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U.S. Covid death toll crosses 600,000

The U.S. yesterday marked another grim milestone in the Covid-19 pandemic as the death toll passed 600,000. That figure is larger than the population of Milwaukee or Baltimore and is also roughly how many people died in the U.S. of cancer in 2019. The news comes even as the U.S. has made strides against the coronavirus in recent months, with both Covid infections and deaths steadily decreasing since the start of mass vaccination campaigns. And just yesterday, because vaccination goals were met, both New York and California lifted almost all restrictions that had been in place since the beginning of the pandemic. Yet, the pandemic worldwide is still far from over. The global death toll stands at close to 4 million and is likely to increase given the widespread lack of access to vaccines. 

Regeneron antibody saves lives in some hospitalized Covid patients, study finds

A monoclonal antibody treatment from Regeneron helped save the lives of hospitalized patients who hadn't mounted their own immune response against Covid-19, according to new data. This marks the first time that a Covid therapy has been shown to reduce mortality by actually targeting the coronavirus. Other therapies — including the steroid dexamethasone — work by tamping down the body's immune overreaction to the virus. In the nearly 10,000-person trial, the percentage of Covid-19 deaths in the group that received the antibody cocktail went from 30% to 24%. Regeneron's therapy, which is known as REGN-COV, is currently authorized for outpatient use, but the company plans to ask the FDA to expand the emergency use authorization to hospitalized patients. 

Q&A: The CEO of the Alzheimer's Association on the approval of Aduhelm

While many experts are still debating the FDA's decision to approve the Alzheimer's drug Adulhem, Harry Johns, who serves as CEO of the Alzheimer's Association, think it's time to move on from that conversation and focus instead on ensuring the drug can be accessed by those who could benefit from it. STAT's Andrew Joseph spoke with Johns for his take on the landmark approval. 

How should patients and families view Aduhelm?
We want people to understand that it can make a difference for them, but we don’t want them to think it is going to absolutely change their course, but it is the first treatment that changes the course of underlying disease, rather than just symptoms. 

The association over the weekend called Biogen’s list price of $56,000 “simply unacceptable.” What would a fair price be?
We don’t see ourselves as experts in price setting, but that price seems pretty clear on its face to be simply unacceptable. We are here to drive science and set what is the path to facilitating approval, not just for this treatment — this is not our treatment, we have no specific interest in this company or treatment —  but we have an interest in getting treatments overall to the constituency. 

Read the rest of their conversation here

Inside STAT: Sewage sleuths helped an Arizona town beat back Covid-19

Frozen wastewater sample concentrates from May 2020. (CAITLIN O’HARA FOR STAT NEWS)

From almost the beginning of the pandemic, analyzing wastewater has been a reliable way to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in a given community. But for one Arizona town, known for its large religious ceremonies in the run-up to Easter, wastewater epidemiology was a lifeline once the pandemic hit. With real-time monitoring of the sewage flowing from the town of Guadalupe, researchers at nearby Arizona State University were able to detect how that small town had exponential levels of detectable coronavirus in its wastewater samples compared to nearby areas. That partnership allowed Guadalupe's mayor to appeal for the resources she needed to help her town fend off Covid. STAT's Megan Molteni has more from Guadalupe here

When paper titles don't mention a mouse study, news stories also leave out the crucial caveat

Scientific studies that don't mention in their title that they were conducted in mice are also likely to have media coverage that omits that crucial fact, according to new research. Scientists analyzed nearly 625 scientific articles on Alzheimer's disease published in open-access journals in 2018 and 2019. Roughly 400 of these papers declared in the titles that the study was done in mice. The scientists found that 46% of the more than 860 news stories written about those 400 papers also mentioned in headlines that the study was conducted in mice. In contrast, only about 10% of the articles written about the studies that didn't mention mice in their title had headlines that made clear it was mouse research. As science communicators — aided by Twitter accounts — work to improve how they convey the limitations of mouse-based research, the study's findings suggest that scientists may also be help by being upfront in paper titles about the use of these rodents in their research. 

Philadelphia's sugary drink tax helped reduce intake of such beverages

A new study adds to the growing body of evidence that Philadelphia's 1.5 cents per ounce tax on sugary beverages — passed in 2017 — may have led to fewer such drinks being purchased. Here's more: 

  • The study: Researchers compared two years' worth of prices and purchases of sugary beverages and high-sugar foods at 58 independent stores in Philadelphia with purchases made at one of 63 stores in Baltimore (which doesn't have a sugar tax). 
  • The findings: In Philadelphia, there was an average two-cent increase in beverage price, and a review of purchases indicated a 42% decline in the volume of taxed beverages bought by people in Philly compared to Baltimore. On average, people in Philly were also consuming around 70 fewer calories from these foods. 
  • A caveat: Assessing only independent stores, where taxes are more often passed onto the price of items, may have revealed a different picture than if the study had looked at supermarkets, where taxes are less likely to be passed onto consumers. 

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Average new cases yesterday: 14,045
Average deaths yesterday: 362

What to read around the web today

  • Amazon has made its Covid-19 test available online. STAT+
  • What if doctors are always watching, but never there? Wired
  • Some medically vulnerable Texans feel left behind as the state returns to normal. Texas Tribune
  • ‘It’s really bad.’ COVID urgency in Haiti has Biden administration working on vaccines. Miami Herald
  • Lawmakers revive bills to accelerate the development of new antibiotics. STAT+

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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