Sioux Falls Free Thinkers

"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent!"

For all those with Open Minds!

An Open Mind by Megan Godtland

2019 Free Thinkers Stats

2019 All Website Stats

Latest News Articles from the
Sioux Falls Free Thinkers Five Websites
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source

Your only Sioux Falls source for really important news!


ATHEISM and HUMANISM

5-28-19 Trump to 'sign executive order about social media'
US President Donald Trump will sign an executive order targeting social media firms, the White House has said. It comes after he threatened to shut down social media platforms he accused of stifling conservative voices. The latest dispute emerged after Twitter added fact-check links to his tweets for the first time. The order's details have not been shared and it is unclear what regulatory steps the president can take without new laws passed by Congress. White House officials gave no further information on what is expected in the executive order which is set to be signed on Thursday. Before leaving Washington for Florida to watch a space launch that was postponed due to bad weather, Mr Trump again accused Twitter and other social media of bias, without offering evidence. Mr Trump also continued his criticism of social media platforms on Twitter, ending a tweet with: "Now they are going absolutely CRAZY. Stay Tuned!!!" The long-running dispute between Mr Trump and social media companies flared up again on Tuesday when one of his posts was given a fact-check label by Twitter for the first time. He had tweeted, without providing evidence: "There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent." Twitter added a warning label to the post and linked to a page that described the claims as "unsubstantiated". On Wednesday Mr Trump threatened to "strongly regulate" or even "close down" social media platforms. He tweeted to his more than 80 million followers that Republicans felt the platforms "totally silence conservatives" and that he would not allow this to happen. In an earlier tweet, he said that Twitter was "completely stifling free speech". Twitter's chief executive Jack Dorsey responded to criticism of the platform's fact-checking policies in a series of posts, saying: "We'll continue to point out incorrect or disputed information about elections globally." (Webmaster's comment: Trump wants to censor all criticism of himself!)

5-28-19 The danger of 'it's probably fine'
We're learning more about safely resuming activity — but that knowledge comes with a risk. Something noteworthy has been happening as countries around the world have started to reopen: In many instances, there have not been the resurgent spikes in COVID-19 cases that experts predicted. While coronavirus deniers have rushed to cite this as evidence that the response to the disease was overblown, there is a far more realistic answer — that the vast majority of people are recognizing the danger of the disease and the personal responsibility required to limit the spread, and are continuing to follow preventative guidelines on their own accord. This is great news on its own; it means weeks of public service campaigns have worked. But without firm guidance from leadership, and with the onus often landing on the individual to decide how and when to follow expert advice, it's also sneakily becoming harder and harder to keep up one's vigilance. How much can a semi-socially-distanced cookout hurt, if you're all outdoors? Will it really be that dangerous to give your friend just one hug when you run into him at the mailboxes? It's probably fine … right? The fact that people are still far from resuming normal activities right now is exactly what is protecting us; but the self-assurance of it's probably fine could be what ultimately undoes all our progress. One example I've been closely following is the reopening of movie theaters around the country. While admittedly there are not very many new movies to entice audiences to the box office, cinema owners in Georgia, one of the earliest states to reopen, have reported dismal attendance. "The first weekend, 34 people came through the doors" of Vidalia's Sweet Onion Cinemas, Variety reports. "The next weekend, it dropped to 14." Robert Jones, who owns theaters in Vinita, Oklahoma, told Variety it was the same situation for him, with attendance "about 25 percent of what it usually is at this time of year." In other words, whether because of a fear of catching the virus, or out of civic responsibility, people in "reopened" places are still flattening the curve, even when they aren't required to. The data appears to support this: for example, while the transmission of the disease in Georgia hasn't dropped, cases have remained steady, rather than spiking. The slippery slope, though, will be our ability to keep up our diligence. It's exhausting to try to self-police all the time, particularly as the psychological start of summer with Memorial Day makes us yearn for traditional activities, like cook-outs and camping and going to the beach.

5-28-19 Coronavirus deaths in US top 100,000
The US has passed 100,000 deaths in the coronavirus outbreak in less than four months. It has seen more fatalities than any other country, while its 1.69 million confirmed infections account for about 30% of the worldwide total. On Thursday, a day after the figure was reached, President Donald Trump tweeted calling it a "sad milestone". His initial silence had been noted by critics who pointed out that Mr Trump has often sought to downplay the toll. The president also expressed his "sympathy and love" for the families and friends of those who have died from Covid-19. The first US infection was reported in Washington state on 21 January. (Webmaster's comment: The Chinese provided the US with the virus's genetic code on January 10th, but the President did nothing!) Globally there have been 5.6 million people recorded as infected and 354,983 deaths since the virus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. The US death toll stands at 100,276, according to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, which has been tracking the pandemic. It means that around as many Americans have died from Covid-19 as from the Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. But on a per capita basis the US ranks ninth in its mortality rate behind the likes of Belgium, the UK, France and Italy, according to the university. The US death toll is still climbing, and health officials say the actual number is likely higher than the recorded count. Twenty states reported a rise in new cases for the week ending on Sunday, according to a Reuters study. North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas are among those seeing a steady rise in cases. The caseload remains stubbornly high in a number of metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Los Angeles and suburban Washington DC. Some hard-hit states are seeing a drop in death rates, including New York, where 21,000 residents have died. During the peak of the crisis in the city, the daily death toll was in the hundreds. Hospitals were overwhelmed and makeshift morgues were built outside health facilities. President Trump has insisted that without his administration's actions the death toll would be 25 times higher, though critics have accused him of a slow response. State governors have also been blamed for failing to grasp early enough the lethal threat that the virus posed to nursing homes. Initially, the Republican president downplayed the pandemic, comparing it to the seasonal flu. Back in February he said the US had the virus "under control" and that by April it could "miraculously go away". He predicted 50,000-60,000 deaths, then 60,000-70,000 and then "substantially under 100,000".

5-28-19 George Floyd: Minnesota sees second night of clashes over death in custody
Police and protesters have clashed for a second night in the US city of Minneapolis after an unarmed black man died in police custody. Tear gas was fired by police, while protesters threw rocks and sprayed graffiti. Businesses were also looted. George Floyd, 46, died on Monday and video showed him gasping for breath as a white policeman knelt on his neck. Four police officers have been fired, with the mayor saying that being black "should not be a death sentence". The renewed clashes on Wednesday came just hours after the city's mayor called for criminal charges to be brought against the policeman who was filmed holding Mr Floyd. There was also looting and vandalism, with some buildings close to the demonstrations being destroyed by fire. The incident echoes the case of Eric Garner, who was placed in a police chokehold in New York in 2014. His death became a rallying call against police brutality and was a driving force in the Black Lives Matter movement. A number of celebrities and athletes, including John Boyega, LeBron James, Beyonce, and Justin Bieber, have also weighed in, expressing outrage over the incident and condemning racism. They began in the afternoon on Tuesday, when hundreds of people came to the intersection where the incident had taken place. Organisers tried to keep the protest peaceful and maintain coronavirus social distancing, with demonstrators chanting "I can't breathe" and "It could've been me". A crowd of hundreds then marched to the 3rd Precinct, where the officers involved in the death are thought to have worked. One protester told CBS: "It's real ugly. The police have to understand that this is the climate they have created." On a second night of demonstrations on Wednesday, protesters pelted rocks and some threw tear-gas canisters back at the officers. The crowd grew into the thousands as the evening went on, and there was a standoff outside the police station where officers formed a human barricade to prevent protesters gaining entry. A nearby supermarket was vandalised, and people were seen fleeing the store with baskets of looted goods. Other businesses were seen in flames and some appeared to have been entirely destroyed. (Webmaster's comment: Destroying businesses makes no sense! Arresting and charging police officers with murder does!)

5-27-19 Coronavirus: From 'We've shut it down' to 100,000 US dead
It's an uncanny and almost tragically perfect piece of symmetry. The number of US servicemen and women killed in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan - over an aggregate 44 years of fighting - is almost exactly the same as the number of Americans who've now lost their lives to coronavirus in just three months of America's war against the hidden enemy, as Donald Trump likes to refer to Covid-19. He also calls it the Chinese virus, but we'll come to that. Now I know you could replace the Covid-19 deaths with US cancer deaths or road crash victims and come up with similarly stark or perhaps even more dramatic statistics. But sadly, fatal car accidents and terminal tumours have always been with us. A global pandemic has not. And out of nowhere 100,000 American families are this spring mourning loved ones, whose lives have been cut short by this virus. 1.5m Americans have been infected. Many millions more have lost their jobs. One of Donald Trump's first acts when he moved into the Oval Office in 2017, was to restore to a central position the bust of Winston Churchill that Barack Obama had moved out in favour of a bronze of Martin Luther King Jr. And in this fight against coronavirus, Donald Trump does see himself as a war leader; the property tycoon who could work a shovel on a Manhattan building site was also going to be shown to be a man of destiny - the untried field-marshal, with a baton in his knapsack ready to command the troops to get the job done. But also keeping the home fires burning, and lifting the morale of a frightened nation. It has all been far more jagged than that. Donald Trump is not imbued with the gift of soaring Churchillian rhetoric; there have been no "we shall fight them on the beaches" moments. Nor has he conjured the Rooseveltian calm when delivering one of his fireside chats. There have been days of infamy, but they have been invariably generated by things that the president has said, rather than what has been done to the United States. And anyway, for a self-styled war leader he must at least face the charge of ignoring the warnings about the enemy he was confronting in the early stages, appearing more Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill. Jan 22: "It's one person coming in from China and we have it under control. It's going to be just fine." Feb 2: "We pretty much shut it down coming in from China." Feb 10: "Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that's true. But we're doing great in our country. China, I spoke with President Xi, and they're working very, very hard. And I think it's going to all work out fine." Feb 11: "In our country, we only have, basically, 12 cases and most of those people are recovering and some cases fully recovered. So it's actually less." Feb 24: "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC and World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock market starting to look very good to me!" Feb 26: "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."

5-27-19 Coronavirus: How the pandemic in US compares with rest of world
Two days after the US recorded its first case of coronavirus, Donald Trump said the situation was "totally under control" and assured the public it was "going to be just fine". Fast forward four months and the virus has spread across all 50 states, leaving a death toll of 100,000 from more than 1.6 million confirmed cases. We've taken a look at how those figures compare to other countries around the world and how the situation could develop over the next few months. The death toll in the US became the highest in the world in early April and has risen dramatically since then. President Donald Trump initially said "50 to 60,000" people could die during the outbreak but in May he said he was hopeful the toll would be lower than 100,000. That benchmark has now been hit though and there are still about 1,000 deaths a day on average. Rather than focus on deaths, Mr Trump has preferred to cite the mortality rate - that is the number of people that have died relative to the country's population - as evidence that the US has dealt with the virus more effectively than some other nations. The chart below shows the countries with the highest death tolls and, to the right, their mortality rate. You can see that by that measure there are several countries where a greater proportion of the population has died during the coronavirus outbreak. Belgium, with a population of 11.5 million, has seen 82 people in every 100,000 die during its coronavirus outbreak while the US, with a population of around 330 million, has seen nearly 30 people in every 100,000 die. But if you look at New York - the worst-hit state in the US - the mortality rate there is close to 150 people in every 100,000, which shows that there is a lot of variation across the US. One of the problems with comparing countries is that many of them report deaths in different ways. Belgium, for instance, includes deaths where coronavirus was suspected of being present but was never confirmed with a test. Some US states record deaths this way, but not all. There have also been questions over whether official data from some countries can be trusted. Critics of China in particular have accused it of under-reporting the scale of its outbreak. Another issue is that countries could be at different stages of an outbreak. In many European countries it's clear that daily cases numbers are coming down significantly and they are past the peak. But you can't say the same for the US at the moment. Several countries in Europe had outbreaks around the same time as the US and all of them have seen the number of deaths grow quickly, peak and then fall away. The US has not. One of the reasons the number of daily deaths in the US has plateaued rather than fallen is the sheer size of the country - rather than one large outbreak, there have been multiple centres of infection that developed at different times and spread at different rates. In New York, the virus struck early, spread quickly and peaked in early April. In the rest of the US, however, the number of daily deaths has been slow to fall. Some other states that were badly affected early on, like Louisiana and Michigan, have also seen a substantial drop in the number of daily deaths like that in New York. But as the situation in those states has improved, others have worsened. About a third of all states saw more deaths last week compared to the week before, with Rhode Island, Mississippi and Ohio seeing some of the largest percentage increases. In South Korea, for example, they ramped up testing early on in the outbreak and managed to contain the virus. Less than 300 people have died with coronavirus in the country, which has a population of about 50 million.

