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Health Highlights: June 23, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

COVID-19 Vaccine May be Available by Late 2020, Early 2021: Fauci

There could be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year or early next year, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Testifying before a House committee on Tuesday, Fauci said he's cautiously optimistic about a vaccine being available in that time frame, but also mentioned struggles to contain the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

"We've been hit badly," Fauci said, adding that he's "really quite concerned" about rising community spread in some states.

"The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges," he added.

Fauci testified along with other top health officials, and none said they'd been asked to slow down testing for the new coronavirus, even though President Donald Trump has said he asked them to do so because testing was uncovering too many infections, the AP reported.

"We will be doing more testing," Fauci told the committee.

So far, more than 27 million people in the U.S. have been tested, and 8.4% (about 2.3 million) have tested positive. About 2.3 million have become ill and about 120,000 have died, Johns Hopkins University data show, the AP reported.

"There have been a lot of unfortunate missteps in the Trump administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D) of New Jersey said during the hearing.

"As communities across the country ease social distancing guidance and reopen their economies, it is critically important that both the administration and Congress remain focused on containing the spread of the coronavirus and providing the resources and support Americans need during this time of crisis," Pallone said.

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U.S. Travelers May be Unwelcome in EU

The United States' inability to contain the new coronavirus means that Americans could be on the list of travelers not allowed to visit the European Union, draft documents suggests.

EU officials are working to create a list of countries whose residents will be permitted to travel to the EU as of July 1, and so far Americans are excluded, The New York Times reported.

Other visitors who may be unwelcome include Russians and Brazilians.

A ban on U.S travelers to the EU would be a blow to American prestige and a comment on President Donald Trump's handling of the pandemic, according to The Times.

The U.S. has reported more than 2.3 million coronavirus cases and more than 122,000 deaths, more than any other country.

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Millions of U.S. Coronavirus Cases in March Weren't Diagnosed: Study

An estimated 8.7 million Americans are believed to have been infected with the new coronavirus in March, but more than 80% were never diagnosed, researchers report.

They examined U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on people with flu-like illnesses who were seen by doctors or at clinics but not diagnosed with coronavirus, the flu or any other viruses that typically circulate in winter, CNN reported.

There was a huge surge in such cases in March, according to the study published June 22 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Only 100,000 cases of the new coronavirus were officially reported in March, and the total number of cases reported in the United States was only 2.3 million as of Monday.

"We found a clear, anomalous surge in influenza-like illness [ILI] outpatients during the COVID-19 epidemic that correlated with the progression of the epidemic in multiple states across the U.S.," Justin Silverman, of Penn State University, and colleagues wrote, CNN reported.

"The surge of non-influenza ILI outpatients was much larger than the number of confirmed cases in each state, providing evidence of large numbers of probable symptomatic COVID-19 cases that remained undetected," they noted.

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Black, Hispanic Medicare Patients Much More Likely to be Hospitalized with COVID-19

Black Medicare recipients are nearly four times more likely, and Hispanics nearly two times more likely, than whites to be hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the U.S. government.

The analysis of claims data shows that nearly 110,000 Medicare recipients were hospitalized with COVID-19 between Jan. 1 and May 16. Rates of hospitalization were 465 per 100,000 among blacks, 258 per 100,000 among Hispanics, and 123 per 100,000 among whites, the Associated Press reported.

The rate among Asians was about one-and-a-half times higher than for whites, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services analysis found.

It also showed that the risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 was highest among Medicare recipients with advanced kidney disease, with a rate of 1,341 per 100,000, the AP reported.

The findings reconfirm "longstanding issues around disparities and vulnerable populations," said Medicare administrator Seema Verma, but she added that "race and ethnicity are far from the only story.″

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Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Health Care Protections for Transgender People

The Trump administration's elimination of transgender peoples' protections against health care discrimination will be challenged in court.

The legal action was launched Monday by a group of LGBTQ groups and medical professionals, who argue that the rule change was introduced June 12 by the White House "with next-to-no legal, medical, or reasoned policy foundation, and contrary to the opinions of professional medical and public health organizations," CBS News reported.

The 10 plaintiffs also say their case is bolstered by a June 15 Supreme Court ruling that a law prohibiting employment discrimination "because of sex" applies to gay and transgender workers.

The rule change "creates chaos and confusion where there was once clarity about the right of everyone in our communities, and specifically transgender people, to receive health care free of discrimination," Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for Lambda Legal, said in a news release announcing the lawsuit, CBS News reported.

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Number of Hajj Pilgrims Will be Restricted: Saudi Arabia

In order to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, only "very limited numbers" of pilgrims will be allowed to take part in this year's hajj, Saudi Arabia says.

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, which takes place next month, is a sacred rite for Muslims and normally attracts millions of people from around the world, The New York Times reported.

Only Saudi pilgrims and those from other countries already inside the kingdom will be allowed to take part in this year's hajj, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a statement.

The actual number of pilgrims that would be allowed wasn't specified, The Times reported.

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