Top News Stories for the Week of December 7

'Nobody Sees Us': Testing-Lab Workers Strain Under Demand

New York Times

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread in the United States, experts warn of the increasing strain on testing-lab employees. Testing teams nationwide are dealing with burnout, repetitive-stress injuries, fatigue, and other issues. "Doctors and nurses are very visible, but we work behind the scenes," said Marissa Larson, a medical laboratory scientist supervisor at the University of Kansas Health System. "And we are underwater." While polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the gold standard for coronavirus diagnostics, even highly automated forms of PCR need people to handle tubes, monitor machines, and check unclear results. Laboratories say they have also been hampered by severe and unpredictable shortages of chemicals and plasticware required for testing protocols. Furthermore, laboratories must continue to work through their other infectious disease tests, and many are dealing with the effects of shifting to 24/7 testing, with malfunctions and breakdowns being seen more often. The stress of it all has prompted some overwhelmed technologists to quit or retire early, leaving already struggling laboratories trying to fill vacancies as well.

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Biden Unveils Health Team with Becerra, Murthy and Walensky in Top Roles

The Hill

President-elect Joe Biden has unveiled his selections for key health positions. Biden named California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Rochelle Walensky, MD, as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and asked Vivek Murthy to return as surgeon general. He also said Anthony Fauci, MD, will continue on as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "This trusted and accomplished team of leaders will bring the highest level of integrity, scientific rigor, and crisis-management experience to one of the toughest challenges America has ever faced — getting the pandemic under control so that the American people can get back to work, back to their lives, and back to their loved ones," Biden said in a statement. He added, "This team of world-class medical experts and public servants will be ready on day one to mobilize every resource of the federal government to expand testing and masking, oversee the safe, equitable, and free distribution of treatments and vaccines, re-open schools and businesses safely, lower prescription drug and other health costs and expand affordable health care to all Americans, and rally the country and restore the belief that there is nothing beyond America's capacity if we do it together." Becerra, who served 12 terms in the House of Representatives representing Los Angeles, was elected California attorney general in 2016. Walensky is currently the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, and recently studied the effectiveness of a potential coronavirus vaccine. Murthy was surgeon general from 2014 to 2017, and has been advising Biden for months on the pandemic. Fauci, one of the most prominent members of President Trump's coronavirus task force, said last week he accepted Biden's offer to also serve as his chief medical adviser "right on the spot."

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NIH-Funded Tool Helps Organizations Plan COVID-19 Testing

NIH News Release

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has funded an innovative online tool to help organizations determine how best to establish an effective COVID-19 testing program. The COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator shows how various approaches to testing and other mitigation measures can stem the spread of COVID-19 in an organization. The free resource models the costs and benefits of testing strategies for individual organizations. It was developed by a team led by the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The mathematical model and calculator was developed as part of NIH's Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) Tech program. Users only need to enter a few details about their site, and the tool generates customized scenarios for surveillance testing. The tool models four different COVID-19 testing methods and calculates the number of people to test each day. "The NIH RADx initiative has enabled innovation and growth in the creation of new, rapid COVID-19 testing technologies," said Bruce J. Tromberg, PhD, director of NIBIB and lead for the RADx Tech program. "Using this tool, school administrators and business owners can quickly evaluate the cost and performance of different tests to help find the best match for their unique organization." The COVID-19 Testing Impact Calculator is available at www.whentotest.org.

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