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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Top U.S. health officials say they were never told to slow down Covid-19 testing

Contrary to what President Trump told a rally crowd in Oklahoma over the weekend, health officials at a congressional hearing yesterday said they were never told to slow down Covid-19 testing. “To my knowledge, none of us have ever been told to slow down on testing — that just is a fact,” Anthony Fauci, one of the four gathered experts, shared. Fauci was testifying along with CDC Director Robert Redfield, assistant health secretary Brett Giroir, and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn. “It’s the opposite: We’re going to be doing more testing, not less,” Fauci added. He emphasized that he's hopeful that a Covid-19 vaccine would be available by the end of the year or early 2021. The experts also iterated previous concerns that the coronavirus was likely to stick around for a while, as Redfield underscored the importance of getting a flu shot this year. "This single act will save lives," he said. 

Local public health officials face threats of violence amid Covid-19 restrictions

As a small, but vocal, minority of people protest restrictions placed by local officials to curb the spread of Covid-19, some have also taken to sending death and other violent threats to public health officials. The Washington Post reports, for instance, that the director of one small public health department in Washington state was harassed on her personal phone and that people posted on social media suggesting they begin shooting. The New York Times similarly reported that Barbara Ferrer, the director of Los Angeles' department of public health, had to issue a statement condemning threats to her safety. “It is deeply worrisome to imagine that our hardworking infectious disease physicians, nurses, epidemiologists and environmental health specialists or any of our other team members would have to face this level of hatred,” she told the Times. 

FCC to finalize new three-digit suicide prevention hotline number

The FCC will vote next month to change the national suicide prevention hotline to a simple and easier to remember 988 number than the current 10-digit version. "988 will save lives," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, adding, "We believe that 988 — which has an echo of the 911 number we all know as an emergency number — will help people access mental health services." If the change is adopted, people will be able to reach the hotline through 988 by July 2022, and the current number, 800-273-TALK (8255), will continue to be in effect. An FCC report published last summer estimated that with a shorter number, the already-strapped crisis hotline will need an additional $50 million in funding to field the extra calls that will likely be placed due to rising suicide rates and the shorter number.

Inside STAT: North Dakota's contact tracing apps may be a litmus test for Covid-19 tech


A view of the Care19 app. (STEPHEN GROVES/AP)

What started out as a fun project to track football fans from North Dakota making the annual trek to Texas for the national football championship game is now at the center of a contact tracing effort for Covid-19. When the pandemic began earlier this year, Microsoft engineer Tim Brookins texted his old colleague, the governor of North Dakota, to offer help. And it set the path for the app that Brookins built for football — called Bison Tracker — to become the foundation for two contact tracing apps that Brookins is now developing for the state. And North Dakota is a great place to test the waters as the state offers a mix of highly urban areas as well as vast rural swaths with little to no cellphone service. STAT's Erin Brodwin has more here

Affordability of medicines, prior authorization approvals pose barriers to care

A new report from health care software company CoverMyMeds looked at barriers to accessing medication and found that nearly 70% of patients report having made personal or financial sacrifices in order to afford prescriptions, while 30% say they've had to abandon a prescription due to cost. Even providers experience impediments: Physicians reportedly spend around two business days trying to get certain medications approved by insurers before being able to prescribe them, and the report found that half of these requests are still made by phone or fax machines, further slowing down the process. 

Around 1 in 10 adults has a painkiller prescription

Nearly 11% of adults reported having a recent prescription for a pain medicine, according to new CDC data. Here's more from the survey, which looked at 2015-2018 data and asked people about prescriptions in the month prior to being surveyed: 
  • Overall trends: 10.7% adults said they had at least one prescription for a pain medication in the 30 days before being surveyed. Around 6% said they used prescription opioids. 
  • Trends by age: Prescription pain medication use increased with age. Around 5% of those ages 20-39 had a prescription, compared to 15% aged 60 and over. 
  • Other trends: Prescription pain medication use was higher among women than among men. White adults were most likely to have a prescription, while Asian adults were least likely to have one. 

What to read around the web today

  • Women with cancer awarded billions in baby powder suit. The New York Times
  • What happens to medical education when the dissection lab is closed? Slate
  • A year in, 1st patient to get gene editing for sickle cell disease is thriving. NPR
  • COVID-19 cancels charity galas and walks. Science is paying the price. Science
  • Scarce medical oxygen worldwide leaves many gasping for life. Associated Press

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

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