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The communities we forget during COVID-19

April 30, 2020, 11:07 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

It’s starting to become clear that the coronavirus afflicts certain communities more than others. We’re still learning plenty about COVID-19, an insidious and complicated disease, but it still seems that older people and those with underlying cardiac or respiratory conditions, as well as those with diabetes, face a heavier risk.

People of color have been facing particular danger in these times, according to Johns Hopkins, with a significantly higher mortality rate compared to white Americans.

Those are complex and interconnected issues given the various factors which have brought us to this point. The late Bernard Tyson, who led the nonprofit health group Kaiser Permanente up until his untimely death last year, often spoke about the social determinants of health.

Society and the laws which govern it have a profound effect on the wellbeing of various communities, whether they be policies that restrict access to adequate health care or those that force them to live in regions with poor air quality and a dearth of healthy food options.

But the complexities of a pathogen spread further. And that includes Americans with the rarest of diseases.

I had the privilege of speaking with Leeann Fortenberry, alongside several representatives from the Muscular Dystrophy Association, about the unique challenges facing this rare disease community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leeann’s daughter, Faith, has spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a muscle-wasting disorder, and the coronavirus has thrown new complications into their lives.

The good news is that patient groups are taking creative tacts to tackle the situation, especially when it comes to drug development for neuromuscular disorders. These are some of the people it’s important to keep in mind during these difficult times.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you again next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Coronavirus' digital dilemma. It's clear at this point that the coronavirus pandemic's effects have leeched into just about every industry. Health care is an obvious one. But the specifics, especially in the digital health space, are fascinating—especially when it comes to the fraught field of electronic health records (EHRs). This is an issue that my colleague Erika Fry has covered in extraordinary detail; but it takes special significance in this particular moment. Fred Schulte, who collaborated with Erika on an epic piece about the troubles of EHRs long before this pandemic manifested, outlines the consequences for the current times. "Pooling data from the digital records systems in thousands of hospitals has proved a technical nightmare thus far," he writes. "That’s largely because software built by rival technology firms often cannot retrieve and share information to help doctors judge which coronavirus treatments are helping patients recover." (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

How we should think about Gilead's coronavirus treatment. Gilead's experimental antiviral remdesivir will, barring unforeseen circumstances, become the first drug approved to treat COVID-19. The federal government has all but given it an official thumbs-up; public health officials ranging from those at the World Health Organization (WHO) to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others have said it's a serious way forward to quelling the crisis. But it's important to keep things in perspective. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads up the NIAID, has cautioned that remdesivir is just a first step. And the data we've seen to date shows that remdesivir will likely be a stopgap measure tailored towards the sickest COVID-19 patients in order to alleviate the financial and practical burden on health systems. That's nothing to scoff at—but don't call it a miracle cure. (Fortune)

Glaxo drug wins expanded approval in ovarian cancer. In some non-COVID news... The FDA on Wednesday gave GlaxoSmithKline's ovarian cancer drug zejula an expanded approval. In essence, the drug's label expansion will extend access to women who have advanced ovarian cancer and have seen some success from chemotherapy—regardless of whether or not they have specific genetic mutations which may have previously limited their access to the drug. (Reuters)

THE BIG PICTURE

Disinfecting the country's largest subway system. New York City is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., with some 18,000 reported COVID deaths (out of 63,000 total reported in America). The state has taken some extraordinary measures in the face of those numbers. But the on-the-ground response remains complicated. On Thursday, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo announced what he says is an "unprecedented" effort to disinfect public transportation systems for those who must still use them. Service will now be halted for four hours, between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., in order to disinfect cars, beginning May 6. (NPR)

REQUIRED READING

How T-Mobile shifted 12,000 call center employees to work from homeby Aaron Pressman

The latest round of unemployment claims puts real jobless claims at a depressing peakby Lance Lambert

Sanofi's CEO on how we can prevent being caught off guard from a pandemicby Paul Hudson

The fall of fracking and the future of oilby Shawn Tully

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