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This California company has a better version of a simpler, faster Covid-19 test

As some parts of the U.S. face weekslong delays in getting Covid-19 test results back, one California company seems to have a test that produce results in one to three days. The technique, called LAMP, is being championed by the company Color Genomics. LAMP relies on fewer materials and equipment than the common PCR tests that are being used elsewhere, but experts say that results are not always as sensitive or accurate as those from PCR tests. But Color Genomics says it has solved these problems, running up to 1,000 tests daily and already the company is responsible for almost half of the daily tests being done in San Francisco. STAT's Kate Sheridan has more here

Here's what else is happening with Covid-19: 

  • The House subcommittee tasked with overseeing the response to the coronavirus outbreak is holding a hearing today to consider how to safely reopen schools. The topic has proven contentious in recent weeks as the school year has already begun in some states and others look anxiously to the fall term. Today's event will feature former education secretary Arne Duncan, a Johns Hopkins public health expert, as well as school officials from Florida and Arizona. 
  • The American College of Physicians — a national organization of 163,000 internists — is calling for the MCAT to be waived for this year's admissions cycle for medical school. As I've reported before, there have been calls in recent months to waive the test or at least move it online instead of solely in-person — and some premed students have claimed they contracted Covid-19 after going to a testing center. "The ACP is concerned that mandatory MCAT testing in the midst of the current public health emergency will increase disparities in career opportunity among people of color and those of lower socioeconomic status," the statement says. 
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is planning on returning $101 million in insurance premiums and rebates that have gone unused as a result of the pandemic. “Since many elective procedures and routine visits have been deferred during the pandemic, our medical costs during the second quarter were lower than we originally anticipated,” CEO Andrew Dreyfus said in a statement.

U.S. adults report worse pandemic effects than those in other wealthy countries

People in the U.S. are faring much worse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic than those in other wealthy nations, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report that surveyed nearly 8,300 adults in 10 countries. Here's more:

  • Mental health: 1 in 3 people in the U.S. reported mental health concerns, compared to 26% of people in Canada or the U.K.
  • Economic concerns: More than 30% of U.S. respondents said they faced negative economic consequences such as being unable to pay rent or for food, compared to a quarter of those in Canada, and fewer than 20% of those in New Zealand and Sweden. 
  • Government response: Only a third in the U.S. thought the federal government's response was "good" or "very good," compared to 95% of those in Germany and 89% of those in New Zealand who said the same of their government.

Major health tech deal prompts questions over competition, industry's future

Telemedicine provider Teladoc Health yesterday announced an $18.5 billion deal to buy the diabetes coaching company Livongo, in what's being seen as the creation of the first true health tech giant. The deal comes as the pandemic has fueled an unprecedented demand for virtual care. And even though federal regulators have passed legislation to make it easier for patients to access telemedicine during the pandemic, the size of the deal and its implications still raise a lot of questions, including how regulators will perceive the merger. It's possible that there's regulatory pushback, experts say, but the deal may be green-lit because Teladoc isn't purchasing one of its competitors. There are other questions about what the merger will mean for traditional doctors as well as whether the joint company can move into Medicare and Medicaid. 

Inside STAT: How a Zoom forum is changing the way ICU doctors treat desperately ill Covid-19 patients

Essentially an artificial lung, ECMO can be life-saving for some of the most severely ill Covid-19 patients, but it has worrisome drawbacks. (ALEX HOGAN/STAT)

In recent months, dozens of critical-care doctors from around the world have gathered virtually on Zoom on Friday afternoons to discuss their dilemmas with a life-support technology known as ECMO — or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It's essentially an artificial lung that helps the sickest Covid-19 patients breathe when their lungs fail. Physicians are seeing an uptick of serious complications in patients on the machines, and the meetings have helped them find others with similar cases. In the absence of concrete answers on what may be happening, these Zoom meetings are now serving as an opportunity to figure out immediate solutions for those in need. STAT contributor Ron Winslow has more here

Use of a common antidepressant during pregnancy could lead to birth defects in newborns

Expectant mothers who use a common antidepressant during pregnancy may be likelier to deliver babies with birth defects, according to a new study. Up to 8% of pregnant women are prescribed antidepressants, and scientists in recent years have sought to understand how these drugs affect infants. And while birth defects are rare, venlafaxine, or Effexor, was linked with the most birth defects, including congenital heart defects. This association existed even after the scientists accounted for other underlying conditions. The study used data from two groups of U.S. women — over 1,500 mothers of babies with birth defects, and nearly 500 mothers of infants without congenital defects — who used one of six common antidepressants. The study doesn't establish cause and effect, so more research is needed to determine the role of specific antidepressants on birth defects.

Pregnancy rate doesn't differ between frozen and fresh embryo transfer, study finds

A small, new study finds that the pregnancy rate was no higher for women that underwent a frozen embryo transfer versus a fresh transfer. As embryo freezing technology for assisted reproduction has improved in recent years, many countries are moving toward a "freeze all" approach, in which women are encouraged to freeze eggs and embryos for later use. In the new study, 460 women from three European countries were randomly assigned to either the freeze-all group or a fresh transfer group, where eggs for creating embryos are retrieved up to five days before the transfer. The pregnancy rate and live birth rate of both groups were similar, between 27%-29% for both categories. Time to pregnancy was longer in the "freeze all" group, however, and both groups experienced similar rates of complications. The findings should warn against a blanket "freeze all" approach to embryo transfer, the authors suggest. 

Correction: Yesterday's item on fewer cancer diagnoses during Covid-19 incorrectly stated when the study began looking at data. The study looked at data going back to January 2018. 

What to read around the web today

  • Immunology is where intuition goes to die. The Atlantic
  • The truth behind a viral picture of a reopening school is worse than it looked. BuzzFeed News
  • Facebook, citing virus misinformation, deletes Trump post. Associated Press
  • America’s obesity epidemic threatens effectiveness of any Covid vaccine. Kaiser Health News
  • Major U.S. health insurers report big profits, benefiting from the pandemic. The New York Times

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Thursday, August 6, 2020


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