5-27-19 Covid-19 news: Boris Johnson admits UK was unprepared for pandemic
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. “We didn’t learn the lesson on SARS and MERS,” UK prime minister Boris Johnson said today as he faced questions from the House of Commons Liaison Committee, referencing the government’s pandemic planning and a lack of capacity at Public Health England to detect outbreaks of coronavirus around the country. He also said that there would not be an official inquiry to investigate whether his senior aide Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules. More than 40 Conservative party MPs have now called for Cummings’ resignation. During the meeting, Johnson announced that England’s test and trace system will be launched tomorrow. Under the new system, contact tracers will ask people who test positive for coronavirus to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of symptoms, and to provide details of any recent close contacts. The secretary of state will have the power to “mandate” people to isolate if they do not isolate voluntarily. The government announced earlier today that localised lockdowns, including targeted closures of schools and workplaces, could be used to control outbreaks in areas of England that see increases in confirmed coronavirus cases. The Americas are now the epicentre of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne. “Latin America has passed Europe and the United States in daily infections,” she said, adding that “now is not the time for countries to ease restrictions.” There are more than 2.4 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the region and more than 143,000 deaths, including more than 24,000 in Brazil alone. A Human Rights Watch report published yesterday suggests Venezuela’s covid-19 death toll is likely to be much higher than the most recently reported figure of 11 deaths, due to limited availability of reliable testing. Venezuela has confirmed more than 1200 cases so far. More than 6.5 million people in Wuhan, China, about 80 per cent of the city’s population, have been tested for coronavirus in just 9 days, according to Chinese state media. Authorities say the testing is necessary to prevent a second wave of infections, though Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, told the New York Times that testing 100,000 people would have been sufficient. New Zealand discharged its last coronavirus patient from hospital and hasn’t confirmed any new cases for five days in a row, said Ashley Bloomfield, the country’s director general of health, during a press conference today. He said there are currently 21 active coronavirus cases in New Zealand.

5-27-19 Coronavirus: The human cost of virus misinformation
A BBC team tracking coronavirus misinformation has found links to assaults, arsons and deaths. And experts say the potential for indirect harm caused by rumours, conspiracy theories and bad health information could be much bigger. "We thought the government was using it to distract us," says Brian Lee Hitchens, "or it was to do with 5G. So we didn't follow the rules or seek help sooner." Brian, 46, is talking by phone from his hospital bed in Florida. His wife is critically ill - sedated, on a ventilator in an adjacent ward. "The battle that they've been having is with her lungs," he says, voice wobbling. "They're inflamed. Her body just is not responding." After reading online conspiracy theories, they thought the disease was a hoax - or, at the very least, no worse than flu. But then in early May, the couple caught Covid-19. "And now I realise that coronavirus is definitely not fake," he says, running out of breath. "It's out there and it's spreading." A BBC team has been tracking the human toll of coronavirus misinformation. We've investigated dozens of cases - some previously unreported - speaking to the people affected and medical authorities in an attempt to verify the stories. The effects have spread all around the world. Online rumours led to mob attacks in India and mass poisonings in Iran. Telecommunications engineers have been threatened and attacked and phone masts have been set alight in the UK and other countries - all because of conspiracy theories. And in Arizona, a couple mistakenly thought a bottle of fish tank cleaner contained a preventative medicine. It was late March when Wanda and Gary Lenius started to hear about hydroxychloroquine. The couple noticed a similar-sounding ingredient on the label of an old bottle that was lying around their house in Phoenix. Hydroxychloroquine may have potential to fight the virus - but as research continues, it remains unproven. On Monday, the World Health Organisation halted its use in trials after a recent study suggested it could actually increase the risk of patients dying from Covid-19. Speculation about its effectiveness started circulating online in China in late January. Media organisations, including Chinese state outlets, tweeted out old studies where it was tested as an anti-viral medicine. Then a French doctor claimed encouraging results. Although doubt was later cast on that study, interest in hydroxychloroquine surged. It was mentioned, with various degrees of scepticism, by a variety of media outlets and influential people including Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. It also found its way into White House press briefings - and President Trump's Twitter feed. "What do you have to lose?" he said on 3 April. (Webmaster's comment: Just your life!) "Take it." In mid-May, he went further - saying that he'd been following his own advice. Each comment resulted in big spikes in social media chatter about the drug, according to data from online monitoring tool CrowdTangle. Overdoses of the drug are rare, but the anxiety produced by the pandemic has driven people to extreme measures. In Nigeria, hospital admissions from hydroxychloroquine poisoning provoked Lagos state health officials to warn people against using the drug. And in early March, a 43-year-old Vietnamese man was admitted to a poison control clinic in Hanoi after taking a large dose of chloroquine. He was red, trembling and unable to see straight. The clinic's director, Dr Nguyen Trung Nguyen, said the man was lucky he received treatment quickly - or else he might have died. Gary Lenius was not so fortunate. The cleaner he and Wanda gulped down contained a different chemical, and was poisonous. Within minutes, both started feeling dizzy and hot. They vomited and struggled to breathe. Gary died, and Wanda was hospitalised. Wanda later explained why the couple drank the concoction. "Trump kept saying it was pretty much a cure," she said.

5-27-19 Twitter tags Trump tweet with fact-checking warning
A post by US President Donald Trump has been given a fact-check label by Twitter for the first time. Mr Trump tweeted, without providing evidence: "There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent." Twitter put a warning label in the post and linked to a page that described the claims as "unsubstantiated". Mr Trump on Wednesday threatened to "strongly regulate" or even "close down" social media platforms. He tweeted that Republicans felt the platforms "totally silence conservatives" and that he would not allow this to happen. In an earlier tweet, he said that Twitter was "completely stifling free speech". For years, Twitter has faced criticism for not acting on the president's controversial tweets, which include personal attacks on political rivals and debunked conspiracy theories. This month the platform introduced a new policy on misleading information amid the coronavirus pandemic. But recent posts in which Mr Trump - who has more than 80 million followers on Twitter - promoted a conspiracy theory about the death of political aide Lori Klausutis, blaming a high-profile critic, have not received the same treatment. The notification on Mr Trump's tweet shows a blue exclamation mark and a link suggesting readers "get the facts about mail-in ballots". It directs users to a page on which Mr Trump's claims are described as "unsubstantiated", citing reporting by CNN, the Washington Post and others. The pandemic is putting pressure on US states to expand the use of postal voting because people are worried about becoming infected at polling stations. In a "what you need to know" section, Twitter writes that Mr Trump "falsely claimed mail-in ballots would lead to 'a Rigged Election'." "Fact-checkers say there is no evidence that mail-in ballots are linked to voter fraud," it continues.

5-27-19 At work, school and seeing friends: How to lower your coronavirus risk
THE coronavirus is still circulating yet many countries are taking steps to relax restrictions. If you have been asked to return to work or send your children back to school, how can you minimise the risk of infection to yourself and your family?. Although there are still many unknowns about the virus, a growing amount of data on how it transmits and survives on surfaces can guide our decisions. You are most likely to catch the SARS-CoV-2 virus by spending a long time near an infected person in an enclosed space. Researchers in Guangzhou, China, examined how the virus was transmitted between 347 people with confirmed infections and the people they had contact with. They found that the risk of the infection being passed on at home or by repeated contact with the same person was approximately 10 times greater than the risk of passing it on in a hospital and 100 times greater than doing so on public transport (medRxiv, doi.org/dwgj). Outside the home, it is difficult to rank the relative risks, because environments vary so widely. However, “what we can say is that SARS-CoV-2 spread tends to be higher in communal areas where there are higher numbers of people passing through, or in areas where there is more physical engagement with the surroundings, for example door handles, desks and computer keyboards”, says Seema Jasim at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, UK. The risk also seems to be higher when people are more physically active. Investigations into a cluster of cases in the South Korean city of Cheonan revealed that eight fitness instructors became infected with the virus after attending a 4-hour Zumba workshop. Some of them subsequently passed it on to students during classes which involved high intensity exercise in a small indoor studio (Emerging Infectious Diseases, doi.org/ggwpjz). “The moist, warm atmosphere coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of isolated droplets,” writes the team that conducted the study. However, students attending smaller yoga and pilates classes in the same space didn’t become infected. Regular, thorough handwashing is still advised. It remains unclear how long the virus can survive and remain infectious on surfaces, but this is still thought to be a significant route of transmission.

5-27-19 The right's 'rule of law' hypocrisy
The same right-wing movement that cheers President Trump's draconian immigration crackdowns in the name of enforcing the "rule of law" is now in full defiance mode against the lockdowns in the name of freedom. "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" asked the British essayist, Samuel Johnson, on the eve of the American Revolution. Although regarded as one of the finest writers of the 18th Century, Johnson wasn't a popular figure in America at that time. But he did point to an intriguing paradox about American political life where high-minded defenses of freedom co-existed with the extreme curtailment of it. McGill University's Jacob Levy maintains that this paradox didn't end with slavery. Rather, it has repeated itself with disturbing regularity in post-antebellum America. And it is doing so again in the wake of the pandemic, given that the same right-wing movement that cheers President Trump's draconian immigration crackdowns in the name of enforcing the "rule of law" is now in full defiance mode against the lockdowns in the name of freedom. There is no doubt that many lockdowns have gone overboard. In Michigan, where I live, the original 41-day lockdown has grown into two months and counting. Meanwhile, even as the state's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, eased some restrictions, she added stringent (and nonsensical) new ones — including classifying more businesses as non-essential and barring them from opening. Worse, given that there is no vaccine in sight, the risk of secondary outbreaks is spawning containment schemes that will make an all-encompassing surveillance state to track and trace the movements of Americans a massive danger to civil and economic liberties, requiring constant vigilance. These liberty-busting restrictions might be intended to avert a broader public health threat, but nothing analogous is the case with immigration enforcement that goes after unauthorized workers whose only crime is that the government refuses to give them papers to do jobs that Americans won't. Yet President Trump, capitalizing on decades of right-wing anti-immigration incitement, has built a political movement around not just chasing them out of the country but also targeting their employers and cities that dare stand up to his policies. Trump's first presidential pardon went to the notorious former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio among whose many human rights abuses is that he forced an undocumented woman to deliver a baby in shackles. Since then, this administration's zero tolerance border policies have resulted in even worse atrocities, like snatching 5,500 children, including infants, from migrant parents and putting them in separate detention facilities, without an effective tracking system to reunite them. But Arpaio, whom Rush Limbaugh once called a "national hero", was himself convicted for contempt of court because he ignored orders to stop racially profiling Latinos in his zeal to go after undocumented immigrants.

