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National Emergency Declared in Coronavirus Pandemic; Academic Medicine Steps Up; and Other Items of Interest

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency today to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The move will open $50 billion in federal funds and create more flexibility for doctors and hospitals to fight the outbreak, reported the New York Times. The latest figures show U.S. cases passing 1,800 and deaths at 41. On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus a pandemic after cases of COVID-19 were found in 114 countries around the world, marking the first time such a declaration has been made since 2009’s H1N1 outbreak, said The Verge.
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Around the time of the WHO announcement, a spate of news stories began breaking over a 24-hours period about widespread business and organizational disruptions in the United States, including canceled university classes, conferences, performances, and sporting events, as well as disrupted travel and widespread recommendations that Americans practice social distancing to stave off viral spread. The AAMC announced Wednesday it will maintain its operations and services, but its Washington, D.C., building will be largely empty as staff transition to full-time teleworking. The AAMC also posted announcements of its own meeting cancellations and resources related to the coronavirus.
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“Several statewide systems and more than 100 colleges and universities now have announced campus closures or moved in-person classes online,” said Inside Higher Ed. And CNN featured a list of major institutions that have cancelled or suspended in-classroom teaching.
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Today, the National Board of Medical Examiners announced that USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills testing would be temporarily suspended beginning Monday, March 16. In a statement, the USMLE noted, “We hope to resume operations of all centers on Monday April 13, 2020. Given the fluid nature of this situation, please be aware these dates are subject to change.”
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Forbes ran an article, “Why Everything Is Closing for Coronavirus: It’s Called ‘Flattening The Curve’,” describing the value of “closing everything” in an effort to cut off a spike in infections.
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The AAMC released recommendations related to the coronavirus on Wednesday after AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, joined other health organization leaders for a meeting at the White House. “Today’s meeting of hospital leaders at the White House was an important step toward addressing the novel coronavirus pandemic. Since the crisis began, the AAMC has been in frequent communication with the administration and leaders of our member medical schools and teaching hospitals. We appreciated today’s opportunity to discuss the critical role these institutions play in responding to the crisis and to offer recommendations to accelerate efforts to contain and treat the pandemic,” said Dr. Skorton. The recommendations include increasing the availability and capacity of testing, ensuring adequate supplies and stewardship of personal protective equipment, holding patients harmless for the cost of testing and treatment, increasing the availability and use of telehealth, and supporting hospitals’ efforts to expand capacity to meet surging needs.
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Academic medical labs across the country, including those at Johns Hopkins, Stanford University, Mayo Clinic, and the University of Texas Medical Branch, among others, are stepping up to develop and deploy their own tests to detect the virus after a CDC test failed, reported AAMCNews.
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As a preventive measure to keep patients and health care workers from contracting the virus, some hospitals, including academic health centers, are deploying drive-through testing in parking lots and garages in Washington, Colorado, and Texas, among others, reported Modern Healthcare.
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Major insurers such as UnitedHealth, Anthem, Humana, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association pledged at the White House to cover coronavirus tests at no cost to patients, said the Associated Press.
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Officials at Mass General have been preparing for a coronavirus outbreak since the disease began spreading in China earlier this year, but the Washington Post reported that even that vaunted hospital is struggling to prepare for an outbreak that could likely strain staff and resources.
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And hospitals are already facing possible shortages of crucial N95 respirator masks, reported the New York Times.
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The biggest thing to worry about with the coronavirus is a significant surge of new cases that overwhelms hospitals, which likely don’t have enough ventilators and ICU beds, similar to the dire straits Italy has found itself in, said Aaron Carroll, MD, in an article for the New York Times. Dr. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.
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“The arithmetic suggests that we will outstrip hospital resources, particularly intensive care resources, in waves as the pandemic spreads,” said Richard Waldhorn, MD, a contributing scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a clinical professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine, in an NPR article that covered how hospitals are gearing up for a potential COVID-19 “wave.”
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STAT covered the coronavirus and emerging COVID-19 cases as “the ultimate stress test” for electronic health record systems, noting a range of vulnerabilities, from potential cyberattacks to a focus on billing over patient care.
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A faculty member at Stanford School of Medicine tested positive for the coronavirus, reported the Mercury News.
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An op-ed in the Washington Post praised the expertise and credibility of Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and recounted how this is not the first time he has helped lead America through an epidemic.
