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First Edition: November 23, 2021


Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Etching The Pain Of Covid Into The Flesh Of Survivors

It was Saturday morning at Southbay Tattoo and Body Piercing in Carson, California, and owner Efrain Espinoza Diaz Jr. was prepping for his first tattoo of the day — a memorial portrait of a man that his widow wanted on her forearm. Diaz, known as “Rock,” has been a tattoo artist for 26 years but still gets a little nervous when doing memorial tattoos, and this one was particularly sensitive. Diaz was inking a portrait of Philip Martin Martinez, a fellow tattoo artist and friend who was 45 when he died of covid-19 in August. “I need to concentrate,” said Diaz, 52. “It’s a picture of my friend, my mentor.” (de Marco, 11/23)

When The Eye On Older Patients Is A Camera

In the middle of a rainy Michigan night, 88-year-old Dian Wurdock walked out the front door of her son’s home in Grand Rapids, barefoot and coatless. Her destination was unknown even to herself. Wurdock was several years into a dementia diagnosis that turned out to be Alzheimer’s disease. By luck, her son woke up and found her before she stepped too far down the street. As the Alzheimer’s progressed, so did her wandering and with it, her children’s anxiety. “I was losing it,” said her daughter, Deb Weathers-Jablonski. “I needed to keep her safe, especially at night.” (Kodner, 11/23)

Becerra Says Surprise Billing Rules Force Doctors Who Overcharge To Accept Fair Prices

Overpriced doctors and other medical providers who can’t charge a reasonable rate for their services could be put out of business when new rules against surprise medical bills take effect in January, and that’s a good thing, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told KHN, in defending the regulations. The proposed rules represent the Biden administration’s plan to carry out the No Surprises Act, which Congress passed to spare patients from the shockingly high bills they get when one or more of their providers unexpectedly turn out to be outside their insurance plan’s network. (McAuliff, 11/22)

Harris Announces $1.5B Investment In Health Care Workforce

The funding will go to the National Health Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery programs, all federal programs that offer scholarship and loan repayments for health care students and workers if they pledge to work in underserved and high-risk communities. … The money, which includes funds from the American Rescue Plan and other sources, will support more than 22,700 providers, marking the largest number of providers enrolled in these programs in history, according to the White House. It comes in response to recommendations laid out earlier this month by the White House’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, which issued a report outlining how the administration could address systemic inequality in the health care system. (Jaffe, 11/22)

The Hill:
Harris Announces $1.5B To Fight Shortage Of Doctors In Underserved Communities

“Health disparities existed long before this virus reached our shores. Health disparities stem from broader, systemic inequities,” Harris said at an event later Monday. “Our nation must invest in a healthcare workforce that looks like America and provide access to equitable healthcare for all Americans.” On Monday, Harris also announced plans to start awarding $330 million in funding from President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which he signed into law in March, to the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education to help expand the number of primary care physicians and dentists in underserved communities. (Chalfant, 11/22)

The Hill:
Pfizer: Vaccine Is 100 Percent Effective In Adolescents

Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective in protecting adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15, the companies announced Monday. The results from a long-term trial of 2,228 youth, measured from seven days through more than four months after the second dose, will form the basis for a planned supplemental application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expand approval of the vaccine for use in individuals in that age group, the companies said. The data were collected from November 2020 to September 2021, during the period when the delta variant began infecting large swaths of the U.S. population. (Weixel, 11/22)

Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Data Shows Long-Term Efficacy In Adolescents

Pfizer Inc said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine provided strong long-term protection against the virus in a late-stage study conducted among adolescents aged 12 to 15 years. A two-dose series of the vaccine was 100% effective against COVID-19, measured seven days through over four months after the second dose, the company said. The long-term data will support planned submissions for full-regulatory approval of the vaccine in the age group in the United States and worldwide. Pfizer and BioNTech (22UAy.DE) will seek clearance for a 30 micrograms dose of the vaccine for those aged 12 and above. (Roy, 11/22)