5-26-19 Poll reveals declining trust in UK government before Cummings crisis
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Only 38 per cent of people supported the UK government’s change to coronavirus restrictions announced on 10 May, compared to 90 per cent of people who said they supported the lockdown measures announced on 23 March, according to a survey conducted by researchers at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI. The measures brought in on 10 May largely affected England. They included a stronger emphasis on people going to work if they are unable to work from home, encouraging people to avoid public transport as much as possible, letting people exercise outside more than once a day and allowing people to meet up with one person from a household other than their own, providing the meeting takes place outside and at a distance of at least 2 metres. The poll, which surveyed 2254 people in the UK aged 16 to 75, was conducted between 20 and 22 May, before it emerged that prime ministerial aide Dominic Cummings drove more than 260 miles from home with his son and ill wife in March, at a time when the UK government was telling the nation to “stay at home”. The Ebola drug remdesivir has been approved for use in the UK for the treatment of coronavirus patients. Preliminary results published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 22 May suggest remdesivir speeds up recovery in patients with severe covid-19. Yesterday the World Health Organization suspended testing of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a covid-19 treatment after an observational study published in The Lancet found no evidence that either hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine are beneficial for covid-19, and that using these drugs to treat covid-19 patients may be harmful.

5-26-19 UK plans to further ease lockdown as new case rate remains high
Declines in hospital admissions, the number of people in intensive care and deaths in the UK all indicate that the restrictions brought in on 23 March to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the country have helped. Plans to partially reopen schools and some shops as early as 1 June are being pursued in England, while in Scotland, some restrictions are expected to ease from 28 May. Some restrictions have also been removed in Wales and Northern Ireland in recent weeks. With thousands of new cases still being confirmed in the UK, extensive testing and contact tracing will be needed to prevent a second wave of infection. According to the latest provisional data published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), 41,220 deaths involving covid-19 had been registered in England and Wales by 15 May. In the UK, more than a quarter of deaths in the seven-day period ending 15 May involved the disease. As of 26 May, the Johns Hopkins University covid-19 dashboard placed the UK as home to the second-highest number of confirmed covid-19 deaths, behind the US. The UK also had the fourth-highest total of confirmed covid-19 cases, behind the US, Brazil and Russia. The UK faces a particular challenge in easing its restrictions because, even though the number of new cases is in decline, it remains high. France, for example, reported 115 new coronavirus cases on 24 May, while nine were reported in Australia on 25 May. In the UK, 1625 new cases were reported on 25 May. The ONS estimates that 61,000 new infections a week occurred in England between 4 and 17 May. “Lockdown is being released very gradually, as has been the case in many other countries,” says Linda Bauld, a public health specialist at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “Most of the changes at the moment involve more activity outdoors, where the risk of transmission is low and therefore we wouldn’t expect this to result in a rapid rise in cases if social distancing is maintained.”

5-26-19 'Deeply disturbing' report into Ontario care homes released
A Canadian province has launched an investigation into five Ontario elder care homes following the release of a "deeply disturbing" report. The Canadian armed forces report found instances of insect infestations, poor hygiene practices, and neglect, among other concerns. In one home, patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were able to wander the premises. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the document was "gut-wrenching". Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it "deeply disturbing". Mr Ford said a full investigation has been launched into the allegations, which included claims that facilities smelt of rotten food, infested with cockroaches and flies, and that elderly people were left for hours "crying for help with staff not responding". One death has also been referred to the provincial coroner for investigation. Results of the inquiry will be shared with police in case results lead to criminal charges, Mr Ford said. "There are things in there that are extremely troubling and we need to take action," he told journalists during his regular coronavirus briefing on Tuesday. Canada's military has been assisting in a number of elder care homes that have been overwhelmed by outbreaks of the virus. Government statistics suggest that as much as 80% of all the coronavirus-related deaths in Canada are linked to long-term care homes and residences for the elderly. There are currently 150 long-term care homes in Ontario experiencing an outbreak, out of over 620 homes. Some 1,675 troops have been assisting in five care homes in the province, and a further 25 in Quebec, according to CBC News. People of all ages can be infected by the virus. But it is especially dangerous for older people and elder care homes in many parts of the world have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic.

5-27-19 South Korea's coronavirus contact tracing singles out LGBTQ community
The release of personal information that officials use to combat the pandemic is exposing a vulnerable population that would largely prefer to remain unseen. South Korea limited the spread of the coronavirus through aggressive contact tracing that relies heavily on data collection. But following a recent outbreak, many in the country's LGBTQ community feel they're being singled out. South Korean health officials gain access to the cellphone GPS records, credit card transactions, and transportation history of anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, and then they release much of that information to the public. Text message alerts urge everyone who might have crossed paths with the patient to immediately get tested. In a series of notifications sent out earlier this month, authorities disclosed that a 29-year-old man who had contracted the disease had visited several bars and clubs in Itaewon, a Seoul neighborhood known for its nightlife. The Korea Centers for Disease Control warned that up to 5,500 people could have been exposed to the coronavirus based on location data reportedly obtained from mobile carriers. A message sent by the Seoul Metropolitan Government stated testing was mandatory for anyone who visited a club in the area between April 29 and May 5. The city has ordered all bars and clubs across the capital to halt business until further notice. The KCDC states that as of late May, it has traced 207 of the country's 11,142 COVID-19 cases to the Itaewon cluster. Some emergency alerts identified the venues the man had visited. To Kim Yu-jin, these places stand out: They were all located in an LGBTQ-friendly corner of the neighborhood. "I had mixed feelings when I heard about the outbreak," said the 28-year-old who identifies as queer and runs a dance studio in another part of Seoul. Most of her students are other sexual minorities, she said. Kim Yu-jin says it was irresponsible to go clubbing during a pandemic, but she says she is "worried that these people would be blamed for spreading COVID-19," just as South Korea was bringing down new cases to single digits. The Kookmin Ilbo, a conservative newspaper, was one of the first outlets to report that this outbreak was centered at a "gay bar," which sparked anger toward the clubbers on social media and prompted calls to shut down these venues.

5-27-19 Minnesota violence: Clashes over death of black man in police custody
There have been violent clashes between police and protesters in the US city of Minneapolis following the death of an unarmed black man in police custody. Police fired tear gas and protesters threw rocks and sprayed graffiti on police cars. Video of the death shows George Floyd, 46, groaning "I can't breathe" as a policeman kneels on his neck. Four police officers have been fired, with the mayor saying that being black "should not be a death sentence". (Webmaster's comment: Fired! They should be arrested and charged with murder!) The incident echoes the case of Eric Garner, who was placed in a police chokehold in New York in 2014. His death became a rallying call against police brutality and was a driving force in the Black Lives Matter movement. They began in the afternoon on Tuesday, when hundreds of people came to the intersection where the incident had taken place on Monday evening. Organisers tried to keep the protest peaceful and maintain coronavirus social distancing, with demonstrators chanting "I can't breathe," and "It could've been me". Protester Anita Murray told the Washington Post: "It's scary to come down here in the middle of the pandemic, but how could I stay away?" A crowd of hundreds later marched to the 3rd Precinct, where the officers involved in the death are thought to have worked. Squad cars were sprayed with graffiti and protesters threw stones at the police building. Police fired tear gas, flash grenades and foam projectiles. One protester told CBS: "It's real ugly. The police have to understand that this is the climate they have created." Another said: "I got on my knees and I put up a peace sign and they tear-gassed me." Police said one person had suffered non-life-threatening injuries after being shot away from the protest area but gave no further details.

5-27-19 Lack of Covid-19 testing undermines Africa's 'success'
The relatively low number of coronavirus cases in Africa so far "have raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic", in the words of the UN. But at the same time it urges caution. There is a general consensus among those in charge of health policy on the continent that testing rates are woefully low, and this could be distorting our understanding of how far the virus has spread. As countries move beyond the lockdown phase only testing and surveillance will allow governments to really know what is going on. Of course, there are wide variations in testing policy across the more than 50 countries but cases could be going undetected, epidemiologists say. The early apparent successes in combatting the spread of the virus were notable, and the number of cases has not risen as quickly as elsewhere. Many countries acted swiftly where, to varying degrees, lockdowns, partial lockdowns, bans on large gatherings, curfews and border closures were introduced. South Africa, Cameroon, Mauritania and parts of Nigeria launched massive community door-to-door campaigns to screen people and identify potential cases for testing. Some island nations and countries with smaller populations on the continental mainland have kept the numbers low. The Seychelles last reported a case in early April and the 11 confirmed coronavirus cases have all recovered. Namibia had not had a case for more than a month until two women who were in quarantine, after arriving from neighbouring South Africa, tested positive on 21 May. In Mauritius two people who had been repatriated from India and placed in quarantine tested positive on Sunday - the first new cases for more than a month. The South African authorities imposed a very strict lockdown which appeared, in its initial phase, to slow the spread of the virus. But President Cyril Ramaphosa, while announcing an easing of the lockdown, said the country should expect infection numbers to "rise even further and even faster".

5-26-19 Trump says it's safe to reopen schools. I don't believe him.
Why I am not ready to send my son back to class. President Trump wants my kid to go back to school. I am not ready to shoulder the risks of that decision. Now that Memorial Day has passed, the school year is over — or nearly so — for most of the country. But the president is eager to reopen the country from the coronavirus lockdown, despite the fact the virus itself continues to take a terrible toll: The official death count in the United States rose to nearly 100,000 souls over the holiday weekend. The danger has not abated. The president is pressing ahead, nonetheless. "Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," he tweeted on Sunday. "Much very good information now available." Luckily, the fall term doesn't start for a few months, so school leaders and families don't have to make this decision right now. I would love to send my son back to middle school when Labor Day comes around — it's good for him, good for me, and he hasn't exactly taken to the distance-learning techniques provided by my city's public school district. But unless a vaccine or tremendously effective treatment materializes between now and then, I will remain cautious about sending my kid back to class, no matter what Trump says. The biggest reason, of course, is that we don't really know that kids are all that safe from the effects of the coronavirus. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) recently quoted an article that put the COVID-19 death rate for children and adults under 25 at a relatively miniscule 1 in 1.25 million. While it's true that young children are not packing the ICUs at the same rate as older people, doctors are reporting cases in which previously healthy young children are experiencing fever, nausea, and rashes — signs of a delayed immune response to the virus. The number of cases appears to be relatively small, in the hundreds so far, but several children have died. The syndrome has also started showing up in young adults. Until and unless we better understand why some children are getting sick while others are not, caution is warranted. Even if the death rate for children really is low, mortality rates should not be the only measure by which we judge the effects of COVID-19 on individuals, including young children. There are other medium- and long-term effects: The U.K. National Health Service has estimated 45 percent of hospitalized coronavirus patients will need ongoing medical care, even if they survive the virus. Another 1 percent are expected to require permanent care. These are people who don't show up in the death statistics, but whose lives and livelihoods will be greatly altered. And we still don't know what the long-term effects might be on children who contract the virus. Admittedly it is still an open question whether kids can spread the virus as efficiently as adults. That doesn't mean it is a good idea to start packing classrooms again. The worst coronavirus outbreaks have been in nursing homes, prisons, and meatpacking plants — all places where people are crowded together and cannot satisfactorily abide by social distancing guidelines. Schools aren't prisons, but anybody who has tried to navigate a school hallway between classes knows that it is difficult to move around freely — much less maintain six feet of separation — in a sea of young bodies. Those kids then go home to parents, siblings, and sometimes even grandparents who are all more vulnerable to COVID-19.