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Modern Healthcare described how Rush University Medical Center, NorthShore University HealthSystem, and the University of Chicago Medicine are taking steps to protect their workers from infection.
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Public health agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are being forced to tackle the coronavirus after years of “shrinking budgets and expanding responsibilities,” said the Wall Street Journal.
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An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal argued that locking down the United States economy may be a bridge too far in the fight against coronavirus.
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A legislative package addressing the economic fallout of the coronavirus in the United States is getting sidetracked by a partisan fight, with both sides of the aisle trying to include provisions that don’t directly address health care, said Modern Healthcare.
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The National Institutes of Health issued a notice outlining flexibilities available to applicants and recipients of federal financial assistance that has been affected by COVID-19.
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Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post describing how to reframe the concept of compassion during the coronavirus outbreak: “When we avoid meetings, decline to shake hands or pull our kids from school, we are showing compassion to innumerable faceless other people, because we are interrupting possible chains of contagion that might pass through us, whether we ourselves get sick or not.”
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Steven Joffe, MD, Founders Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy and the interim chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote an opinion piece in STAT urging hospitals to reform their sick leave policies before they are hit with the coronavirus outbreak, saying that staffing shortages from clinicians working through bouts of regular illnesses are bad enough, but could become catastrophic in the current environment.
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Are you, your patients, or your family members wondering whether to buy a mask for protection? Bloomberg explored what the experts say.
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“You can’t, even for a million dollars, get a drug for the coronavirus — but your grandmother’s bar of soap kills the virus,” said an opinion piece in The Guardian that explained the science of soap.
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Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, spoke with AAMCNews about how term limits, particularly at the department chair level, are needed to diversity leadership in academic medicine. Dr. Jagsi is the Newman Family Professor and deputy chair in the department of Radiation Oncology and director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.
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The Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology released long-awaited final versions of interoperability and information-blocking proposals, said Modern Healthcare.
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is planning to stop automatically re-enrolling low-income individuals in Affordable Care Act exchange plans unless they actively re-enroll during open enrollment as a way of reducing paying premium tax credits to ineligible people, but Modern Healthcare reported that insurers have concerns about the plan.
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Deploying artificial intelligence in hospital settings can help identify high-risk patients and stave off tragic, expensive conditions, but because it illuminates health risks that aren’t always captured in the course of normal medicine, the technology can also lead to overdiagnosis and higher rates of hospital spending, said Politico.
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Perhaps we should rethink deductibles starting over in the early months of each year, since the flu — and now the coronavirus — are most prevalent at the beginning of the year, said Aaron Carroll, MD, a professor of pediatrics and associate dean for research mentoring at Indiana University School of Medicine, in an article in the New York Times. Dr. Carroll explored how such cost-sharing mandates deter Americans from seeking needed care and advocated for a cost-sharing model that instead targets people who choose high-cost options for their care.
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William Jaquis, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians Board of Directors, wrote an op-ed in Modern Healthcare that notes, “Narrow networks and high-deductible health plans are the true root causes of surprise bills, and an approach that favors rate setting or benchmarking, as several proposals passed by Congressional committees do, exacerbates rather than solves the problem.”
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Hilal Lashuel, PhD, associate professor of life sciences and director of the Laboratory of Chemical Biology of Neurodegeneration at the Brain Mind Institute of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, wrote an opinion piece in Nature detailing the daily struggle many academics face trying to keep their heads above water amid punishingly busy schedules. “When it comes to faculty burnout and mental wellness, most universities have chosen to delegate these issues to their human-resources departments … This is an important first step, but it is not a substitute for direct engagement and open, community-wide discussions on work-related stress and mental-health,” Dr. Lashuel wrote.
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Ted Mitchell, PhD, president of the American Council on Education, wrote an Inside Higher Ed opinion piece recommending immediate actions universities should take to safeguard research happening on their campuses from undue foreign influence.
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Nature covered “an intense, multi-year, controlled trial in reproducibility” that began in 2016 when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded research groups with funding from its Biological Technologies Office and, as part of the awards, informed the groups they would have an independent team of scientists try to reproduce their results.
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The American Psychological Association wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in favor of open science and open data, provided that such science is taking place within a sustainable publishing model.
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The New York Times profiled Nancy Wexler, PhD, Higgins Professor of Neuropsychology at the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, who has spent much of her career researching and creating advocacy around Huntington’s disease. The article, which quotes NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, notes that Dr. Wexler is now facing her own Huntington’s diagnosis.
