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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Researchers are creating "digital twins" of coronavirus patients to study long-haul COVID-19.

Why it matters: An estimated 1 in 20 COVID-19 patients are likely to suffer from some long-term effects, but doctors still don't know why or how best to care for them. Digital twins promise to speed efforts to investigate a major medical mystery.

How it works: A digital twin is a virtual representation of an object, a system or, in this case, a long-haul COVID-19 patient.

  • "Digital twins allow you to perform all kinds of testing, but in a virtual simulation," says Jeremy Ford, vice president of strategic giving and social innovation at Dell Technologies.

What's happening: Dell on Wednesday announced a collaboration with i2b2 transSMART Foundation to create and study digital twins of tens of thousands of long-haul COVID-19 patients.

  • Using Dell's computing power and data storage infrastructure, i2b2 transSMART will pull in de-indentified patient data, ranging from hospital records to ongoing information from health wearables.
  • The resulting digital twins will be shared with scientists from more than 200 hospitals and research centers from around the world, who will be able to perform millions of individualized treatment simulations to determine the best possible therapies for patients based on their own medical history, all in a fraction of the time that would be required for real-life trials.
  • The initial round will involve 70,000 digital twins, with the potential to expand to up to 2 million over the next four years.

What's next: "The same kind of approach can be applied in the future to autoimmune disorders, degenerative disorders, cancers and other areas," says Ford.

Go deeper

May 5, 2021 - World

In photos: The countries facing massive COVID surges

Hua Lamphong railway station in Bangkok on May 1. Thailand last year went 100 days with no detected COVID-19 cases. Bloomberg's analysis of JHU data shows its coronavirus caseload jumped nearly 1,300% over the previous month (more than 40,000 new infections). Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP via Getty Images

Laos, Nepal and Thailand are among several countries now facing steep surges in COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm their health care systems.

The big picture: The scale may be less than India's, but a Bloomberg analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows the percentage jump in caseloads recorded in the past month compared to the previous one in these nations is much higher than in the world's second-most populous country.

U.S. fertility dips to its lowest rate since the 1970s

Expand chart
Data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

The fertility rate in the U.S. dropped by 4% last year compared to 2019, the lowest it's been in nearly 50 years, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Why it matters: The data corroborates previous surveys that predicted a "COVID baby bust," with women reporting they were postponing pregnancy and having fewer children, as well surveys indicating less sexual activity overall.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
May 5, 2021 - Health

Why Biden's latest vaccine goal is his hardest yet

Data: CDC, Our World in Data; Note: New Hampshire not including due to conflicting data from source; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Biden's latest vaccination goal — 70% of adults receiving one shot by July 4 — will be much harder to reach than his previous ones. And if the U.S. gets there, it will likely be driven by blue states.

Between the lines: The U.S. has already inoculated most of its vaccine-enthusiastic population. States are already beginning to see wide disparities in vaccination rates, largely along political lines.