5-26-19 Coronavirus: Can we stay safe as lockdown eases?
As lockdowns are eased all over the world, what are the risks of getting infected as people come into closer contact with each other? It's a question that scientists have been exploring in a variety of settings including restaurants and offices. Frustratingly, the evidence for how the virus can be transmitted is often slim and if the answers seem vague it's because the science is uncertain. It comes amid pressure from businesses, such as pubs, to be allowed to reopen. But the influence is also coming from people wondering if the rules are too strict. The most obvious is distance. Research that began in the 1930s showed that when someone coughs, most of the droplets they release either evaporate or fall to the ground within about one metre. That's why the World Health Organization (WHO) settled on its "one metre" rule for social distancing. Some governments have opted for a safer limit of 1.5m with the UK and others preferring an even more cautious 2m. The guidance essentially means that the further you're apart, the safer you ought to be but it's not distance alone that matters. The second key factor is timing - how long you're close to someone. The UK government's advice is that spending six seconds with an infected person 1m away carries the same risk as spending one minute with them if they're 2m away. And where it's not possible to keep your distance from a colleague, the aim is to limit the time together to 15 minutes. But as well as timing, there's another important issue: ventilation. Being outside carries the least risk because any virus released by someone infected will be diluted in the breeze. That doesn't mean the possibility of transmission is zero. Even out of doors, the UK's official advice is to stay 2m apart and, if you're closer, try not to talk face-to-face. But inside, where there isn't much fresh air and where people might be close together for longer, the chances of becoming infected are obviously greater. A fascinating insight comes from a study in the Chinese city of Guangzhou which tracked how a cluster of infections occurred. Sitting at tables that were one metre apart, people were having a meal last January. One of the diners was infected with coronavirus but hadn't realised because they had no symptoms. But in the following days, another nine people who'd been in the restaurant at the time came down with Covid-19 - including five who'd been sitting at other tables several metres away. (Webmaster's comment: Not only did the Chinese publish the genetic code of the virus on January 10th, they continue to provide useful intelligence on how to remain safe from it.)

5-26-19 Republican National Convention: Trump threatens to move event from North Carolina
US President Donald Trump has threatened to relocate the Republican National Convention if restrictions are placed on the crowd size due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event is due to take place in North Carolina from 24-27 August. On Monday, however, Mr Trump said he would move the site of the convention if "full attendance" is not guaranteed. Almost 100,000 people have died with coronavirus in the US. Many states have enacted measures to stop its spread. In a series of tweets posted early on Monday, Mr Trump said that North Carolina's Democrat Governor Roy Cooper was "still in shutdown mood" and was "unable to guarantee" that the event would take place at full capacity in Charlotte as originally planned. "In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat governor would allow the Republican party to fully occupy the space," said Mr Trump. Republicans planning to attend the convention "must be immediately given an answer by the governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied", the president said, otherwise another site would be selected. A spokesman for Governor Cooper said North Carolina was "relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety". "What you hear the president saying today is just a very reasonable request of the governor of North Carolina," Vice-President Mike Pence told Fox & Friends in response to Mr Trump's tweets. "We all want to be in Charlotte, we love North Carolina," he continued. "But having a sense now is absolutely essential because of the immense preparations that are involved, and we look forward to working with Governor Cooper, getting a swift response and if need be moving the national convention to a state that is further along on reopening and can say with confidence that we can gather there." (Webmaster's comment: American's lives mean very little to the Republican leadership!)

5-26-19 Coronavirus: New York Stock Exchange trading floor to reopen
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is set to reopen its trading floor on Tuesday after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the exchange is likely to look and feel very different as new rules come into effect. The NYSE is one of the few bourses to still feature floor trade - most have shifted to fully-electronic trading. New York City has been hit hard by the outbreak with some 200,000 cases and more than 20,000 deaths. Under the new measures only a quarter of the normal number of traders will be allowed to return to work. Traders must also avoid public transport, wear masks and follow strict social distancing rules, with newly fitted transparent barriers to keep people apart. They will also be screened and have their temperatures taken as they enter the building. Anyone who fails pass the check will be barred until they test negative for Covid-19 or self-quarantine in accordance with US government guidelines. To return to their jobs, floor traders will also reportedly have to sign a liability waiver that prevents them from suing the NYSE if they get infected at the exchange. According to the Wall Street Journal, traders will have to acknowledge that returning to the trading floor could result in them "contracting Covid-19, respiratory failure, death, and transmitting Covid-19 to family or household members and others who may also suffer these effects". The NYSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on reports of the waiver. The new regulations also mean that the NYSE's high-profile opening bell events and stock market debut celebrations have been put on hold as visitors are banned. Media organisations that usually broadcast from the trading floor won't be allowed back until further notice. NYSE president Stacey Cunningham tweeted that reopening was an important step towards restarting the US economy after lockdowns across the country.

5-26-19 Coronavirus: China's plan to test everyone in Wuhan
China has been carrying out an ambitious plan to test everyone in Wuhan, the city where the Covid-19 pandemic began, following the emergence of a cluster of new infections. The authorities had pledged to test the city's inhabitants over a 10-day period, starting on 14 May. We've looked at what was achieved, and over what period of time. Wuhan has an estimated population of 11 million people. But those already tested in the seven days prior to mass testing starting in their district, as well as any children under six years of age, have been excluded. The total number may have been reduced further given that some residents who left Wuhan before the lockdown in January may well not have returned. The authorities said they would begin with people considered most at risk - such as those in more densely populated areas as well as those in key jobs such as healthcare. We then need to consider the timeframe, which has shifted somewhat since the initial announcement. The Wuhan authorities later suggested different districts within the city would be starting at different times. "Each district finishes its tests within 10 days from the date it started them," the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control said, which effectively extended the deadline beyond the original pledge. It still remains a very ambitious plan, so do we know how close they've come to achieving their goal? All the data we have comes from the local health authorities in Wuhan, so we need to be aware of not having independent verification for the numbers. But let's start with Wuhan's testing capacity before this latest mass campaign. There were about 60 centres across the city, with an overall maximum capacity of 100,000 tests a day, according to the official Hubei Daily newspaper. That would have made it impossible to reach everyone in Wuhan over 10 days. So testing capacity would have needed to be significantly boosted to meet the challenge. Health officials in Wuhan say they carried out 1.47m tests on a single day, 22 May - so a huge increase from the 100,000 a day prior to this testing campaign starting. In total, according to the Hubei health commission website, nine million test samples had been taken by 24 May - 10 days after the campaign started. Of these, the commission says 6.57 million had been processed. That's a very large number and although it's not possible to verify independently, it appears that Wuhan has managed to ramp up its testing to reach a high proportion of its population during the 10 day period. (Webmaster's comment: China appears to be very serious about beating this virus!)

5-26-19 Coronavirus: Denmark opens borders to divided lovers
Denmark has opened its borders to couples who were separated from their partners by the coronavirus lockdown. As of Monday, cross-border couples who reside in the Nordic countries or Germany can now visit Denmark. Rules currently require people to prove their relationship with photos, text messages and emails. But the justice minister has announced these regulations will be relaxed in the coming days, so all that is needed is a letter signed by both parties. "If you say you are a boyfriend and sign [the letter], we will assume it [is true]," Justice minister Nick Hækkerup told broadcaster TV2. A number of European countries are considering reopening Europe's internal borders as the outbreak eases. Germany has proposed allowing travel to all 26 other EU states plus the UK and non-EU countries like Iceland and Norway that are in the border-free Schengen zone from 15 June. The EU has issued guidance on how best to lift restrictions on travel. But many restrictions remain in place. Several people have told the BBC about their frustration with ongoing rules about partners even as countries ease their lockdown measures. Currently, the authorities say people must give the name, address and contact details of their partner in Denmark, as well as phone records, photos and text histories to prove the relationship. Permanent residents of Finland, Iceland, Germany, Norway and Sweden all qualify, provided their partner is a resident of Denmark. Police also said this applies only to people in serious relationships, which they defined as of roughly six months - with actual face-to-face meetings and not purely online or via the phone. Opposition parties, however, criticised the stringent rules, prompting a government rethink. While they are sticking to the guidance about "serious" relationships, partners will simply need to sign a piece of paper declaring this is the case, and will be allowed to enter the country. "Although the other parties are in opposition, they can sometimes say sensible things - and I always listen to the other parties," Mr Hækkerup said.

5-26-19 White woman called police on black man in dog row
A white American woman who called the police after a black man asked her to put her dog on a leash in New York City has been suspended from her job with an investment firm. The man, described as an "avid birder", was concerned the dog could endanger wildlife in Central Park. "I'm going to tell them [police] there's an African-American man threatening my life," she told him. A video of the incident posted on social media went viral on Monday. The woman, identified as Amy Cooper, later apologised, saying she had "overreacted". Ms Cooper also returned her dog to a rescue centre after allegations of cruelty as she appeared to choke the animal while calling the police. The man, Christian Cooper (no relation), posted his video of the incident on Facebook and said that it began when he noticed Ms Cooper's dog "tearing through the plantings" in an area of Central Park called the Ramble. "Ma'am, dogs in the Ramble have to be on the leash at all times. The sign is right there," Mr Cooper says he told Ms Cooper, but she refused to restrain her dog. He said he was concerned the dog would destroy the habitat in the Ramble, a popular area for bird-watchers. He says he then offered the dog some treats, as a way to encourage it to leave the woodland. At some point Mr Cooper began to film Ms Cooper with his mobile phone, and she asked him to stop. The video shows Ms Cooper calling the police, saying to Mr Cooper "I'm going to tell them there's an African-American man threatening my life." The video, which was also posted on Twitter by Mr Cooper's sister, has been widely condemned on social media as many point out the high number of killings of black men by police in the US. Others referred to the high-profile fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was out jogging when he was killed by two men in February. Ms Cooper's employer Franklin Templeton, an investment firm, has suspended her while it investigates the incident, saying on Twitter that "we do not condone racism of any kind."

5-26-19 Costa Rica celebrates first same-sex weddings
The first same-sex weddings have taken place in Costa Rica, the first Central American country to equalise its marriage legislation. A lesbian couple became the first to tie the knot in a ceremony that took place just after the new law came into effect at midnight. The wedding was shown on national TV. President Carlos Alvarado said the law change meant Costa Rica now recognised the rights lesbian and gay people had always deserved. He tweeted (in Spanish) that "empathy and love should from now on be the guiding principles which will allow us to move forward and build a country where there is room for everyone". The first same-sex marriage ceremony was broadcast as the culmination of a three-hour programme celebrating marriage equality. Marriage equality came about after the constitutional court declared in August 2018 that a ban on same-sex weddings was unconstitutional and discriminatory. The court gave Costa Rica's parliament 18 months to change the law. Enrique Sánchez, Costa Rica's first openly gay member of parliament, welcomed the change and praised those who had spent years lobbying for the same-sex marriage ban to be lifted. "With their experience, their struggles... they have helped build a society where there are no second-class families or second-rate people," he told Reuters news agency. Same-sex marriage is already possible in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and some parts of Mexico, but Costa Rica is the first country in Central America to allow it. Some religious groups had opposed the move and more than 20 lawmakers tried to delay the change in the law.

5-25-19 Coronavirus: 'I see a lot of people, I don't see any masks'
Scores of people visited US beaches over the Memorial Day weekend and not everyone abided by the guildelines. All 50 states have partially reopened with varying degrees of restrictions. Dr Deborah Birx, the US coronavirus taskforce chief, urged people to continue to wear masks if they couldn't appropriately social distance. She added that she was "concerned" by the crowded scenes.