The New York Times:
Pediatricians Say Covid Cases In Children Are On The Rise

Coronavirus cases in children in the United States have risen by 32 percent from about two weeks ago, a spike that comes as the country rushes to inoculate children ahead of the winter holiday season, pediatricians said. More than 140,000 children tested positive for the coronavirus between Nov. 11 and Nov. 18, up from 107,000 in the week ending Nov. 4, according to a statement on Monday from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.These cases accounted for about a quarter of the country’s caseload for the week, the statement said. Children under 18 make up about 22 percent of the U.S. population. (Lukpat, 11/23)

ABC News:
Push To Vaccinate Children Accelerates As Pediatric COVID-19 Cases Rise

The rush to vaccinate children against COVID-19 is accelerating amid a steady increase in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations nationwide. Last week, nearly 142,000 child coronavirus cases were recorded, with weekly infections among children up by more than 40% since late October, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA). (Mitropoulos, 11/22)

How Covid Shots For Kids Help Prevent Dangerous New Variants

Cadell Walker rushed to get her 9-year-old daughter Solome vaccinated against Covid-19 — not just to protect her but to help stop the coronavirus from spreading and spawning even more dangerous variants. “Love thy neighbor is something that we really do believe, and we want to be good community members and want to model that thinking for our daughter,” said the 40-year-old Louisville mom, who recently took Solome to a local middle school for her shot. “The only way to really beat Covid is for all of us collectively to work together for the greater good.” (11/22)

The New York Times:
About 90 Percent Of Federal Workers Will Meet President Biden’s Vaccination Deadline

Mr. Biden’s mandate for federal workers, announced in September, was part of an aggressive effort to combat the spread of the Delta variant, which has driven caseloads up to levels last recorded a year ago, before vaccines were widely available. The president also mandated vaccination for health care workers and ordered all companies with more than 100 workers to require vaccination or weekly testing for their employees. (Gay Stolberg, 11/22)

Vaccine Mandate Compliance High Among School, State Workers

New data released Monday shows most K-12 school employees and state employees who were mandated to get vaccinated or else tested for COVID-19 are complying with Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order. A survey of public and private school workers released by the state’s Department of Education indicates more than 90% of K-12 school employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Out of 163 public school districts, charter schools in Bridgeport and New Haven run by Achievement First had the lowest staff vaccination rates, at 77% and 78% respectively. Meanwhile, 73 districts had a vaccination rate that exceeded 95%. (11/23)

The New York Times:
A Long Island Emergency Room Goes Dark As A Vaccine Mandate Gets Stricter

A Long Island emergency room was forced to close its doors on Monday because of a nursing staff shortage, as a New York state rule took effect that bars unvaccinated medical workers from their jobs. The free-standing Emergency Department at Long Beach, which is part of Mount Sinai South Nassau, said in a statement that patients would be directed to the hospital’s main campus in Oceanside, N.Y., about five miles north. An ambulance will be stationed at the shuttered facility, the statement said. (Zraick, 11/22)

The Washington Post:
Buttigieg: Vaccine Mandate For U.S. Flights Isn’t Necessary 

During an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said strategies other than a vaccine mandate — such as requiring masks and vaccinating travel industry workers — are “highly effective.” The Transportation Security Administration has extended the federal mask mandate for planes, airports, trains and other mass transportation through Jan. 18, 2022. Host Chuck Todd pressed Buttigieg on the issue, questioning whether he was nervous about putting a policy in place that was politically divisive. The back-and-forth came at the beginning of the busy Thanksgiving holiday season in which TSA expects to screen about 20 million people. At the same time, new daily reported coronavirus cases in the United States have risen 12 percent over the past week, according to data from The Washington Post. (Sampson, 11/22)

The Hill:
Kansas GOP Eases Religious Vaccine Exemptions, Moves To Limit Mandates

Republican Kansas state lawmakers on Monday moved to challenge the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates, forcing Gov. Laura Kelly (D) to convene a special session to look into ways to fight President Biden’s vaccine mandate for businesses. One method Kansas Republicans considered was requiring employers to accept all religious exemption requests, while others sought to guarantee that workers fired for not getting vaccinated would be eligible for unemployment benefits, according to The Associated Press. (Choi, 11/22)

