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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

The U.S., now in its third surge, sees record-breaking weekend for Covid-19 cases

This past weekend, with distressing Covid-19 case totals, was not good for the U.S. Several states, including Kentucky, set records for the daily number of Covid-19 infections reported, while other parts of the country continued to post alarming case counts that haven't been seen since earlier this summer. Overall, the current case count in the U.S. stands at nearly 8.7 million, and the death toll is more than 225,000. 

Here's more of the latest on the pandemic: 

  • Two major studies of Covid-19 vaccines — from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — are set to resume after being paused for safety concerns. AstraZeneca stopped administering its vaccine to volunteers at the beginning of September after a participant developed neurological symptoms, while the J&J study was paused earlier this month after a participant had a stroke. Independent experts reviewed data from the trials and cleared them to restart. 
  • At least five people in Vice President Mike Pence's inner circle of advisers, including his chief of staff, have tested positive for Covid-19. Pence last tested negative yesterday, does not plan to quarantine, and will continue with his schedule ahead of Election Day next week.

MIT's Koch Institute launches search for new director 

MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research is looking for a new leader as Tyler Jacks, its founding director, is stepping down to return to research and teaching full-time. A cancer geneticist, Jacks has held the position for more than 19 years, both at the Koch Institute and its predecessor, the MIT Center for Cancer Research. Among Jacks' accomplishments during his tenure was overseeing the launch of many programs and centers, including the MIT Stem Cell Initiative. One of Jacks' next moves will be to continue work on the Bridge Project, a collaboration with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to address the biggest problems in cancer research and care. A committee led by MIT molecular biologist Philip Sharp will embark on the search for the next director of the institute. 

Universal mask use could save 130,000 U.S. lives by the end of February, new study estimates

A new modeling study finds that there could be half a million Covid-19-related deaths by the end of February next year, but universal mask use could save 130,000 of those lives. The study, from researchers at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, relies on a different method for modeling than in the past, one that calculates transmission based on a number of factors including the number of people susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 and how many get exposed. Previously, IHME's model used data from outbreaks elsewhere in the world to try and predict what might happen in the U.S., which then painted a rosier picture than what ultimately happened. And while exact numbers are hard to predict, “what should drive policy here is the difference between the scenarios with and without masks,” one expert tells STAT

Inside STAT: Can California afford stem cell research? Voters are set to decide

On the ballot for voters in California next week is Proposition 14, which would replenish funding for the state's ambitious stem cell research program. A "yes" vote on the measure would allocate $5.5 billion to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which was established after a similar ballot measure in 2004. Proponents of the current measure say that in addition to work on diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and other conditions, the added funding will also function as a job-creation measure and help secure California's place as a leading place for biotech startups. Opponents, however, say that with wildfires and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, California has more urgent needs. STAT's Usha Lee McFarling has more here

Kid YouTube influencers promote unhealthy foods through their videos 

Kid influencers — child YouTube stars who are widely followed — also generate millions of views for content that promotes consuming junk food, according to new research. Experts analyzed the most popular videos from 2019's five most-watched kid influencers, and found that the 179 videos that featured the stars consuming or playing with food and/or drinks were viewed more than a billion times, and generated 2.6 million likes on the video streaming platform. Most of the featured food was unhealthy branded items, such as McDonald's, while unhealthy unbranded items, such as hot dogs, made up the next largest share. Around 3% of the items featured were healthy ones, whether branded or unbranded, such as fruit or Yoplait yogurt. 

STAT turns 5!

(Mike Reddy for STAT)

This week we're celebrating the five-year anniversary of STAT, and to mark the occasion, our reporters took a look back at topics we've covered closely — from CRISPR to infectious disease to the opioid crisis — to recap the biggest headlines and controversies and examine the possible road ahead. Read their takes here.

I'll also be featuring in the newsletter some of our reporters and editors' favorite stories from over the years. I'm up first, and one of my favorite stories was published in July 2019, by Ruth Hailu, on how Fitbit and other tracking devices that monitor heart rates may not work as accurately for people of color. As Ruth explained in her piece, the technology the devices rely on to detect heartbeats does not work as well in those with more melanin in their skin. Why I like this piece: Ruth was among the first to report on this important disparity in the way the technology works, and highlights the ever-present problem of bias in health and medicine. Read the piece here.

What to read around the web today

  • Women were key to eradicating wild polio in Africa. Can they do the same for COVID? Marie Claire
  • The health of a nation: The story behind an Administration’s most enduring, and most contested, achievement. The New Yorker
  • She’s pregnant, she has COVID-19, and she can’t breathe. Los Angeles Times
  • Staffers flee HHS amid growing fears of a post-election exodus. Politico
  • Verily’s Covid testing program halted in San Francisco and Oakland. Kaiser Health News

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Monday, October 26, 2020

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