5-25-19 Coronavirus: Americans flock to beaches on Memorial Day weekend
Americans have flocked to beaches and lakes for Memorial Day weekend, often flouting restrictions imposed to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. In Florida, state police dispersed an unauthorised gathering of hundreds of people in Daytona Beach on Saturday. In Missouri, bars at the Lake of the Ozarks were packed with revellers, who violated social-distancing rules. US coronavirus task force chief Dr Deborah Birx said she was "very concerned" after seeing such scenes. "We really want to be clear all the time that social distancing is absolutely critical. And if you can't social distance and you're outside, you must wear a mask," Dr Birx said on ABC's This Week on Sunday. Lyda Krewson, the mayor of St Louis, Missouri, said: "It's irresponsible and dangerous to engage in such high risk behaviour just to have some fun over the extended holiday weekend. "Now, these folks will be going home to S. Louis and counties across Missouri and the Midwest, raising concerns about the potential of more positive cases, hospitalisations, and tragically, deaths. Deeply disturbing." In Florida's Tampa area, the crowds were so big that authorities closed parking lots because they were full, the Associated Press reports. In California, big crowds were seen enjoying beaches over the weekend. State officials said most people were covering their faces and keeping their distance on beaches and parks. Memorial Day - an annual holiday held on the last Monday of May - honours all those who have died serving in the US military. It marks the unofficial start of summer. The US has more coronavirus cases than anywhere in the world. It has over 1.6 million known infection and is nearing 100,000 deaths linked to the virus. All 50 US states have now partially reopened after a two-month shutdown. However, remaining restrictions vary across the country. (Webmaster's comment: So let's all go out and get infected and infect others!)

5-25-19 Coronavirus outbreak: Caribbean tourism struggles as visitors stay home
Seagulls are the only ones using the pool at a resort fringing one of Antigua's most popular beaches. They have the place all to themselves, save for a solitary security guard surveying the empty terrace usually abuzz with families. Above, the bright blue sky is devoid of the aeroplanes ordinarily flitting back and forth with such regularity they are used to tell the time. The absence of holidaymakers due to the Covid-19 pandemic is keenly felt on this Caribbean island for which, like many of its counterparts, tourism has long been its breadbasket. Often dubbed the "most tourism-dependent region in the world", the Caribbean attracted more than 31 million visitors last year. For some islands, the sector accounts to a colossal two-thirds of gross domestic product. "Zero tourists means zero income," local excursion operator Glen Hector tells the BBC. It is especially galling after ploughing his life savings into a new boat for his Creole Antigua Tours company in October. "My business is 100% dependent on tourists. We're staying positive that things will pick up but I'm not seeing that happening until at least the end of the year," he explains. "If things don't get better I'm really expecting to pack up. I know other small companies who feel the same." On 4 June the first commercial flight in 10 weeks will land in Antigua when American Airlines touches down from Miami. British Airways is set to follow suit in July. Tourism bosses hope the island's oft-touted "365 beaches" will help facilitate social distancing and woo cautious holidaymakers back. Still, Aidan McCauley, owner of the Sugar Ridge resort, is expecting a "very soft season". He hopes to reopen by November. "We get 50% of our guests from the US and we believe that market will recover quicker, assuming Covid is contained. But is that likely? A second wave in the autumn would mean nobody will be able to come at all," he says.

5-25-19 The Metro Manila priests fighting coronavirus with the cross
With the cross in one hand and alcohol spray in the other, a group of Catholic priests in Metro Manila have been risking their lives to continue to serve their poverty-stricken community. Manila has been under police and army-enforced lockdown for months, but hundreds of new coronavirus cases are recorded daily and testing for the virus remains limited. Howard Johnson and Virma Simonette follow the priests who, in full personal protective equipment (PPE), are continuing to deliver services to their congregation. (Webmaster's comment: Witchcraft to the rescue!)

5-24-19 Coronavirus: China accuses US of spreading 'conspiracies'
China's foreign minister has accused the US of spreading "conspiracies and lies" about the coronavirus, ratcheting up tensions between the two nations. The US has been infected by a "political virus" that compels some politicians to repeatedly attack China, Wang Yi told reporters on Sunday. He urged the US to "stop wasting time and stop wasting precious lives" in its response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Tensions between Washington and Beijing have escalated as the virus has spread. US President Donald Trump, who faces re-election this year and has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic, has blamed China for trying to cover up the outbreak. But on Sunday, Mr Wang repeated China's assertions that it had acted responsibly to safeguard global public health since the virus first emerged in December. Speaking at an annual news conference during China's parliamentary session, Mr Wang said that "some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage". He did not specify what those forces were, but said they were trying to "push our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War". "Aside from the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, there is also a political virus spreading through the US," he continued. "This political virus is the use of every opportunity to attack and smear China," he said. "Some politicians completely disregard basic facts and have fabricated too many lies targeting China, and plotted too many conspiracies." But he called for co-operation between Washington and Beijing in tackling the outbreak. "Both of us bear a major responsibility for world peace and development," he said. "China and the United States stand to gain from co-operation, and lose from confrontation." President Trump and Beijing have traded repeated barbs in recent weeks, on issues from the World Health Organization (WHO) to potential lawsuits against China over its alleged cover-up of the outbreak. (Webmaster's comment: China bashing is more important than stopping the spread of the virus!)

5-24-19 How pandemics change society
History can tell us a lot about the ways coronavirus might transform how we live. The Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other widespread disease outbreaks have transformed how people live. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Will Covid-19 change the world? Yes, if it's similar to the pandemics of the past. Plagues and viral contagions have regularly blighted the course of human civilization, killing millions of people and wreaking economic devastation. But as each pandemic receded, it left cultural, political, and social changes that lasted far beyond the disease itself.
  2. When was the first pandemic? The earliest on record occurred during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C. Now believed to have been a form of typhoid fever, that particular "plague" passed through Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt before striking the city of Athens, then under siege by Sparta
  3. What caused the Justinian Plague? Yersinia pestis, a bacterium spread by fleas on rodents — the same culprit behind one of the worst pandemics in human history: the Black Death. Arriving in Sicily on a trading ship in 1347, the Black Death eventually spread throughout Europe and wiped out about 200 million people — up to 60 percent of the global population.
  4. What other impact did it have? The Black Death's biggest socioeconomic legacy was its role in ending feudalism. Feudalism was a medieval system that empowered wealthy nobles to grant the use of their land to peasants in exchange for their labor — with rent, wages, and other terms determined by the lords.
  5. What about other epidemics? In 1802, an outbreak of yellow fever in the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti) triggered a chain of events that led to the vast expansion of the United States. The epidemic, caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, killed an estimated 50,000 French troops trying to control Haiti, forcing France to withdraw.
  6. What was the Spanish Flu? It was a virulent strain of H1N1 influenza that may have actually originated on a Kansas poultry farm. One of its first victims was a U.S. soldier stationed in Kansas. Unlike the bacterial plagues of the past, the Spanish Flu was a virus, which became more deadly when it picked up some genetic material from a virus infecting birds.
  7. COVID-19's possible legacy: The coronavirus has already had a huge and potentially enduring impact on everyday life. Our work and social lives have gone virtual, with even G-7 leaders conducting their meetings via videoconferencing. Movie studios, gyms, musicians, and karaoke bars are streaming their content straight into our homes.

5-24-19 Coronavirus: Why reopening French schools is a social emergency
It's obvious that a lack of schooling has increased inequalities, says France's Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. "Social emergency" is the term he uses to describe the need to unlock the country's schools. France started reopening its education system after lockdown with primary schools, because it was even more important for young people than for older pupils, he explained. In the UK, there has been strong opposition to the government's plans to reopen schools in England on 1 June. Some scientists, councils and teachers' unions say it's too soon to welcome pupils back safely. In France, 40,000 primary schools have reopened since lockdown was lifted on 11 May along with some middle schools. So far, around one in five primary school pupils have returned to class. Mr Blanquer admitted that the children who had returned were often those from wealthier families. "It's true that the children of poor families are coming less than the others," he said. "That's why it was important to start in May, not in June, because we know that it's [a] step-by-step [process] with poor families. It takes time to persuade people." Fathia Sissani lives in Seine-Saint-Denis, a poor suburb of Paris that last month recorded the highest rate of coronavirus deaths anywhere in France. She is a single parent to three children, two girls and a boy, aged between 11 and 14. She gave up work to look after her middle child, who is disabled. Her youngest, Riya, has dropped out of school because it was too hard for him to follow the courses online at home. "I'm a parent, not a teacher," says Fathia. "I grew up in Algeria so I studied in Arabic. I speak French well, but I don't understand lessons like maths or grammar." Her internet connection has also been a problem. "I had to change provider because I didn't have a good signal," she explained. "I was having difficulty connecting to the school. Everyone is online. We tried for a bit, but I'd had enough of it." Having everyone at home has been hard for Fathia. Her two daughters love school, but even though schools are reopening she isn't sending any of them back into class yet.

5-23-19 Coronavirus: New York state daily death toll drop below 100
New York state's daily death toll has dropped below 100 for the first time since late March. A total of 84 people died in the last 24 hours, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday, compared with 109 a day before. During the height of the outbreak in April, more than 1,000 people a day were losing their lives in worst-hit US state. "In my head, I was always looking to get under 100," Mr Cuomo said. "It doesn't do good for any of those 84 families that are feeling the pain," he said at his daily briefing, but added that the drop was a sign of "real progress". Mr Cuomo announced on Friday that groups of up to 10 people could gather "for any lawful purpose" anywhere in the state, including New York City. But, he added: "If you don't have to be with a group of 10 people don't be with a group of 10 people." New York state was once the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak, with more than 28,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has the biggest death toll from Covid-19 at 96,000. The UK is second with more than 36,000.

5-23-19 A eulogy for 100,000 Americans
Imagine if, starting now, we held a moment of silence for every American who has died from COVID-19. We wouldn't speak for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week. For the rest of the month. If each one of those deaths was honored with the full traditional 60 seconds of silence, this country would stand in hushed, somber, unrelenting remembrance for just short of 70 days. Sometime in the next few days we will officially record this country's 100,000th coronavirus victim. In truth, we probably passed that number awhile ago; the U.S. death counts are almost certainly too conservative. Still, that number is unthinkable. It means that in four months, more Americans have died from the novel coronavirus than died during the two decades of the Vietnam War. In less than 110 days, almost two and a half times as many Americans will have died than perished in car accidents in the whole of 2019, and over six times as many as the worst recent flu season. But numbers, comparisons — these are just ways of trying to quantify something that cannot be measured: a life. "One hundred thousand" doesn't tell you about the 51-year-old mother, whose children, when they were young, would race down the stairs to help her with her bags. They don't tell you about the 59-year-old grandfather whose wife met him at a Harley-Davidson dealership and who, after his death, donated important images of his lungs to help fight the virus. They don't tell you about the beloved 67-year-old teacher who was mourning her 42-year-old son, who had died from COVID-19 in April, when she caught the disease herself. By now, you might even know someone who has died; one in eight Americans do. I am still one of the lucky; none of my close loved ones have become victims of the disease. There is an implicit and terrible addendum to that statement: yet. That possibility, that word, lives in a knot in my stomach like a parasite, a heavy, angry, terrifying thing gnawing away at me even when I'm not consciously thinking about it. But for now, my mourning is general and abstract, the numb sadness of a citizen. I hurt for my suffering country. Yet America at large has not been permitted to grieve. At the most basic level, this is to keep us safe; funerals are heartbreakingly difficult to hold when gatherings are so dangerous, and there can be no moment of silence before a baseball game if there are no baseball games to begin with. It also seems misguided to hold a memorial when we're still in the thick of the tragedy. It would be a denial of the truth, that hundreds of people are still dying every single day. (Webmaster's comment: Trump said the Coronavirus was no worse than the flu. We should call him "Wrong Again Trump!")