Kansas To Help Workers Resist Biden’s COVID Vaccine Mandates

Kansas will soon make it easy for workers to claim religious exemptions from COVID-19 vaccine requirements and promise unemployment benefits to people who are fired after refusing the shots, joining other states in resisting federal mandates from President Joe Biden. But Gov. Laura Kelly angered some fellow Democrats in the Republican-controlled Legislature by promising to sign a measure pushed to passage late Monday night by GOP lawmakers. Meanwhile, Republicans frustrated the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, normally influential within the GOP, by embracing proposals that the business group opposed. (Hanna, 11/23)

Modern Healthcare:
Florida Judge: Health Worker COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Can Stand For Now

A federal judge in Florida won’t pause the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare facilities before litigation, marking the first time a judge has weighed in on the CMS requirement. CMS, in an interim final rule issued at the beginning of November, required all employees at Medicare- and Medicaid-participating healthcare facilities get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4, with their first shot on or before Dec. 6. Medical and religious exemptions are allowed under the rule, but facilities that don’t comply could eventually be kicked out of the Medicare and Medicaid programs. (Goldman, 11/22)

The New York Times:
A Texas Court Affirms A Ruling Against The Governor’s Ban On Mask Mandates

The chief elected official in Dallas County celebrated a victory on Tuesday in his legal dispute over the governor’s ban on mask mandates, after a state appeals court upheld an earlier injunction against the ban. The ruling by Fifth Court of Appeals in Dallas affirmed an August ruling by a district judge that Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates impeded the ability of Judge Clay Jenkins, the top elected official in Dallas County, to protect his constituents from Covid. (DePasquale, 11/23)

U.S. Not Heading Toward COVID Lockdown, White House Says

The United States does not need to impose a lockdown or shut down its economy to curb the spread of COVID-19 and will rely on other tools, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Monday. “We are not headed in that direction. We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic; widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kid shots, therapeutics,” Zients told reporters at a White House briefing. “We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy.” (Aboulenein and Shepardson, 11/23)

Stubborn Covid Surges Signal Bleak Winter

“This is taking up every waking moment,” Natasha Bagdasarian, the chief medical executive for the Michigan health department told POLITICO. “No part of the state has been spared.” States across the country are also seeing a growing number of people with breakthrough cases end up in hospitals. In Michigan, for example, 28 percent of hospitalizations and 24 percent of deaths, between Oct. 7 and Nov. 5, were among fully vaccinated individuals. (Goldberg, 11/22)

New Jersey Schools See Student Covid-19 Cases Rise

Schools in New Jersey are seeing increased Covid-19 cases in students K-12 and staff since the second week of November, according to Governor Phil Murphy and health commissioner Judy Persichilli in a Monday briefing. This surge in cases comes as the statewide transmission rate increases to 1.23, signaling an outbreak. “We are concerned about cases in students and staff and among the general public increasing with gatherings for Thanksgiving and the upcoming holidays,” said Persichilli. (Taylor, 11/22)

Joseph Is 4th Chargers Player To Test Positive For COVID-19

Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol on Monday following a positive test. He is the fifth Chargers defensive player over the past two weeks that has either tested positive or had to go on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a close contact. Joseph missed Sunday’s 41-37 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers because of a shoulder injury and will be out for this week’s game at Denver because he is unvaccinated. Players must miss at least 10 days if they are unvaccinated following a positive test. (11/23)

Idaho Deactivates Crisis Standards For Most Of The State

Idaho’s top health official has deactivated crisis guidelines for rationing care at most of the state’s hospitals. Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen issued the decision Monday after health officials said the number of COVID-19 patients remains high but no longer exceeds health care resources in most areas. Crisis standards remain in effect for northern Idaho. Jeppesen and other health care officials during a news conference warned of possible future outbreaks. “We are not sharing a ‘mission accomplished’ message,” said James Souza, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health System. “We don’t believe this will be our last surge of COVID. We hope it’s the worst one.” (Ridler, 11/23)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
COVID-19 Killed 4 Times As Many Georgia Cops As Violence, Accidents

