Just under 2 percent of people who donated blood to the American Red Cross this summer had coronavirus antibodies, showing that very few people in the United States have been exposed to the virus that’s ravaged the country. The organization started offering antibody tests to donors in early June, and it published the results of the program in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week.
The Red Cross tested just under 1 million blood donations for antibodies over the course of the summer. When the antibody testing program started, about 1.18 percent of people who donated blood were positive. By the end of August, 2.58 percent of the people donating blood had antibodies.
Tracking the number of people with antibodies gives researchers and public health officials a window into how far the virus has spread. Many people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms or aren’t able to get tested when they’re sick, so the number of cases identified through regular testing doesn’t capture the full extent of an outbreak.
These results are similar to those from other surveys in the US, which found that only a few percent of people in most areas have antibodies to the virus. Notable exceptions include New York City, which suffered a large outbreak and has high antibody rates. The Red Cross doesn’t collect much blood in New York City, which it says in its report might skew the study’s results.
When the Red Cross started offering antibody tests, the main research goal was to find out how many people in the US had been exposed to the virus. But the organization also hoped that the study would be an incentive to bring more people in to donate blood since donations had dropped off in the spring and early summer during the pandemic. The initial response showed it worked: after it offered antibody tests for two weeks, donor appointments jumped by 150 percent, a spokesperson told The Sports Grind Entertainment in June.
The number of donors who were giving blood for the first time jumped from 11 percent to 17 percent after the Red Cross introduced antibody testing as well. First-time donors were more likely to have antibodies than repeat donors: about 3 percent of the first-time donors had them. That could mean people who thought they’d been sick with COVID-19 were turning to blood donation as a way to find out if they had antibodies — which, like the limited collection in New York City, could have influenced the findings.
Blood banks are useful for research because they have a ready-made collection of blood samples available. (Donors usually sign off on their blood being used in studies as part of the consent process.) But blood donors aren’t fully representative of the general population: not everyone can donate, and donors have to be healthy. The Red Cross study is one picture of the antibody rates across the US, but like any survey, it has limitations.
The Red Cross plans to follow up with donors who had antibodies to see how their antibody levels change over time. Some studies have found that levels gradually decline, but people with lower counts may still be protected from future infection. The Red Cross is also participating in another blood donor antibody study, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will include other blood banks.
Algorithms used in medicine are trained on data from only a few states
Most medical algorithms were developed using information from people treated in Massachusetts, California, or New York, according to a new study. Those three states dominate patient data — and 34 other states were simply not represented at all, according to the research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The narrow geographic distribution of the data used for these algorithms may be an unrecognized bias, the study authors argue.
The algorithms that the researchers were looking at are designed to make medical decisions based on patient data. When researchers build an algorithm that they want to guide patient diagnosis — like to examine a chest X-ray and decide if it has signs of pneumonia — they feed it real-world examples of patients with and without the condition they want it to look for. It’s well-recognized that gender and racial diversity is important in those training sets: if an algorithm only gets men’s X-rays during training, it may not work as well when it’s given an X-ray from a woman who is hospitalized with difficulty breathing. But while researchers have learned to watch for some forms of bias, geography hasn’t been highlighted.
“There are all these things that end up getting baked into the dataset and become implicit assumptions in the data, which may not be valid assumptions nationwide,” study author and Stanford University researcher Amit Kaushal told Stat News.
Kaushal and his team examined the data used to train 56 published algorithms, which were designed to be used in fields like dermatology, radiology, and cardiology. It’s not clear how many are actually in use at clinics and hospitals. Of the 56 algorithms, 40 used patient data from either Massachusetts, California, or New York. No other state contributed data to more than five algorithms.
It’s not clear if or exactly how geography might skew an algorithm’s performance. Coastal hubs like New York, though, have different demographics and underlying health issues than states in the South or Midwest. Still, researchers do know, in general, that algorithms that work under one set of circumstances sometimes don’t work as well with others. Some studies show that algorithms can work better at the institutions where they’re created than they do at other hospitals.
Many academic research centers that do artificial intelligence and machine learning research are in health care hubs like Massachusetts, California, and New York. Data from California, home to Silicon Valley, was included in about 40 percent of the algorithms. It’s difficult for researchers to get access to data from institutions other than the ones where they work. That may be why the data clusters in this way. Broadening the datasets may be challenging, but identifying the disparity shows that geography is another factor worth tracking in medical algorithms.
Kajillionaire review: Miranda July sympathizes with con artists and losers
This review originally posted in conjunction with Kajillionaire’s premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It has been updated to reflect the film’s theatrical and VOD release.
Logline: A family of extremely petty con artists runs across a woman who’s instantly interested in joining their scams and schemes, until she gets to know them better.
Longerline: It’s been nine years since Miranda July’s last film, The Future, which follows an awkward, immature, aimless Los Angeles couple through their emotional trials over their decision to adopt a cat. Her follow-up, Kajillionaire, feels like the launch of a Miranda July Cinematic Universe: it feels could be taking place at the same time as The Future, just a few blocks over. Its L.A.-based characters are equally awkward and at odds, and July again finds an intense well of sympathy for them, while simultaneously presenting them as close to intolerable. Like The Future (and July’s other film, Me and You and Everyone We Know), Kajillionaire is delicately funny about its characters’ failings and flaws. And like July’s previous films, it’s intensely quirky, both in its characters and in its directorial choices.
Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger star as Robert and Theresa Dyne, an aging couple pathologically devoted to “skimming,” as Robert calls it — eking out a living through teeny scams, from stealing other people’s mail to entering a variety of sweepstakes and giveaways under a barrage of false names. “Most people want to be kajillionaires,” Robert grumbles, but getting by through small deceptions seems to be important to his self-identity. The couple raised their daughter Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) as a partner in crime rather than as a child — as the fastest runner and most innocent-looking of the trio, she’s often their face for any given scam, in spite of her profound awkwardness and palpable desperation and discomfort with herself.