5-23-19 World faces risk of 'vaccine nationalism' in COVID-19 fight
With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. Global competition to find a vaccine to tackle COVID-19 is fierce, with at least 130 groups racing to be first. One U.S.-based company, Moderna, announced preliminary positive results in May, saying a human vaccine trial produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers. The Moderna vaccine is one of more than 100 under development intended to protect against the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.7 million people globally and killed over 315,000. There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, and experts predict a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months to develop. The very early data offers a glimmer of hope for a vaccine among the most advanced in development. And with so many groups around the world working towards an inoculation, the odds of finding a way to put a stop to the pandemic increase. But the competition is also somewhat worrisome. With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. It's a problem Jane Halton, a former WHO board member, calls "vaccine nationalism." "I worry that some countries will see that there is strategic advantage in the use of any developed vaccine, if they are successful. I also think that there is, in some cases, a need to deal with domestic concerns," Halton said. "And I understand that being able to balance a need for domestic distribution, particularly for the vulnerable, but at the same time acknowledging that all countries are in this together — I think there's a middle line to be struck here." Halton, who is chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and former head of Australia's health and finance departments, tells The World's host Marco Werman that vaccine production should be globally distributed and initially target the most vulnerable in all nations. "What I hope is that whomever succeeds in this search, the quest for a vaccine, that when that vaccine is actually developed and is approved for use, that it isn't used exclusively for the needs of one population, when in fact, the people who need this vaccine are the vulnerable healthcare workers around the world, the elderly, the immune-compromised. And I think that is going to be the very big challenge we're about to face," she added. (Webmaster's comment: Keep in mind that in America it's always profits first, safety second!)

5-23-19 Biden regrets saying black voters considering Trump 'ain't black'
Democratic White House candidate Joe Biden is in damage limitation mode after saying African Americans "ain't black" if they even consider voting for President Donald Trump over him. Gaffe-prone Mr Biden made the remark in an interview on Friday with a prominent black radio host, Charlamagne Tha God, about his outreach to black voters. Mr Biden later expressed regret for the "cavalier" comment. The black vote has been key to the Biden candidacy. Throughout the 18-minute interview, Mr Biden, 77, stressed his longstanding ties to the black community, noting his overwhelming win this year in South Carolina's presidential primary, a state where the Democratic electorate is more than 60% African American. "I won every single county. I won the largest share of the black vote that anybody had, including Barack," he said of President Barack Obama, the country's first African-American president, who picked Mr Biden as his running mate. The presumptive nominee for November's election also "guaranteed" that several black women were being considered to serve as his vice-president. He has already committed to selecting a woman to join him on the Democratic ticket. Toward the end of the interview, a campaign aide interrupted to say the former vice-president was out of time. When an aide for Mr Biden tried to end the interview, Charlamagne protested, saying: "You can't do that to black media." "I do that to white media and black media," Mr Biden replied, adding that his wife was waiting to use their home broadcast studio. Charlamagne urged Mr Biden to return for another interview, saying he had more questions. "If you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Mr Biden responded. (Webmaster's comment: What a colossally stupid remark! We need another Democratic candidate!)

5-23-19 Ramadan: German church opens doors for Muslim prayers
A church in Berlin has opened its doors to Muslim worshippers unable to fit into their mosque under new social distancing rules. Germany allowed religious services to resume on 4 May but worshippers must maintain a distance of 1.5m (5ft). As a result the Dar Assalam mosque in the city's Neukölln district could only hold a fraction of its congregation. But the Martha Lutheran church in Kreuzberg offered to help by hosting Friday prayers at the end of Ramadan. Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. Normally families and friends would gather to break their fast and attend communal prayers, but in Berlin - as in countries across the world - this year's celebrations have been affected. "It is a great sign and it brings joy in Ramadan and joy amid this crisis," the mosque's imam told Reuters news agency. "This pandemic has made us a community. Crises bring people get together." "It was a strange feeling because of the musical instruments, the pictures," congregation member Samer Hamdoun said, noting the contrast to Islamic worship. "But when you look, when you forget the small details. This is the house of God in the end." Even the church's pastor took part in the service. "I gave a speech in German," said Monika Matthias. "And during prayer, I could only say yes, yes, yes, because we have the same concerns and we want to learn from you. And it is beautiful to feel that way about each other." (Webmaster's comment: There are many decent people in the world.)

5-23-19 Politics aside, hydroxychloroquine could (maybe) help fight COVID-19
It may not help very sick COVID-19 patients, but tests aim to see if it can prevent infection. President Donald Trump’s announcement that he is taking the drug hydroxychloroquine as a precaution against the coronavirus has once again thrown a decades-old antimalarial drug into the headlines. There’s currently not enough data to say whether the drug can protect people from catching COVID-19 or from getting very ill if they do get infected with the virus. Studies of its use in treating very sick patients have shown mixed results and, in some cases, have led to dangerous side effects. But now, with the president touting hydroxychloroquine even as scientists issue cautions about its use, the drug has found itself at the center of political divides, to the possible detriment of figuring out whether it works. Nevertheless, researchers are busy testing hydroxychloroquine and a related drug called chloroquine to see if they can either prevent infection or keep illness from worsening. Nearly 200 clinical trials are under way or planned around the world to test the drugs, either alone or in combination with other medications. That includes at least 28 trials examining whether either drug can protect healthcare workers and others at high risk of getting COVID-19. Here’s what scientists know about the drugs and their potential. Both are antimalarial drugs that also have well-known antiviral activity against many viruses, including SARS and MERS. At least they work against those viruses in lab dishes. In lab tests, hydroxychloroquine can also stop SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, from infecting cells and decreases replication of viruses that do get inside cells, researchers report March 18 in Cell Reports. A February 4 report in Cell Research found that chloroquine also inhibits the virus.

5-22-19 Trump drug hydroxychloroquine raises death risk in Covid patients, study says
The drug US President Donald Trump said he was taking to ward off Covid-19 actually increases the risk of patients with the disease dying from it, a study in the Lancet has found. The study said there were no benefits to treating patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. Mr Trump said he was taking the drug despite public health officials warning that it could cause heart problems. The president has repeatedly promoted the drug, against medical advice. Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus. The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine - or a related form chloroquine - either alone or with an antibiotic. The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group. The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate. The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials. Mr Trump says he has not tested positive for Covid-19 and is taking the drug because he thinks it has "positive benefits." A trial is under way to see whether the anti-malarial drug could prevent Covid-19. More than 40,000 healthcare workers from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who are in contact with patients with the disease will be given the drug as part of the trial. When asked about the Lancet study, White House coronavirus taskforce co-ordinator Dr Deborah Birx said the US Food and Drug Administration had been "very clear" about concerns in using the drug as either a coronavirus prevention or as a treatment course. Dr Marcos Espinal, director of the Pan American Health Organization - part of the World Health Organization - has stressed that no clinical trials have recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: Following Trump's advice can kill you!)

5-22-19 Earlier coronavirus lockdown 'could have saved 36,000 lives'
A study has estimated there may have been 36,000 fewer coronavirus-related deaths had the US entered lockdown a week earlier in March. The Columbia University research also estimated that around 83% of deaths could have been avoided if measures had been taken two weeks earlier. It suggested that 54,000 fewer people would have died had cities begun locking down on 1 March. President Trump dismissed the report as a "political hit job". The study, which has not been peer reviewed yet, covers data up to 3 May, at which point there had been just over 65,300 coronavirus-related deaths in the US. There have now been more than 93,400 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The results of the study indicate that stricter measures imposed sooner could have made a dramatic impact. It said the findings "underscore the importance of earlier intervention and aggressive response in controlling" the virus. Mr Trump urged citizens to limit travel on 16 March, five days after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Individual states then began lockdown measures at different times, with California and New York state going into lockdown on 19 March and 22 March respectively, while Georgia became one of the last to implement such measures on 3 April. Critics say the Trump administration's flawed and delayed rollout of testing meant states had limited information on the extent of the outbreak in February and early March. The president also downplayed the risk during this period. Asked about the research on Thursday before a visit to Michigan, Mr Trump said: "I was so early - it was earlier than anybody thought." Although the president claimed the study was a political attack on him, the findings also raise questions for other politicians about when they enforced stay-at-home orders. New York was the epicentre of the US outbreak and the state has had more than 28,000 deaths and 360,000 Covid-19 cases. Although New York City schools shut on 15 March, it was another week before a total lockdown was introduced. Asked about the new research, Governor Andrew Cuomo conceded: "If this country knew more and knew it earlier we could have saved many more lives."

5-22-19 Coronavirus: Is it safe to visit US national parks?
National parks are re-opening across the US, and people are overjoyed. After weeks of staying at home, they are desperate to go outdoors. But is it safe? Judah Brass, 19, has been hunkered down in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his parents and brothers and sisters for weeks. But a few days ago, they went for a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains in a park near their house. "Standing in the breeze, I was just so thankful," he says, describing what it was like to see spring flowers and hear the croaking of frogs. "It was freeing." He was one of the first to visit the Great Smoky Mountains park after it had re-opened. The park, along with Yellowstone National Park and many of the other national parks, had been shut because of the pandemic. Park officials were concerned about the virus, and they closed off access to many of the national parks in March. The parks are the country's treasures, showcasing beauty that ranges from the Florida Everglades to California's giant sequoias. With such impressive offerings, the parks attract crowds - last year, more than 4m people visited Yellowstone alone. But the Great Smoky Mountains, which has also reopened, is the busiest - a million visitors each month. It means people who have been cooped up for weeks can now head for the parks and enjoy the outdoors. The president celebrated the opening of the parks in a speech last month, saying that it showed the US had made progress in its effort to fight the virus. "People are going to be very happy," he said. He's right - hikers and others are thrilled at the prospect of returning to the great outdoors. They know that spending time outdoors is good for one's mental, emotional and physical well-being. Science also shows that it helps people at work and allows them to find new ways to solve problems. Shelley Carson, a psychology professor at Harvard University, explains: "Being surrounded by natural beauty helps our ability to be creative." But still hikers and nature lovers, even the most avid among them, are concerned about risks. They are worried about crowds at the park. They wonder if social-distancing guidelines will be followed, and they are not sure if it is safe to be in a place with so many people.

5-22-19 America's coronavirus death toll has been a bipartisan achievement
The United States: proud home of the world's largest prison population, and among rich nations, lowest life expectancy and highest obesity rate. Now we can add the world's largest coronavirus outbreak to our national parade of ignominy — there have been over 5 million confirmed cases around the world and 330,000 deaths, and roughly 30 percent of each have happened in the U.S. Most or all of this carnage could have been prevented. A recent study suggested that if lockdown procedures had been implemented one week earlier than they actually were, about 55 percent of the deaths would have been avoided. Two weeks earlier, and about 80 percent would have been. Then of course, if America had followed the lead of capable countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, or Greece, practically nobody would have died. It's a world-historical failure of governance. The lion's share of blame for this disaster must fall on President Trump, who is responsible for protecting the nation from pandemic threats, and has utterly botched the job from January to today. But he is far from the only failure — the worst outbreak in the country by far happened in New York, a state controlled by the Democratic Party at all levels of government. It is a bipartisan rot that is dissolving America from the inside. It is now obvious that the U.S. national response to the virus itself is by far the worst among rich countries. Indeed, in most of the ways that matter there has been no response. Trump frittered away a critical two months when the virus was first beginning to spread, denying it was problem and insisting it would just go away, and when states locked themselves down in a justifiable panic, frittered away the following two months and counting. There has been no coordinated national-level purchases of medical equipment and protective gear, no full-scale national testing program, no national quarantine facilities, no national contract-tracing effort, and no sign whatsoever Trump is ever going to set any of that up. Indeed, perhaps the most substantial action of the Trump administration — aside from fueling anti-lockdown protests from crack-brained maniacs — has been randomly confiscating shipments of protective equipment bought by states and hospitals, possibly so that Jared Kushner can use them for political patronage. We are now four months into the pandemic and barely in a better position to control it than when we started. Now, fragments of a pandemic control system have been set up in most places, but that is almost entirely the result of state, local, and private efforts. What little positive that has been done at the national level has been the remaining shreds of the federal bureaucracy that Trump hasn't torn up, or filled with idiot cronies, operating on autopilot. The efforts have been haphazard and badly incomplete. Trump is constitutionally incapable of dealing with a viral pandemic. His only political skill is shameless demagoguery: whipping his supporters into a raging froth by lying, downplaying problems, blaming others, or boosting quack miracle cures. The only thing that is real to him is himself, and the only thing he truly cares about is how he looks on television. One could no more expect him to respond rationally to such a crisis than one could expect a toddler to engineer the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are not unhinged crackpots, and they still enabled, through their inaction, one of the worst regional coronavirus outbreaks in the world. As Charles Duhigg writes at The New Yorker, as the local epidemic gathered strength, they squabbled with their scientific advisers and each other, resisting the need for immediate lockdown measures until it was too late. These two men are just incompetent fools, leavened with a large helping of malevolence in Cuomo's case. After horribly botching the crisis, the governor leveraged the crisis to slash Medicaid, and now appears to be considering an attack on New York's public school system.