The deadliest threat facing law enforcement officers in Georgia isn’t being shot, stabbed or run over by assailants — it’s COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, at least 60 Georgia police officers, deputies and jailers have died from the virus, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s review of death certificates and the Officer Down Memorial Page’s database. That vastly outnumbers other law enforcement deaths since 2020. (Hansen, Peebles, and Bruce, 11/22)

The New York Times:
A Judge Has Dismissed Criminal Charges In Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Outbreak

A Massachusetts state judge on Monday dismissed criminal charges against two administrators of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where an outbreak of coronavirus led to 76 deaths, reasoning that the actions of administrators did not lead to the infections. The state’s attorney general, Maura Healey, had sought criminal charges of criminal neglect and permitting body injury to an older person against the two administrators based on their decision to combine two understaffed dementia units, crowding together infected and uninfected men. But Judge Edward J. McDonough Jr., of Hampden County Superior Court, wrote in his dismissal that he believed the five veterans named in the case had been exposed to the virus before the two units were merged, so the administrators could not be held legally responsible. (Barry, 11/22)

ABC News:
Criminal Charges Dismissed Against Former Leaders Of Holyoke Soldiers’ Home In Deadly COVID-19 Outbreak

A Massachusetts judge has dismissed all criminal charges against two former officials from the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, citing no “reasonably trustworthy evidence.” The facility made national headlines last year, when 77 veterans, who were residents of the home, died of coronavirus in the early months of the pandemic. (Mitropoulos, 11/22)

Beshear Outlines COVID-19 Recommendations For Thanksgiving

Kentuckians should [get] vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to protect fellow family and community members this Thanksgiving holiday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced Monday. Vaccinated Kentuckians should also get a booster shot if they are eligible, he advised. “If everybody’s vaccinated for Thanksgiving dinner, you are the safest that you’ve been at a holiday since the beginning of the pandemic,” the Democratic governor said at a virtual news briefing. (Hudspeth Blackburn, 11/23)

House Panel Probing Covid Response Seeks To Question Former FDA Chief 

A congressional committee investigating the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is calling former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn to appear for questioning. In a letter released by the committee Monday, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis requested Hahn, who served as a member of President Donald Trump’s White House Covid-19 task force, to agree to a transcribed interview and produce relevant documents to its investigation. (Banco, 11/22)

ABC News:
Dozens In Congress Still Vote Remotely As Critics Slam COVID Policy

Millions of American workers have returned to the office, and most children are back to in-person learning at schools, but dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are still literally phoning in their votes to Washington, citing an “ongoing public health emergency.” At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, House Democrats took the unprecedented step to establish rules allowing any lawmaker to vote by proxy if he or she could not attend proceedings in-person because of the pandemic. (Dwyer, Siegel, Maile and Thomas, 11/22)

Modern Healthcare:
Expanding Medicare’s Hearing, Vision Coverage Could Reduce Health Inequities

Broadening Medicare coverage of vision and hearing services would significantly expand access to the most vulnerable U.S. residents at minimal cost to taxpayers, new research shows. Medicare beneficiaries with incomes below the federal poverty level spent less than half per year on vision services and nearly three times as less on hearing services than their higher-earning peers, according to an analysis from the Urban Institute. The data suggest that there is a vast unmet need for glasses, hearing aids and other related care among low-income Medicare beneficiaries and that those items are likely lower quality. (Kacik, 11/22)

World Must Bolster WHO And Agree Pandemic Treaty, Expert Panel Says

The World Health Organisation (WHO) must be strengthened with more funding and greater ability to investigate pandemics through a new treaty, an independent panel said on Monday, ahead of a conference of health ministers next week. Efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic have been uneven and fragmented, marked by limited access to vaccines in low-income countries while the “healthy and wealthy” in rich countries get boosters, the high-level experts said in their latest review. (Nebehay, 11/22)

Disrupted Care, Discrimination Tied To Less Infant Vaccination During COVID

US infants born early in the pandemic were less likely to receive routine childhood vaccinations if their mothers had perinatal care disruptions (those just before or after birth) or experienced discrimination during pregnancy, according to a prospective study today in JAMA Pediatrics. Stony Brook University researchers analyzed data from 4,388 pregnant women 18 years and older across the country recruited from social media from Apr 25 to May 14, 2020. They completed a baseline survey and two follow-up surveys in July and October, at which time 1,107 infants were 3 to 5 months old. (11/22)

