatigue, mystifying loss of smell and taste, or depression. Medical experts still can’t explain or prevent the phenomenon, but they’re trying. In a new blog post, NIH Director Francis Collins urges “long-haulers” to contribute what they know to a patient-led survey. “It’s essential for us to learn all we can about how SARS-CoV-2 ... leads to such widespread symptoms. It’s also essential that we develop ways to better treat or prevent these symptoms."

Inside STAT: Welcome back to the global health stage, America

Over the last four years the world has witnessed a devastating erosion of American leadership on global health, Kate Dodson, vice president for global health strategy at the United Nations Foundation, writes in a new STAT First Opinion. From severely restricting access to reproductive choice for women, to initiating the U.S. withdrawal from WHO during a global pandemic, to sowing seeds of doubt about science, Dodson writes that the Trump administration retreated from global cooperation at every opportunity. President Biden can start to reverse that by immediately joining the world’s collective effort to get Covid-19 vaccine to everyone fairly, she says: “Equitable access to these tools is the fastest way to end the global pandemic and will enable the global and American economy to bounce back far faster than going it alone.”

Suicide rates falling in people with cancer, despite rise in overall trend

Over the past two decades, U.S. suicide rates have steadily climbed, reflecting disturbing upward spikes in deaths from opioid overdoses and guns. But in the same time frame, cancer-related suicide rates have moved in the opposite direction, going down 2.8% per year from 1999 through 2018, a new analysis says. Among the cancer patients who died by suicide, the most common diagnoses were lung, prostate, and colorectal cancer. The largest declines were among people who were over 65, male, living in urban areas, and who had prostate or lung cancer. The use of guns and opioids did not increase, unlike the overall population. The study can’t draw cause-and-effect conclusions, but the researchers suggest better psychosocial, palliative, and hospice care could be making a difference.

Reducing air pollution even more could save additional lives in Europe, study says

In some European cities, levels of air pollution meet air quality guidelines set by the EU and WHO, but they could do even better. Up to 52,000 premature deaths per year could be avoided by lowering concentrations of fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide even further below WHO guidelines, a new analysis says. Madrid had the highest preventable deaths attributed to nitrogen dioxide and Brescia, in northern Italy, had the highest levels linked to particulate matter. Scandinavian cities had the lowest mortality due to both types of air pollution. “With no evidence of a safe exposure threshold,” the researchers write, “current guidelines should be revised and air pollution concentrations should be reduced further to achieve a greater protection of health in cities.”

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 225,586
Deaths yesterday: 3,112

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Español: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

What to read around the web today

  • 'A tsunami of randoms': How Trump’s Covid chaos drowned the FDA in junk science. Vanity Fair
  • Rogue antibodies could be driving severe COVID-19. Nature
  • Elderly begin to drop out of Novavax vaccine trial to get Pfizer and Moderna shots. Washington Post
  • New CDC director pledges to speed vaccination, restore trust in agency. Wall Street Journal
  • A new investigation about who is dying from heat-related illness should be a wakeup call for America. Mother Jones

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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