5-22-19 Trump removes mask before facing cameras at car factory
President Donald Trump says he wore a mask in a "back area" during a factory tour in Michigan, but removed it before facing the cameras. He told reporters he took off the facial covering at the Ford car plant because he "didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it", and he was about to make a speech. Despite Michigan's attorney general urging the president to comply with health guidelines, the president insisted it was unnecessary because he is regularly tested for coronavirus. (Webmaster's comment: But regular testing does nothing to prevent you from catching the virus!)

5-22-19 The constitutional immune system kicks in
All 50 states have begun to return to normal life. Measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19 are gradually lifting as various milestones are met, and though ordinary economic and social activity is still weeks or months away, we're moving — however haltingly and with much bickering, hyperbole, and mutual recrimination — in that very welcome direction. We're also going to court, with suits against lockdowns appearing on the docket in multiple states. This is good news, even if, like me, you've generally supported a robust public health response to this pandemic. We need this accountability, and we need it now, as fears rise about state overreach and the risk of permanent changes to our governance and society. In the early days of COVID-19, legal experts predicted court challenges to stay-at-home orders and distancing mandates would generally fail. "The idea that you're going to walk into court and object vehemently and successfully against known, proven public health social distancing measures that are being employed currently is not a winner," Arizona State University law professor James Hodge told Bloomberg Law in March. That view wasn't unwarranted, as police power, the authority under which states and municipalities have issued pandemic decrees, has historically permitted quarantines, travel restrictions, and the like to control epidemics. In New York City's 1916 polio epidemic, for example, families with infections were quarantined and publicly identified; movie theaters and other public gathering spaces were closed; and neighboring locales forbid travel from affected areas. Philadelphia took similar steps when afflicted with yellow fever in 1793 (tragically, quarantine was useless for a disease doctors did not yet realize was spread by mosquitoes). Cato Institute legal scholar Walter Olson reports he has been unable to find a single successful court challenge to "prohibition on public assemblies and closure of businesses" commonly used to fight the 1918 flu epidemic. And, in an extreme case, "Typhoid Mary" Mallon was essentially imprisoned for the final three decades of her life after she repeatedly refused to take steps to stop spreading her deadly infection. But police power has never been unlimited in America. So, as Texas Supreme Court Justice James Blacklock wrote at the beginning of this month with the concurrence of several colleagues, the longer this pandemic lasts and the more we know about the virus, the less legal durability sweeping public health measures will have. "As more becomes known about the threat and about the less restrictive, more targeted ways to respond to it, continued burdens on constitutional liberties may not survive judicial scrutiny," Blacklock said. Some of those burdens have already succumbed. A state judge on Wednesday issued an injunction against Ohio's stay-at-home directive as it applies to gyms and health clubs, a group of which have brought suit. The ruling raised multiple objections to the order, which was found to exceed the "quarantine and isolation" authority of the Ohio Department of Health because it went well beyond the definitions of quarantine and isolation in Ohio law. The Health Department's director "has acted in an impermissibly arbitrary, unreasonable, and oppressive manner and without any procedural safeguards," the decision held.

5-22-19 Coronavirus: Is Latin America the next epicentre?
Coronavirus cases have been rising sharply in many Latin American countries, causing increasing concern to regional health authorities. Brazil has more than 300,000 confirmed cases - the third highest in the world. Other countries in the region, including Mexico, Chile and Peru, are also struggling to contain major outbreaks. With new confirmed cases in the US plateauing and many European countries reporting declining numbers, is Latin America on course to become the new epicentre of the pandemic? The first confirmed case in Latin America was identified in Brazil on 26 February, although researchers have said there are indications that there were cases there as early as January. Coronavirus has since spread to every country in the region. More than 600,000 cases have been recorded, and more than 30,000 people have died, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. This is far fewer cases and deaths than in Europe and the US, but testing is nowhere near as widespread and deaths may be under-reported. Latin America's two most populous nations, Mexico and Brazil, have seen the highest number of deaths, more than 6,000 and 20,000 respectively. And researchers say both could be significantly under-reporting deaths, with many cases going undiagnosed. Peru has reported the 12th highest number of cases in the world with more than 100,000 confirmed - which is more than China. And Chile is reporting thousands of new coronavirus cases each day, with more than 500 people dead. Ecuador has seen the most deaths per capita in the region - with around 17 per 100,000 people. Daily cases in Ecuador have been dropping, but this is not the trend in many other countries in the region. Unlike in the US and most countries in Europe, many countries in Latin America are seeing their daily cases and deaths increase. Looking at Brazil, Mexico and Peru compared to the worst hit countries in Europe in terms of deaths - the UK, Italy and France - you can see daily deaths are growing in Latin American nations as they drop elsewhere. (Webmaster's comment: It's countries with the most macho males that have been hit the worse.)


FEMINISM

5-27-19 Romina Ashrafi: Outrage in Iran over 'honour killing' of girl
Police in northern Iran have arrested a man accused of murdering his 14-year-old daughter in an "honour killing" that has sparked widespread outrage. Romina Ashrafi ran away from home in Gilan province with her 35-year-old boyfriend after her father objected to their marriage, local media said. The pair were found by police and Romina was sent home despite reportedly telling them she feared for her life. Last Thursday night, she was allegedly attacked by her father in her bedroom. News outlet Gilkhabar.ir reported that Romina was "decapitated" with a sickle, and that afterwards the father walked outside the house "with the sickle in his hand and confessed". On Wednesday, a number of national newspapers highlighted Romina's story on their front pages. "Insecure paternal home", read the headline in the pro-reform Ebtekar, which lamented the failure of existing legislation to protect women and girls. Meanwhile, the Persian hashtag #Romina_Ashrafi has been used more than 50,000 times on Twitter, with most users condemning the killing and the patriarchal nature of Iranian society in general. Shahindokht Molaverdi, a former vice-president for women and family affairs and the current secretary of Iran's Society for Protecting Women's Rights, wrote: "Romina is neither the first nor will she be the last victim of honour killings." She added that such murders would continue "as long as the law and dominant cultures in local and global communities are not deterring enough" Iran's Islamic penal code reduces punitive measures for fathers and other family members who are convicted of murder or physically harming children in domestic violence or "honour killings". If a man is found guilty of murdering his daughter, the punishment is between three and 10 years in prison, rather than the normal death sentence or payment of diyeh (blood money) for murder cases.

5-25-19 Nikoloz Basilashvili: Georgian tennis star charged with assaulting ex-wife
Georgian tennis player Nikoloz Basilashvili has been charged with assaulting his former wife. Basilashvili, 28, is accused by Neka Dorokashvili of attacking her in front of their five-year-old son. Basilashvili, ranked 27th in the world, denies all the allegations, saying that the truth will be proven in court. On Sunday, he was released on a 100,000 Georgian lari ($31,300; £25,700) bail by the court in the capital Tbilisi. If guilty, he faces three years in jail. A preliminary court hearing has been scheduled for 16 July. "I feel your support and love," the tennis player told followers on Facebook, adding that he did not want to make any further comment. During his career, Basilashvili won three ATP titles, but is yet to progress further than the fourth round in any of the four majors. His highest singles ranking was 16th in the world in May 2019.


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

5-27-19 Coronavirus gives us a chance to transform our approach to the climate
ALMOST everyone has felt at least some yearning for a return to “normality”. The economic, social and mental costs of lockdown have been high, alongside the terrible toll of lives cut short. Around the world, countries are, quite naturally, assessing how they can allow their citizens to resume some of their former freedoms, and individuals are asking how they can best keep themselves and others safe as restrictions are eased (see “At work, school and seeing friends: How to lower your coronavirus risk”). What is clear, however, is that with no immediate prospect of an effective vaccine, the new “normal” won’t be the old one. An important question now is: is that entirely a bad thing, or can something positive be wrung from this grim situation? Over relatively few decades, a paradigm of unbridled consumption in richer economies, with little regard for longer-term consequences, has established itself as a global aspirational norm. That has taken a shocking toll on our planet, in terms of any environmental measure you choose to consider, be it pollution, biodiversity or, of course, climate change. Then came covid-19. Suddenly, once clogged motorways stood empty and the sight of a plane overhead became something worth remarking on. Pollution and carbon emissions, unsurprisingly, have for now gone down (see “Coronavirus set to cause biggest emissions fall since second world war”) – although we must be realistic that this will have little if any long-term effect on global warming. The situation hasn’t been universally good for nature: poaching, for example, has become easier (see “How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting wildlife and conservation”). But covid-19 has given us a glimpse of a world in which systems can be torn up, and ways of life radically altered, when the political will is there.

5-27-19 Climate chief: How coronavirus shows us we can beat global warming
Forget the naysayers: what we must do to combat climate change is far less drastic than coronavirus measures, says World Meteorological Organization head Petteri Taalas. YOU might say the body Petteri Taalas heads determines the weather on world climate action. At the very least, it takes its temperature. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), based in Geneva, Switzerland, is the United Nations specialised agency on weather, climate and water resources. It co-founded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the clearing house for scientific research on global warming, and runs observing systems that follow what is happening to temperature, precipitation, storms, sea level rise, glaciers, snow and ice cover and greenhouse gas emissions across the planet. The WMO has just produced its latest report, The Global Climate in 2015-2019. It comes a few short months after Taalas, the group’s secretary general, found himself in the news for purportedly questioning the focus on the need for robust international action on climate change. Petteri Taalas: So far, we have seen 1 degree [Celsius] of warming. During the past 20 years, we have seen the 19 warmest years on record. Last year was the second-warmest year since 1850 [when consistent records begin. We have, again, been breaking records in greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Of those, carbon dioxide is the most important. It has contributed two-thirds of the warming so far and its life in the atmosphere is several hundred years. Recently, we have been observing concentrations of the order of 415 parts per million; 400 ppm was once regarded as a critical level. We have areas of the world where drought has become more frequent, including the Amazonia region, which may be bad news for the rainforest, and some areas with increased amounts of rainfall and snowfall. We have also been monitoring what has happened to sea level. During the past century, sea level rise was typically 1 to 2 millimetres per year. During recent years, we have seen a rise of between 4 and 5 millimetres per year. We have also seen glacier melting continue. Melting of the Greenland glacier increased threefold during the past 20 years, and the Antarctic ice cap has also started melting, which wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Many of the impacts of climate change and disasters are through water: groundwater problems, flooding, sea level rise and so forth. Those are having impacts on global food production capacity and human well-being, especially in less developed countries.