Telehealth Visits By Phone May Soon End Unless Legislators Act

Caswell County, where William Crumpton works, runs along the northern edge of North Carolina and is a rural landscape of mostly former tobacco farms and the occasional fast-food restaurant. “There are wide areas where cell phone signals are just nonexistent,” Crumpton says. “Things like satellite radio are even a challenge.” (Noguchi, 11/23)

WHO Urges Vigilance Against H5N6 Avian Flu After Cases Rise In People

The World Health Organization (WHO) said late last week that it’s not clear whether highly pathogenic H5N6 avian flu viruses have enhanced potential for infecting people but urged countries to remain vigilant as human cases rise. The WHO said in its risk assessment that 26 H5N6 human infections have been reported in 2021—25 in China and 1 in Laos—with 20 of the patients reporting illness onset after Jun 21. Almost all confirmed cases involved exposure to poultry, and most occurred in adults with a median age of 55 years. One child was infected. All sequenced viruses belonged to hemagglutinin genetic clade, a group of viruses that have gradually become more prevalent in birds in China and neighboring countries over the past year. (11/22)

The Wall Street Journal:
Why Caregivers May Reject Products That Make Life Easier

Look closely at many advertisements, and they often have a common pitch: We’ll make your life easier. But according to a study, this approach may backfire when the products are aimed at helping consumers care for a loved one. The reason is that in those cases, people often value their own effort so much that they feel bad for using products designed to make their life easier. “Exerting more effort makes people feel like better caregivers,” says Ximena Garcia-Rada, an assistant professor of marketing at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School and one of the co-authors of this study. (Ward, 11/22)

The New York Times:
Concerns Grow Over Safety Of Aduhelm After Death Of Patient Who Got The Drug

Concerns about safety risks of the controversial new Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm have intensified in the wake of the death of a 75-year-old woman who experienced brain swelling after receiving infusions of the drug as a participant in a clinical trial. The death of the woman, who lived in Canada, occurred in late September and was reported by a doctor to the Food and Drug Administration’s adverse event reporting system this summer. It is being investigated by both the F.D.A. and Biogen, which makes the drug, also known by its scientific name, aducanumab. In a statement Biogen said: “The cause of death is unknown at this time. We know the 75-year-old clinical trial patient was admitted to the hospital with a seizure” and diagnosed with brain swelling. (Belluck, 11/22)

Selena Gomez Launches New Media Platform Wondermind 

Talking about mental health is good for you, according to pop star, actor and producer Selena Gomez, and she’s determined to be the catalyst for positive change. The “Ice Cream” singer announced the launch of her latest venture, Wondermind, a mental health platform focused on connecting people with educational resources and ending the stigma around mental illnesses. (Marples, 11/22)

Sherif Zaki, A Legendary Disease Detective At CDC, Dies At 65

Sherif Zaki, a legendary disease detective at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who had a photographic memory and a knack for cracking hard cases, has died. Name a newly emerged or vexing infectious pathogen and chances are Zaki played a role in identifying it or tying it to a mysterious outbreak that was defying investigation. He and his team pinpointed Zika virus in the brain tissues of miscarried fetuses, found the hantavirus later named Sin Nombre in the first known hantavirus outbreak in the United States, and confirmed that anthrax was responsible for early deaths in what would become a spate of attacks that petrified the country in the autumn of 2001. (Branswell, 11/22)

Protection May Last Longer After Vaccine Booster Dose

Protection against COVID-19 from an mRNA vaccine – either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech shots – may last longer after the booster dose than after the original two-shot regimen, researchers speculated based on the results of a small new study. They measured vaccine responses before and after the boosters in 33 healthy middle-aged adults who had received their second doses an average of nine months earlier. Before the boosters, their antibody levels had decreased about 10-fold from levels early after their second dose. By 6 to 10 days after the booster, their antibody levels had climbed 25-fold and were five times higher than after two doses of the vaccine, according to a report posted on Sunday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. In the volunteers who had COVID-19 before being vaccinated, antibody levels after the booster were 50-fold higher than after their infections. “Because these antibody levels are so robust, the booster could potentially give us protection for a longer duration than what we saw for two doses of the vaccine,” study coauthor Alexis Demonbreun of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a statement. (Lapid, 11/22)