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The New York Times described how doctors and other health care providers are joining forces online not only to fight back against the aggressive and often harassing tactics of anti-vaxxers, but to get the truth out about vaccines.
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Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine published a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology showing that black and Latina women “report more pain postpartum than white women, yet they receive less opioid medication in the hospital and are less likely to receive a prescription for an opioid at postpartum discharge,” reported the Chicago Tribune.
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The New York Times explored research showing the broad benefits of aspirin and described the risks and benefits of using it frequently.
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The Trump administration announced a new Medicare pilot program that would lower the cost of insulin to $35 per prescription for Americans 65 and older, reported the New York Times. The piece noted that if insulin manufacturers and insurers agree to offer the voluntary plans, eligible Medicare beneficiaries could save an average of $446 per year beginning in January 2021.
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Yoo Jung Kim, a medical student at the Stanford University School of Medicine, contributed an article to U.S. News & World Report on how to write a good medical school letter of intent.
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Queries to 137 accredited medical schools found that most don’t provide dedicated dermatology courses or require students go on clinical rotations in dermatology, meaning that primary care doctors may be unable to diagnose or treat basic skin conditions, said Reuters in coverage of a study published in JAMA Dermatology.
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Ponce Health Sciences University, based in Puerto Rico, committed $80 million to develop a new four-year medical school in St. Louis, Missouri, that will emphasize training doctors for work in poor urban and rural areas, reported the Associated Press. An inaugural freshman class of 150 is planned for fall 2022.
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The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation is accepting essays for its 2020 essay contest. The deadline to submit an essay is March 31 at 3 p.m. ET.
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Rebecca Spyke Keiser, PhD, has been appointed to the newly created position of chief of research security strategy and policy at the National Science Foundation. Dr. Keiser has served as leader of the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering since 2015.
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Gary Desir, MD, has been appointed vice provost for faculty development and diversity at Yale University. Dr. Desir is chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.
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Lynda Heaney has been named vice chancellor for medical advancement at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Heaney previously served as assistant vice president for principal and transformational gifts at Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs.
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Thomas Mauger, MD, has been appointed associate chief medical officer for ambulatory care at WVU Medicine. Dr. Mauger also leads the WVU Eye Institute and is chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the West Virginia University School of Medicine.
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Christa Zehle, MD, has been appointed senior associate dean for medical education at the Robert Larner, M.D., College of Medicine at the University of Vermont. Dr. Zehle previously served as interim senior associate dean for medical education at the Larner College of Medicine.
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William Anderson, MD, will be leaving his position as senior associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine - Columbia and chief medical officer for the USC School of Medicine Educational Trust at the end of March. Dr. Anderson will assume the role of senior vice president of a multispecialty medical group in Virginia.
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Mehra Golshan, MD, MBA, has been appointed the inaugural deputy chief medical officer for surgical services at Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center, professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, and interim director of the Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital. Dr. Golshan serves as the Dr. Abdul Mohsen and Sultana Al-Tuwaijri Distinguished Chair in Surgical Oncology at Yale University School of Medicine.
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Could it be that as a young man Isaac Newton took advantage of what amounted to a self-quarantine during the Great Plague? The Washington Post explored the trajectory of Newton’s early work, noting that when he was a college student, he and his Cambridge colleagues were sent home in 1665, a period he later described as his “annus mirabilis” or “year of wonders,” when he laid the foundation for his signature work.
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In the event you want the disinterested, disaffected, or otherwise unconcerned to understand the urgency of flattening the curve in our new coronavirus reality, you might direct them to a tweet by Anne Marie Darling, PhD, an epidemiologist and research associate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who did a little doodling on a chart to create “#Catteningthecurve.” In her depiction, the upright “alert kitty” will likely “pounce and shred the healthcare system like the arm of your couch” while the supine “lazy kitty” is more like the “long intervals between transmission events, like the amount of time kitty will hold this position.” As is so often the case, the replies are as entertaining as the original tweet.
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And finally, disco royalty Gloria Gaynor took to TikTok to save some lives by demonstrating how long to wash your hands, lathering up for 20 seconds while singing a verse from her legendary 1978 hit, “I Will Survive.” If Gloria Gaynor can’t get you to wash your hands in this video, nobody can.
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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.

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

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