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CFAS News Current Edition

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Life Expectancy Dropped by One Year at Start of 2020, but COVID-19 Cases Dip Sharply; U.S. Ramps Up Vaccinations, Variant Sequencing; and Other Items of Interest

Life expectancy in the U.S. dropped by one-full year during the first half of 2020, the most at any time since WWII, according to a report from the CDC that was covered by STAT. The piece notes the COVID-19 pandemic is most likely responsible for the decline, and indirect effects from the pandemic may have contributed to the decline, including drug overdose deaths that may be tied to COVID-19.
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Although COVID-19 cases are declining sharply across the country, there are a few caveats to consider when analyzing the plummeting numbers, reported CNN. First, severe weather throughout the country over the past week has affected testing centers and the mechanisms through which data is reported. There may be a benefit among people who have received their first dose of a two-dose vaccine, but it’s unknown whether and when many of those people will get a second dose.
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Devastating winter storms brought extreme cold to Texas resulting in power outages and water shortages, and causing hospitals in Austin to evacuate some patients and reschedule elective procedures, reported NPR.
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The Biden administration will distribute a $200 million “down payment” to labs in a bid to ramp up the sequencing of coronavirus variants, reported the New York Times. “When we will get to 25,000 [genomes sequenced per week] depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners. I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, PhD.
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Dr. Wallensky also said that vaccinations and surveillance need to be stepped up quickly if the United States is going to head off a situation in which the coronavirus variants make the pandemic even worse, reported CNBC.
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The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a statement this week announcing stepped up efforts to expand COVID-19 testing. According to HHS, “These actions will improve the availability of tests, including for schools and underserved populations; increase domestic manufacturing of tests and testing supplies; and better prepare the nation for the threat of variants by rapidly increasing virus genome sequencing.”
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The weekly vaccine supply being distributed to states will increase by more than 20% this week and the supply going directly to pharmacies will double to 2 million, reported NPR.
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The World Health Organization authorized the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, reported the New York Times. The WHO also released a statement about the vaccine.
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Moderna agreed to “equitable access” of its vaccine, but the company has sold most of the early doses to rich countries while poorer countries “have been almost entirely shut out,” the Washington Post noted.
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In a story that illustrates how achieving health equity requires commitment and hard work, Mass General Brigham undertook a concerted campaign to narrow the health inequity gap by getting its approximately 80,000 employees vaccinated. “Physicians fanned out to answer questions and explain the science behind the vaccines in seven languages. Staff scheduled appointments for workers who needed help. Up to 20 percent of doses were withheld so supply would remain available. Even with all that effort, the results along racial and ethnic lines were uneven,” reported Bloomberg. “This mistrust has been built up over more than 500 years, and we’re not going to solve it this month,” said Tom Sequist, MD, MPH, Mass General Brigham’s chief patient experience and equity officer.
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Grocery store workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic for almost a year, but when these workers can receive vaccinations is still unclear, reported CNN. The Washington Post also covered the story, noting that only 13 states include grocery store workers among those who qualify for vaccines at this point.
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Health care workers from Boston Medical Center are working to identify and reach vulnerable homebound people with COVID-19 vaccines, reported the AP. They face many challenges in the effort, including the fast expiration period the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have outside of extreme refrigeration and that the homebound population is difficult to identify since it does not receive regular medical care even under better circumstances.
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The New York Times reported on teens who are volunteering for COVID-19 clinical trials in an effort to “get their lives back.” The piece notes the role that student vaccinations will ultimately play in ensuring schools can safely reopen and return to some semblance of normal.
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CNBC reported on the flexible technology behind existing COVID-19 vaccines that make them relatively  easy to adjust in the face of virus variants. But, “It’s not really something you can sort of flip a switch, do overnight” to be effective, said Richard Webby, PhD, of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, who is quoted in the piece.
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Scientists are urging the CDC to quickly establish standards to curb airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in closely packed settings such as meatpacking plants and prisons, reported the New York Times.
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As stockpiles of N95 masks are swelling, hospitals are still rationing the vital protective equipment, reported Medscape.
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AP News reported on how the U.S. government seized 10 million fake N95 masks sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities, and government agencies. The piece notes the pandemic opened holes in normal supply chain acquisitions that have been easy for scammers to abuse.
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Why is the coronavirus able to transmit through asymptomatic people? Which size particles contribute the most to transmission? Why does the virus have such a wide range of symptoms and disease processes? These are some of the questions that remain unanswered about the coronavirus more than a year into the pandemic, according to AAMCNews.
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AAMCNews also explored the complicated answer of what defines a COVID-19 death, addressing the confusion over whether people die “of” the virus or “with” the virus.
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Noting that an estimated 53 million Americans are family caregivers, Modern Healthcare explored the problem of people who provide important care to potentially vulnerable family members at home but who are not eligible – often because they are too young – to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
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The New York Times reported on how creative thinking allowed a number of scientific studies to continue when threatened by the COVID-19 environment. For example, in cases where there would have been face-to-face interactions through a study, researchers figured out ways to mail medications to patients, conduct interviews through video chat, or teach patients to monitor their own vital signs and report back to study leaders.