Experimental Chewing Gum Reduces Virus In Saliva

An experimental chewing gum containing a protein that “traps” coronavirus particles could limit the amount of virus in saliva and help curb transmission when infected people are talking, breathing or coughing, researchers believe. The gum contains copies of the ACE2 protein found on cell surfaces, which the virus uses as a gateway to break into cells and infect them. In test-tube experiments using saliva and swab samples from infected individuals, virus particles attached themselves to the ACE2 “receptors” in the chewing gum. As a result, the viral load in the samples fell by more than 95%, the research team from the University of Pennsylvania reported in Molecular Therapy. The gum feels and tastes like conventional chewing gum, can be stored for years at normal temperatures, and chewing it does not damage the ACE2 protein molecules, the researchers said. Using gum to reduce viral loads in saliva , they suggest, would add to the benefit of vaccines and would be particularly useful in countries where vaccines are not yet available or affordable. (Lapid, 11/22)

New Research Explores The ‘Active Grandparent Hypothesis’ And Evolution

Evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman takes the long view of physical activity. His name has been connected to running and human evolution ever since his seminal Nature study “Endurance running and the evolution of Homo” appeared in 2004, and he’s been linked to barefoot running in particular after a 2010 study, also in Nature, explored the impact of modern padded running shoes on our strides. Lieberman’s research interests range wider than running, spanning physical activity across the evolutionary history of what moves humans, in the industrialized world and in traditional hunter-gatherer societies. In a new review published Monday in PNAS, Lieberman and his Harvard co-authors grapple with the “active grandparent hypothesis,” using biomedical research and evolutionary studies to explain how humans evolved to need physical activity, particularly in and after middle age, to increase life span and reduce the risk of disease. (Cooney, 11/22)

Experts Lay Out How To Keep AI In Health Care In Check

The reach of artificial intelligence in health care settings has expanded to touch everything from cancer care to appointment no-shows. But as AI algorithms transition from exciting proofs-of-concept to a routine part of care, regulators, researchers, and hospital leaders must determine how to keep the technology in check to prevent bias. (Bender, 11/23)

The Wall Street Journal:
Nurse Salaries Rise As Demand For Their Services Soars During Covid-19 Pandemic

Nurses are winning raises worth thousands of dollars a year from hospitals, the latest employer reckoning with a tight labor market. HCA Healthcare Inc., HCA 0.57% one of the nation’s largest hospital chains, increased nurse pay this year to handle heavy Covid-19 pandemic case loads and keep pace with rivals that are also trying to fill vacancies and hold on to existing staff, the company’s human resources chief said. Raises varied by market; an HCA spokesman declined to say by what amounts. (Evans, 11/22)

GSK Ties Up With Arrowhead To Develop NASH Drug Candidate

Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals Inc (ARWR.O) on Monday entered a drug development deal with GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) under which the British drugmaker will develop and market Arrowhead’s potential treatment for patients with fatty liver disease NASH. Under the pact, Arrowhead said it would get an upfront payment of $120 million and is eligible for additional milestone payments including up to $190 million at first commercial sale of the product, and up to $590 million in sales-related milestone payments. The drug candidate, ARO-HSD, is currently in an early-to-mid stage trial for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a fatty liver disease. It is based on RNA interference technology, where genes that contribute to disease are silenced. (Maddipatla, 11/22)

Crain’s Cleveland Business:
Cleveland Clinic Expands Capabilities In Cancer Genomic Testing

Cleveland Clinic has expanded its cancer genomic testing capabilities in order to better understand a patient’s cancer and identify potential therapeutic targets, according to a news release. The system now offers an advanced genomic testing platform as standard of care for patients with cancer, an expanded capability to test tumor samples. It involves whole exome sequencing, which examines all portions of DNA in the genes that are responsible for making proteins in the body, and RNA sequencing that assesses how these proteins are encoded, according to the release. (Coutré, 11/22)

