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CFAS News Previous Edition

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COVID-19 Deaths Surpass 4 Million; Delta Variant Becomes Dominant in U.S.; CDC Updates Mask Guidance for Students; and Other Items of Interest

It took three-and-a-half months to go from 3 million COVID-19 deaths to 4 million – a grim milestone surpassed this week. A report in the New York Times noted it took nine months for the first million lives to be claimed upon the disease being identified, and these official totals are probably lower than the actual number of casualties. Nations with strong vaccination rates are doing comparably well, while regions with lower rates, such as South America and parts of Asia and Africa, are being hit hard, especially given the Delta variant.
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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the Delta variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States, and parts of the Midwest and South with lower vaccination rates are hardest hit, reported the Wall Street Journal.
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A study published in Nature shows the Delta variant has mutations “that allow it to evade some of the neutralizing antibodies produced by vaccines or by a natural infection,” highlighting the importance of receiving both vaccine shots when two are required to stay protected. The Washington Post covered the study.
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The Johnson & Johnson vaccine seems to provide adequate protection against the Delta variant and provides immunity against COVID-19 for at least eight months, reported CNN. And Pfizer and BioNTech announced they are developing a booster shot that will specifically target the Delta variant, reported CNBC.
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Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on conflicting information between Pfizer/BioNTech and U.S. government health officials about whether booster shots will be needed. Pfizer has noted that its vaccine effectiveness has “eroded” according to research that has yet to be published. Others have said that it wise to have boosters ready if needed, but it is still not clear when that might be.
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A New York Times editorial explored whether people with immune system problems should get a third vaccine dose.
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AAMC News reported on how vaccine discovery can be even faster than we saw with the COVID-19 vaccines, perhaps in as little as three months.
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The CDC released new guidelines Friday that give students (and teachers) who have been vaccinated the option of going maskless to school this fall, while those who have not yet been vaccinated should continue to wear masks.
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Writing for the Washington Post, Leana S. Wen, MD, a visiting professor at George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, noted that the newly announced CDC guidelines are “much better than expected” despite the obvious problem of there being no easy way to verify which students and teachers have been fully vaccinated. “The CDC could have gone further to incentivize vaccination by making inoculations for teachers and students the default requirement. People can still opt-out, but they must be tested at least once a week,” she writes.
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The Hill reported on the “rocky” road to vaccine equity in the United States -- even as the Delta variant is an emerging threat, given inadequate health access and misinformation in largely Black and Brown communities. According to the piece, 25.9 percent of Black people and 31.9 of Hispanic people in the United States have received at least one dose, compared to 33.7 percent of White people.
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“Our pandemic fates have diverged. The plateauing national case numbers obscure two simultaneous trends: an uptick in several sparsely vaccinated states and continued declines in well-vaccinated ones.” A piece in The Atlantic looks at two Americas: one that is on track to true safety through vaccinations and one that is on a dangerous course without vaccinations.
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Inside Higher Ed covered the challenges faced by the estimated 500 U.S. colleges and universities that will require COVID-19 vaccines for incoming classes, including international students. Some of those students may not have access to vaccinations that meet the requirements of their schools or they may not have access to any vaccines at all.
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Mays Imad, PhD, a neuroscientist and founding coordinator of the teaching and learning center at Pima Community College, writing in Inside Higher Ed, offered 13 strategies professors and instructors can employ to help promote student mental health in the upcoming fall semester. No. 5: “Infuse music, poetry, humor and storytelling into your course.” No. 7: “Remind students that you are there for them.”
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Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN the country may need to revisit guidance that fully vaccinated people don’t need to be tested for infection.
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The Supreme Court agreed to a case over the Trump administration’s cuts to the 340B drug discount program, reported Healthcare Dive.
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Bloomberg Government described how a planned executive order from President Joe Biden could affect the health care industry amid a quickening pace of health care mergers.
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Hospitals lost 5,500 jobs last month after gaining 2,900 in May, reported Healthcare Finance. The article noted the health care industry has been recovering from the pandemic in fits and starts and there are encouraging signs in the areas of volume and reimbursement.
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Diversity in pediatric residents and fellows continues to remain stagnant or decline, reported Medscape.
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Many hospitals are now in compliance with the price transparency rule, but some are placing the data deep within their websites, excluding some of the categories of prices required, or not disclosing the information, reported NPR.
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Large hospital systems have potentially tens of thousands of medical devices connected to their networks, but many lack consistent cybersecurity plans for those devices, even as more hospitals are grappling with cyberattacks that risk patient health, reported Healthcare Finance.
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Modern Healthcare explored the potential for teletherapy companies to deepen health care disparities since middle-class, white collar workers generally prefer video visits, meaning “in-person therapy could become a service for those with higher-acuity cases, a luxury for those with money or a necessary component for lower-income patients who lack easy access to the internet.”
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Nearly one in five new parents gets a surprise medical bill averaging more than $700 after childbirth, reported CNN in coverage of a study published in JAMA Health Forum.
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The Associated Press reported on allegations of racial discrimination at Tulane University School of Medicine’s Graduate Medical Education program that prompted the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to put the school on probation. Lee Hamm, MD, dean of the medical school, released a letter to students and faculty stating, “On behalf of myself and the entire Tulane School of Medicine administration, we respect this decision and pledge to do everything necessary to resolve the issues in a timely manner.”