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President Joe Biden selected Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to be the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reported the AP. Brooks-LaSure would be the first Black woman to serve in the position. She most recently served as the lead of the Biden transition’s “landing team” for the Department of Health and Human Services. The AAMC issued a statement about the nomination nothing that she has been “a strong, persistent, and effective voice in support of increasing patient access to vital care.”
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The Biden administration is starting to roll back the previous administration’s policy of requiring that Medicaid enrollees work in order to receive benefits, reported the New York Times.
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The Affordable Care Act’s marketplace will reopen for a special three-month sign up window in “an early test of President Biden’s strategy to use the Affordable Care Act as a springboard toward health coverage for all,” reported the AP.
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The American Psychological Association polled nearly 1,800 psychologists and 74 percent said they were seeing more patients with anxiety disorders than before the pandemic, reported the New York Times in an article that discussed mental health providers’ struggle to meet soaring demand for their help during the pandemic.
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The American Medical Association removed both a public display of founder Nathan Davis and his name from one of its annual awards as a way to combat systemic racism, since Davis blocked female and Black physicians from membership in the AMA.
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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has begun an analysis on the cost of a “Medicare for All” single-payer health care model, reported Health Affairs. The piece analyzes in detail many of the assumptions that the CBO is considering as it begins the project.
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Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing is criticizing the AMA’s stance that the opioid epidemic is driven more by heroin and fentanyl than prescribed opioids, reported Becker’s Hospital Review.
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Anna Volerman, MD, an internal medicine and pediatric clinician-researcher and assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics, Valerie Press, MD, MPH, an internal medicine and pediatric clinician-researcher and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics, and Vineet Arora, MD, a professor of medicine and clinician-researcher, all at the University of Chicago, wrote an opinion piece in STAT on the need for the NIH to ensure that women are equally represented in grant funding decisions.
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The Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC) will host a virtual professional development experience for deans and campus-wide leaders of interprofessional education June 8–10.
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Amir Mesarwi has been named AAMC’s new chief financial and administrative officer. Bernard Jarvis previously held the role prior to his retirement earlier this month. In his new role, Mesarwi oversees all AAMC financial operations, including the accounting, business services, financial systems, procurement, budget, and payroll functions, in addition to the AAMC’s operating and capital budgets, investment portfolio, and real estate and facilities.
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Yves Lussier, MD, has been named chair of biomedical informatics at University of Utah School of Medicine. Lussier serves as associate vice president for health sciences and chief knowledge officer at University of Utah School of Medicine and is also director for the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics and associate director for informatics at the university’s Bio5 Institute.
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U.S. Army Colonel and Veterinary Medicine Leader Dawn C. Fitzhugh, VMD, MPH, DACLAM, has been named director of program in comparative medicine and veterinary resources and attending veterinarian at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, effective July 1. Fitzhugh has served as an appointed consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General for the specialty of laboratory medicine since 2019.
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The University of Michigan Medical School announced three new leadership changes: Santiago Schnell, DPhil., is chair of the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, effective March 1; Srijan Sen, MD, PhD, is director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center, effective Jan. 1; and Henry L. Paulson, MD, PhD, is interim director of the Michigan Neuroscience Institute (MNI), effective March 1.
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Sommer Aldulaimi, MD, has been appointed co-director of the Global and Border Health Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Tucson. Dr. Aldulaimi is associate professor of family and community medicine at the UA College of Medicine Tucson.
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Pamela Ling, MD, MPH, has been appointed director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. Ling has been on the faculty at UCSF since 2002.
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Lindsay Abernethy, MMSc, has been appointed interim program director of the Master of Medical Science-Physician Assistant Program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. Abernethy previously served as assistant director of clinical education with the South University Physician Assistant Program in Savannah, Georgia.
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Science reported on fascinating research conducted at University of Wisconsin, Northwestern University, and other sites in the United States, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Scientists essentially entered the brains of sleeping subjects who have the ability to engage in lucid dreaming – that’s to say dreams where they know they are dreaming. The researchers could communicate with the subjects, encouraging them to process problems and information from within their dreams. Later, when they were conscious, they reported on how the suggestions entered the narratives of their dreams. The paper was published in Current Biology.
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Is the pandemic making your hair fall out? You’re not imagining it, reported the New York Times in a piece that describes the increase of patients complaining about hair loss after a year of COVID-19. (As for the editor of CFAS News, he must have seen this day coming 25 years ago.)
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And finally, some cultural staples are not going away no matter what. Included on the list of the indefatigable? Girl Scout cookies. What was once conducted through door-to-door commerce that often expanded into the workplace by Girl Scout parents, the purveyors of Thin Mints and Tagalongs will not be deterred by a mere global pandemic. While sales are down (but not out), the Chicago Tribune reports on resourceful approaches among some scouts, such as relying on text-based sales and electronic payment models like Venmo to keep the cookies coming. Other inventive tactics include: contact-free deliveries to doorsteps; shifting to online-only sales; and subliminally marketing the sugary snacks by casually munching on a cookie during a Zoom call (something the editor of CFAS News did earlier this week).
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Visit the CFAS Resources page for an archive of the previous edition of CFAS News as well as our People of Academic Medicine page, which features a running list of academic promotions, appointments, and departures.

Your comments and news tips are always welcome. Please email them to Eric Weissman at eweissman@aamc.org.

Read the previous edition of CFAS News.

Eric Weissman
Senior Director, Faculty and Academic Society Engagement
AAMC
eweissman@aamc.org
www.aamc.org/members/cfas

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