The Wall Street Journal:
The Elizabeth Holmes Trial: Founder Recounts ‘Big Idea’ That Led To Creation Of Theranos

Elizabeth Holmes took jurors into the Theranos Inc. lab Monday during testimony at her criminal-fraud trial, describing ways the startup sought to reduce errors in lab testing and miniaturize traditionally bulky blood-testing machines. “We thought this was a really big idea,” Ms. Holmes said of Theranos’s attempts to remove human error from steps involved in the testing process by automating it. Ms. Holmes’s narrative is an effort to strike back at prosecutors’ allegations that Ms. Holmes knew Theranos’s blood-testing technology was inaccurate and unreliable when she solicited hundreds of millions of dollars from investors and the startup rolled out its testing to patients. She has appeared confident and relaxed on the witness stand. (Randazzo, 11/22)

Modern Healthcare:
Texas Turnaround Firm To Buy Two Tower Health Hospitals

A Texas turnaround company will take over two embattled Tower Health hospitals starting January 1, one of which had been slated to close that day. Canyon Atlantic Partners, LLC will assume ownership and operations of West Reading, Pennsylvania-based Towers’ Brandywine and Jennersville hospitals, Tower announced Monday. Terms of the definitive agreement were not disclosed. The deal saves the Jennersville hospital from closure after Tower’s board signed off on shuttering the facility in September as part of a broader restructuring plan. (Bannow, 11/22)

Modern Healthcare:
BelHealth Sells American Health Staffing Group To Littlejohn & Co.

BelHealth Investment Partners, a healthcare private equity firm, has sold American Health Staffing Group, which provides healthcare talent and technology solutions, the company announced Monday. Private equity firm Littlejohn & Co. acquired American Health Staffing Group from the other investment group. CEO Mark Smith and the senior management team will continue to lead the staffing company. The terms of the sale were not disclosed. (Devereaux, 11/22)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
PruittHealth To Pay $4.2 Million In False Claims Case

PruittHealth, Inc., the metro Atlanta-based nursing home giant, will pay $4.2 million to resolve a federal case alleging that it billed Medicare and Medicaid for home health services that weren’t eligible for reimbursement. The settlement, which stemmed from a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former employee, was announced on Monday by the U.S. Justice Department as part of an investigation that dates back to claims PruittHealth submitted to the federally funded health care programs in 2011 and 2012. (Schrade, 11/22)

Talkspace’s Leadership Exodus Leaves Behind Pressing Questions

Talkspace, the virtual behavioral health company that went public in a splashy SPAC merger earlier this year, has lost a number of its top executives in the past week, raising questions about its ability to maintain its early-mover advantage in a space with more and more startups vying for traction. On Monday, the company announced that chief operating officer Mark Hirschhorn had resigned following an internal review of “conduct in connection with a company offsite that took place late last week.” Further details were not available about what prompted the review. (Aguilar, 11/22)

Los Angeles Times:
California Officials Release Report On Troubled State Lab

After investigating its own COVID-19 testing lab for much of the year, the California Department of Public Health closed its case without issuing sanctions as the state released a long-overdue report Monday that downplayed widespread issues identified during inspections at the Valencia Branch Laboratory. The lab, which was opened in partnership with Massachusetts-based diagnostics company PerkinElmer, has been beset with problems since the $25-million facility opened late last year. The Newsom administration promised a full report in March on “significant deficiencies” found during inspections, but it was not released until Monday — weeks after the state renewed its $1.7-billion, no-bid contract with PerkinElmer to keep the testing site going. (Gutierrez, 11/22)

Los Angeles Times:
About 44,000 LAUSD Students Miss First Vaccine Deadline And Risk Losing In-Person Classes

Close to 80% of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are on track to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, school district officials announced Monday, raising concerns about the potential for thousands to be displaced from in-person classes for the start of the spring semester on Jan. 10. The figure represents substantial progress — and officials hope many more students have been vaccinated, but simply have not yet uploaded documentation to the school district. About 225,000 students ages 12 and older fall under the mandate, half of the district’s enrollment. Based on the percentage, about 44,000 students have not met the deadline — either by getting at least one shot, obtaining a medical exemption or receiving a rare extension. (Blume, 11/22)