The trio seems to be in perfect sync, but their partnership hits a crisis point when they meet Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a young woman who’s thrilled by their lifestyle and wants in. (“My favorite movies are the Oceans 11 movies, and I’m just pretty psyched about being on an actual heist!” she chirps when she finds out what they’re up to.) Old Dolio is immediately jealous of Melanie’s rapport with Robert and Theresa, and her frustration pushes her to recognize everything her parents never offered her, and seek out something more.
The quote that says it all: Awkwardly trying to explain why she needs Robert and Theresa’s support, Old Dolio tells Melanie, “They’re my parents.” Melanie shoots back, “In what sense?” Old Dolio struggles for an answer, then offers, “We split everything three ways?”
What’s it trying to do? Kajillionaire is part very late-breaking coming-of-age story, and part unlikely love story. But above all, it’s the kind of tale Miranda July specializes in, not just in her films, but in books like No One Belongs Here More Than You and It Chooses You. As usual, she’s fascinated by oddball people on the fringes of society, making flailing attempts at finding happiness on their own terms, even if those aren’t terms anyone else would recognize. This latest film feels like yet another distinctive, funny, gently sympathetic portrait of people who are poorly suited for society, but condemned to live in it anyway.
Does it get there? One of the great pleasures of a Miranda July film is not really knowing where the characters’ goalposts are, and recognizing that they might shift over the course of the story. For much of Kajillionaire’s runtime, it’s refreshingly opaque about its intentions. That style starts with the opening sequence, where the Dynes approach a minuscule theft as if they were planning a casino heist, complete with Old Dolio leaping and rolling around their target building as if acrobatics were in any way relevant to her goal. July keeps their intentions under wraps until the theft finally happens, and all the elaborate buildup for such a lo-fi, petty payoff is just one of the many ways the film earns its laughs. Also on the never-not-funny list: the family’s physical contortions as they try to slip unseen past their landlord to avoid paying rent, and their physicality in general. Jenkins, Winger, and Wood each give their character a different form of comic physical awkwardness, and just the way they stand on a street is telling and giggle-worthy.
But there’s also a fair bit of pathos in Old Dolio’s growing estrangement from her folks, as she obsesses over a few things she learned in a parenting class she attended as part of another petty scam. (The film’s eventual reveal about where her unusual name came from is a terrific micro-story that says everything about her parents. At a post-Sundance-screening Q&A, though, July explained that “Old Dolio” is the name of one of the kittens she and her husband birthed in a friend’s weird dream. Which also says everything about July’s influences and her ability to hang onto weird, useful details for later stories.)
Rodriguez is the film’s lynchpin, though, as a comparatively normal bystander who throws the Dynes’ oddities into sharp relief. It’s so easy to sympathize with criminals in movies, even uncharismatic and unsuccessful ones. Rodriguez’s bright, sunny performance balances out the Dynes’ awkward dourness, and also gives the audience a constant reminder that their scams are pretty awful, and that even when they’re inherently funny in their tiny ambitions, they do actually harm people. Melanie’s sympathy with Old Dolio also gives the film an appreciable heart — it’s never clear where her own friends are, or how she has so much time to spend on a fix-her-up project this damaged. But her kindnesses feed directly into one of July’s most appreciable fantasies, that no matter how weird, graceless, and maladroit we might feel, there’s someone out there that’s ready to really get us on a deep, personal level.
What does that get us? Like July’s other films, Kajillionaire is featherweight and goofy, tapping into deep emotions but not examining them in a particularly deep way. It’s a shiny bauble of a movie, full of irrational giggles and outsized character acting. But the cast works hard at making these losers-at-life distinctive and memorable, and the film builds to a terrific punchline of a sequence as everything comes together.
The most meme-able moment: One of the Dyne family’s many forms of “skimming” involves living in a disused office that they rent for a discount because it’s adjacent to a bubble factory, and one of the walls leaks sheets of fluffy pink foam several times a day. The image of all three Dynes casually using trash cans to scoop the latest massive, slow-motion foam incursion off the wall and dump it down the drain is one of the film’s most memorable images. It also feels like a funny, wry metaphor for dealing with anything unwanted, wearying, and repetitive, from navigating a long and unnecessary group text chain to dealing with excessive demands from an unreasonable boss.
When can we see it? Kajillionaire begins a limited theatrical run on September 25, and will arrive on VOD on October 16.
Elektron’s Analog Four and Rytm get both design and software upgrades
Elektron’s Analog Four MKII and Analog Rytm MKII are both serious high-end instruments. They’re $1,399 and $1,699 respectively. But, despite being at the top of the Elektron heap, they’ve been missing some of the big features that make its more affordable Digi- and Model: lines so exciting. But, with Analog Four OS 1.50 and Analog Rytm OS 1.60 both are finally adding step recording mode and trig probability. That gives them both the full sequencing power that Elektron devices enjoy. Now you can manually build out drum patterns or punch in chords even if you fingers are fast enough to play live. Probability also brings a dash of randomness so that things don’t get stale. You can also easily preview trigs in your sequence now, without having to hit play and listen through your whole pattern.
Both Analogs are also now class compliant USB audio sources. That means your don’t need Elektron’s Overbridge or a separate audio interface to connect them to your computer or mobile device. So now it’s much easier to get your glitchy drums off the Rytm and into your DAW of choice, whether that’s Ableton on a Windows PC or GarageBand on an iPhone.
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