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The Biden administration withdrew a proposed rule from the previous administration that would have mandated that international students reapply for visas after fixed terms of up to four years, reported Inside Higher Ed.
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Dispensed opioid prescriptions for children, teens, and young adults has decreased annually by 15 percent since 2013, reported Medscape in coverage of a study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
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A new article published in Academic Medicine provides the first national consensus guidelines on priorities to inform the creation of learning objectives and curricula for firearm safety education for medical professionals. More than 30 subject matter experts produced a list of 51 educational priorities, based on current evidence in firearm injury prevention, that can be implemented in any clinical training program to equip clinicians with the knowledge and skills they need to engage in firearm injury prevention initiatives in their communities and at the bedside.
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AAMC News featured a list of 10 great summer reads for doctors or anyone interested in medicine. On a similar note, STAT News also published a list of 36 science- and medicine-oriented books and podcasts to consider on your summer vacation.
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The NAACP awarded Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, with the Spingarn Medal. Previous recipients of the NAACP’s most prestigious award include Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and George Washington Carver. Dr. Laurencin is the University Professor and Albert and Wilda Van Dusen Distinguished Endowed Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, a professor of chemical engineering, a professor of materials science and engineering, and a professor of biomedical engineering at UConn. Dr. Laurencin is the recipient of the AAMC’s 2020 Herbert W. Nickens Award.
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Meena Seshamani, MD, PhD, has been named Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare. Dr. Seshamani’s most recent role was vice president of clinical care transformation at MedStar Health.
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Steven Shapiro, MD, has been appointed interim dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC. Dr. Shapiro currently serves as senior vice president for health affairs at USC.
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S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston, MD, PhD, has announced plans to step down as dean of University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. Dr. Johnston has served as the dean of the medical school since 2015 and plans on staying on as dean in the short term to help ensure a smooth transition.
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KMarie King, MD, MBA, has been named chair of the Department of Surgery and Chief of Surgery at Albany Med, effective Sept. 1. Dr. King currently serves as a professor of surgery at Morehouse School of Medicine and chief of surgery and medical director for surgical quality at Grady Memorial Hospital. She is the first Black woman to serve as chair of surgery at an academic medical center in the United States.
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The Thomas Jefferson University Board of Trustees elected Patricia D. Wellenbach as the governing board chair, marking the first time in the school’s 197-year history that a woman will serve in that leadership role. Wellenbach, who is president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum, a children’s museum in Philadelphia, started her career as a registered nurse.
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Myra Muramoto, MD, MPH, has been named chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, effective Oct. 1. Dr. Muramoto previously served as chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
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Matt Mauro, MD, has been named interim chair of the University of North Carolina Department of Surgery effective, Aug. 23. Dr. Mauro serves as president of UNC Faculty Physicians and senior executive, Revenue Cycle for UNC Health. He previously served as chair of the Department of Radiology from 2007 to 2019, and has been a member of the UNC School of Medicine faculty since 1982.
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Mercer University School of Medicine announced several staffing changes and promotions, including several positions related to a newly opened Office of Student Affairs and Student Support Services, which will house a new office for underrepresented in medicine (URiM) students. Wanda Thomas will serve as chief diversity officer, senior director of underrepresented in medicine, among other new hires and promotions.
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Kate Flewelling has been appointed director of the Alumni Medical Library at Boston University School of Medicine. Flewelling previously served as executive director of the Network of the National Library of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region.
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The human brain has lightning-fast facial recognition with the ability to discern a face within a few hundred milliseconds, but not without a notable flaw in its system causing us to see faces where there are none – a tree stump, a turkey carcass, a rock formation. The phenomenon has a name: “face pareidolia.” A neuroscientist at the University of Sydney and his team have discovered why, as described in a paper published in Proceedings in the Royal Society B. At the core of their findings, the evolutionary benefits of being able to recognize a face and rapidly analyze it for emotion is more important for human survival than misfiring your facial recognition abilities and seeing a face in, say, cheese melted on toast. Even as you do it, you know it’s not a real face, and your brain discards the information just as rapidly as it entered. 
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Just in time for your summer getaway, researchers at the Ohio State University have discovered why enjoyable vacations seem to take so long to come yet go by so quickly that they seem to end before they have begun. The team studied Thanksgiving, given its dichotomous quality of being enjoyed by some and despised by others. They asked research participants to rate their Thanksgiving holiday on a scale of how far away it seemed and how long they imagined it would last. Unsurprisingly, for those who love it, it’s far away in time and ends too quickly – with just the opposite perception from those who aren’t looking forward to it.
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And finally, while on that vacation, you may have a little more time to sleep and therefore, a little more time to dream. But might that be an opportunity for product placement and advertisements to play out within your subconscious? Popular Mechanics reported on a new frontier in advertising: “targeted dream incubation,” which sounds like science fiction, but is a real thing. Not only does the practice exist, but a group of sleep researchers who published a letter last month on the DXE website – “a space to discuss, disseminate, and dissect dream related research and technology together” – said it’s part of a proposed Superbowl ad campaign for Molson Coors that already has been tested. “As sleep and dream researchers, we are deeply concerned about marketing plans aimed at generating profits at the cost of interfering with our natural nocturnal memory processing,” the researchers wrote. Pleasant dreams.
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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/cfas

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