Houston Chronicle:
Houston’s Largest Hospitals Aren’t Posting Price Lists For Medical Services, Could Face Federal Fines

The Texas Medical Center’s largest hospitals are not fully complying with a federal mandate to post a list of prices they negotiate with private insurers — information that could be used to drive down the cost of health care, according to a review by the Houston Chronicle. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services required hospitals to post the information — which includes the negotiated prices of basic services such as x-rays and lab tests – by Jan. 1, 2021, or face fines up to $300 per day. Houston Methodist Hospital, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center all had not posted their negotiated prices as of Friday. (Gill and Carballo, 11/22)

The Hill:
Missouri School District Backtracks Ban On LGBTQ+ Books

A Missouri school district on Monday said it would return two books exploring LGBTQ+ themes to its high school libraries following public outcry. The North Kansas City School district announced its plans to reshelve “All Boys Aren’t Blue” and “Fun Home” in a letter to students’ families on Friday, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the letter on Monday through a district spokeswoman. Both books were pulled from library shelves following a school board meeting in October, when parents complained they were inappropriate and sexually explicit. (Migdon, 11/22)

Houston Chronicle:
4-Year-Old Galveston Girl Didn’t Die Of COVID, Medical Examiner Says In Reversal

A 4-year old Galveston County girl who passed away in September after testing positive for COVID-19 did not die of the virus, officials said Monday. Kali Cook, of Bacliff, died at home in early September after what her mother, Karra Harwood, said was a brief fever. Two days later, Galveston County health officials released a statement calling it “the county’s first COVID-related death in a child” younger than 10. (Mishanec, 11/22)

Israel Begins Giving COVID Shots To Children Age 5 To 11

Israel on Tuesday began administering the coronavirus vaccine to children age 5 to 11. The country recently emerged from a fourth COVID wave, and daily infections have been relatively low for the last few weeks. But Health Ministry statistics show that a large share of the new infections have been in children and teenagers. Children age 5 to 11 make up nearly half of active cases. Officials hope the new inoculation campaign will help bring down the numbers and perhaps stave off a new wave. (11/23)

EU Considers Booster Doses Of J&J’s COVID-19 Vaccine

The European Medicines Agency says it is evaluating whether to authorize booster doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine. In a statement Monday, the EU drug regulator said it was considering an application from J&J to recommend booster doses of the J&J vaccine for adults 18 and over, at least two months after they were first immunized. Amid an explosive surge of new coronavirus infections across Europe, the EMA said it expected to make a decision on this within weeks. (11/22)

The New York Times:
France’s Prime Minister Tests Positive For The Coronavirus

France’s prime minister, Jean Castex, has tested positive for the coronavirus and will work in isolation for the next 10 days, his office told Agence France-Presse on Monday evening. Mr. Castex had just returned from an official trip to Belgium, where he met with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, when he learned that his 11-year-old daughter had tested positive, his office told the news agency. “He therefore immediately took a P.C.R. test, which turned out positive,” his office said. (Breeden, 11/22)

‘Annoyed’: Austria’s National Lockdown Dampens Holiday Mood

“I am particularly annoyed by the lockdown,” said Georg Huber, a lawyer on his way to the office. “One should have implemented a mandatory vaccination in the summer, when it turned out it would not be enough to hope that people get there without any coercion. I think the government just overslept.” Austria has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, about 66% of its population of 8.9 million people, with a vocal minority who refuse to be inoculated. (Barry, 11/22)

Czechs Protest Restrictions On Unvaccinated As Cases Soar

They carried posters with pictures of politicians — including Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Health Minister Adam Vojtech and leading epidemiologists — calling them traitors. Unlike recent rallies in the Netherlands and Brussels, this protest was peaceful. The crowd was significantly smaller than a similar demonstration last week. New restrictions to tackle the Czech Republic’s infection surge became effective Monday and target the unvaccinated. Unvaccinated people are no longer allowed to show negative coronavirus tests to attend public events, go to bars and restaurants, visit hairdressers and museums or use hotels. People who are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 can visit all those sites. (11/22)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.


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