5-27-19 How a victory for a small bog could herald a new era for conservation
Against the odds, a tiny wildlife retreat has won the day in a battle with developers. It is a sign that attitudes may finally be changing for the better, says Graham Lawton. AS LOCKDOWNS gradually ease across the world, I find myself in a growing state of anxiety. As you may have heard, this pandemic presents a historic opportunity to reinvent our world along more sustainable lines. I agree – but am gripped by fear that we will blow it. Happily, some positive action has been taken. For example, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced plans to close much of the city centre to private vehicles, creating one of the world’s largest car-free urban areas. Other cities have made similar moves. But I can’t imagine this will go down without a fight, and elsewhere I read that the backlash against a green recovery is under way. US Republicans, for example, are reportedly developing lines of attack that paint the pandemic response – with its mass unemployment and vast rise in public expenditure – as a foretaste of the pain to be visited on people by pro-environmental policies. Call me a cynic, but if I had to put money on who will win, I’d bet on the right. I am soothing myself with a story that I think shows a better, greener world is possible. It is about a small nature reserve just outside York, the UK city where I grew up. Askham Bog is one of the last surviving scraps of fenland in a now intensively farmed landscape. Despite its small size – just 44 hectares – it is one of the most ecologically diverse habitats in northern England and is designated as a site of special scientific interest. It has also been under threat for years. York has an acute shortage of housing, and in the early 2010s, the city council identified land just north of the bog as being possibly suitable for development. In 2018, developer Barwood Land filed an application to build 516 houses on the site. But in 2019, the city council unanimously rejected the planning application on various grounds, including environmental ones.

5-27-19 Record drop in energy investment, warns International Energy Agency
The coronavirus crisis is causing the biggest fall in global energy investment in history. Before the pandemic, funding was set to rise 2%, but now it’s predicted to plunge 20%, says the International Energy Agency (IEA). Fossil fuels are hit hardest, with a 30% funding drop expected for oil and a 15% fall for coal. Renewables investment is down 10% - and it's only about half what’s needed to combat climate change. Due to coronavirus lockdown measures imposed by many countries, for the time being, the fall in investment is leading to a drop in planet-heating carbon emissions. But the IEA warns that that use of fossil fuels is likely to rebound when the crisis is over, leading to a spike in CO2. One reason is because China and other Asian nations are putting in orders now for a new generation of coal-fired power plants to supply energy in the future. “We see a historical decline in emissions, but unless we have the right economic recovery packages, we might see emissions again skyrocket and the decline of this year would be completely wasted," the IEA's executive director Fatih Birol told the BBC. “Remember the 2008-2009 crashes. We immediately saw a decline in emissions, but afterwards it rebounded. We must learn from history.” Approvals of new coal plants in the first quarter of 2020, mainly in China, were running at twice the rate observed over the whole of 2019, he added. Overall energy investment has fallen almost $400bn (£324.3bn) short of what was expected in 2020, and the IEA says there are now serious doubts about secure energy supplies when the global economy picks up, because energy projects take so long to deliver. The report says the decline in investment is “staggering” in its scale and swiftness, mostly due to low demand and low prices for energy, especially oil. Dr Birol said: “The historic plunge in investment is deeply troubling. It means lost jobs and economic opportunities today, as well as lost energy supply that we might well need tomorrow, once the economy recovers. “The slowdown in spending also risks undermining the much-needed transition to more sustainable energy systems.”

5-26-19 'Billions of years of evolutionary history' under threat
Scientists say more than 50 billion years of cumulative evolutionary history could be lost as humans push wildlife to the brink. "Weird and wonderful" animals unlike anything else on Earth are sliding silently toward extinction, they say. And regions home to the greatest amounts of unique biodiversity are facing unprecedented human pressures. They include the Caribbean, Western Ghats of India and large parts of Southeast Asia. The study, published in Nature Communications, highlights priority species for conservation, based on their evolutionary distinctiveness. "These species are weird and wonderful and there is nothing like them on Earth," said Rikki Gumbs of ZSL's EDGE of Existence programme and Imperial College London. He said the analysis reveals "the incomprehensible scale of the losses we face if we don't work harder to save global biodiversity". The researchers calculated the amount of evolutionary history - branches on the tree of life - that are currently threatened with extinction, using extinction risk data for more than 25,000 species. They found a combined 50 billion years of evolutionary heritage, at least, were under threat from human impacts such as urban development, deforestation and road building. Rikki Gumbs said the numbers are very large because species are evolving in parallel; for reptiles alone you get a figure of 13 billion years (about the age of the Universe). He said: "The tree of life is so vast and extinction is so widely spread across the tree of life that when you begin to add up all these numbers you end up with these kinds of incomprehensible figures of more than 50 billion years." Animals at risk include tapirs and pangolins, which have ancient lineages and have changed little over time; and fascinating little-known reptiles, from legless lizards to tiny blind snakes. Many carry out vital functions in the habitats in which they live. For example, tapirs in the Amazon disperse seeds in their droppings that can help regenerate the rainforest. And pangolins, which are specialist eaters of ants and insects, play an essential role in balancing the food web.

Site Acquired for Defilement

5-25-19 Coronavirus: Drivers plan to walk more to keep cleaner air of lockdown - survey
British drivers are ready to change their behaviour to maintain the cleaner air of the lockdown and protect the environment, a survey suggests. Of the 20,000 motorists polled for the AA, half said they would walk more and 40% intended to drive less. Four in five would take some action to reduce their impact on air quality. It comes after researchers warned the dramatic improvements in air quality in recent weeks could be quickly reversed as the coronavirus restrictions ease. As well as walking more and driving less, a quarter of motorists said they planned to work from home more, another quarter said they would be flying less, while one in five plan to cycle more. "We have all enjoyed the benefits of cleaner air during lockdown and it is gratifying that the vast majority of drivers want to do their bit to maintain the cleaner air," said AA president Edmund King. "Walking and cycling more, coupled with less driving and more working from home, could have a significant effect on both reducing congestion and maintaining cleaner air." Meanwhile, the AA is warning drivers in England - now able to drive to destinations for exercise or open-air recreation - against travelling to tourist destinations this Bank Holiday Monday. "Drivers should think about how far they need to travel to enjoy the great outdoors," Mr King said. The UK government has pledged £250m for improvements in cycling and walking infrastructure and many British towns and cities are already making more road space available for pedestrians and those on bikes. It is the first part of a £5bn investment announced in February, the Department for Transport said. But the official advice from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as some people start to go back to work is that people should drive rather than use public transport, when walking or cycling is not a viable option.

5-25-19 Western Australia storm: Ex-cyclone brings widespread damage to coast
Heavy rainfall and destructive winds have caused widespread damage in Western Australia. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Mangga collided with a cold front, resulting in what was described as a "once-in-a-decade" storm.

5-24-19 Western Australia hit by 'once-in-a-decade' storm
Australia's western coast is being battered by a huge storm, which is heading for the main city of Perth. Torrential rains, strong winds and waves of up to eight metres (26ft) are forecast in some areas. The severe weather is the result of the remnants of tropical cyclone Mangga interacting with a cold front, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. A senior official in Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said it would be a "once-in-a-decade" storm. "Normally our storms come from the south west and this will come from the north west," DFES acting assistant commissioner Jon Broomhall told journalists. He added that authorities were "asking people to secure property and make sure everything loose is tied down". A severe weather warning is in place for much of Western Australia. More than 30,000 homes and businesses are without power across the state, ABC News reports. "This is a rare event for WA particularly due to the extent of the area affected and the possibility of multiple areas of dangerous weather," said the Bureau of Meteorology. Wind gusts of up to 130 km/h (75 mph) are expected along the coast, the Bureau of Meteorology said. Some areas could see up to 10cm of rain. The weather system will continue into Monday, according to forecasts.

5-22-19 All five of Earth's largest mass extinctions linked to global warming
The second-most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history may have been triggered by global warming. The discovery means that, for the first time, all of the largest known extinctions can be linked to a rapid rise in the planet’s temperature. “It completes the jigsaw puzzle in many ways,” says Andrew Kerr at Cardiff University, UK. Geologists recognise five points in time when huge numbers of species were wiped out, although recent research suggests at least one of these might have been too slow to be a mass extinction. But the second-most severe of these five extinctions, the late Ordovician event about 445 million years ago, has always seemed different. The others coincided with epic volcanic activity that smothered millions of square kilometres with lava to create what is called a large igneous province. In each case, the volcanic activity triggered global warming that is likely to have contributed to extinction. In contrast, the consensus had been that the late Ordovician extinction was prompted in part by global cooling. David Bond at the University of Hull, UK, thinks it wasn’t so different after all. With his colleague Stephen Grasby at the Geological Survey of Canada, Bond took samples from a site in Scotland where rocks that formed on the late Ordovician sea floor are well-preserved. They found a spike in the level of mercury in rocks that formed just before and during the extinction. “Large volcanic eruptions put anomalously high levels of mercury into the atmosphere,” says Bond. There seems to have been large-scale volcanic activity during this period after all. “It’s a great boon to the mass extinction story, which now links all past mass extinctions to large igneous province volcanism,” says Gerta Keller at Princeton University.

5-22-19 Up to 220 million people globally may be at risk of arsenic-contaminated water
A new map highlights possible hot spots of arsenic contamination in groundwater As many as 220 million people around the world may be at risk of drinking arsenic-contaminated groundwater, a new study finds. Combining climate, environmental and geologic data with machine learning, researchers made a global map, described in the May 22 Science, that predicts where groundwater arsenic concentrations are likeliest to exceed 10 micrograms per liter, a safe drinking water limit set by the World Health Organization. Arsenic is present in trace amounts in many different types of soil and rock. It becomes harmful to people when it leaches out of these soils and into groundwater, which can occur due to a variety of chemical processes. Long-term exposure can lead to skin lesions and cancer. Scientists have previously identified many hot spots of arsenic contamination in groundwater, including regions of Bangladesh, Argentina and Vietnam (SN: 11/20/02; SN: 3/5/15). But data on groundwater arsenic are lacking for many other regions. So environmental scientist Joel Podgorski and hydrologist Michael Berg, both of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf, set out to create a high-resolution global risk map based on dozens of different environmental factors, from temperature and precipitation to soil age and pH. “In the last 12 years, there’s a lot more data that has become available,” Podgorski says. He and Berg amassed data from almost 80 studies. They then used a machine learning technique called the “random forest” method, which created predictions of arsenic risk at a resolution of one square kilometer, based on different subsets of the data. The researchers then averaged the results of about 10,000 different predictions together to create the final map.

5-22-19 Pollution: Birds 'ingesting hundreds of bits of plastic a day'
Birds living on river banks are ingesting plastic at the rate of hundreds of tiny fragments a day, according to a new study. Scientists say this is the first clear evidence that plastic pollutants in rivers are finding their way into wildlife and moving up the food chain. Pieces of plastic 5mm or smaller (microplastics), including polyester, polypropylene and nylon, are known to pollute rivers. The impacts on wildlife are unclear. Researchers at Cardiff University looked at plastic pollutants found in a bird known as a dipper, which wades or dives into rivers in search of underwater insects. "These iconic birds, the dippers, are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day," said Prof Steve Ormerod of Cardiff University's Water Research Institute. "They're also feeding this material to their chicks." Previous research has shown that half of the insects in the rivers of south Wales contain microplastic fragments. "The fact that so many river insects are contaminated makes it inevitable that fish, birds and other predators will pick up these polluted prey - but this is the first time that this type of transfer through food webs has been shown clearly in free-living river animals," said co-researcher Dr Joseph D'Souza. The research team examined droppings and regurgitated pellets from dippers living near rivers running from the Brecon Beacons down to the Severn Estuary. They found microplastic fragments in roughly half of 166 samples taken from adults and nestlings, at 14 of 15 sites studied, with the greatest concentrations in urban locations. Most were fibres from textiles or building materials. Calculations suggest dippers are ingesting around 200 tiny fragments of plastic a day from the insects they consume. Previous studies have shown that microplastics are present even in the depths of the ocean and are ending up in the bodies of living organisms, from seals to crabs to seabirds.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

5-28-19 Wastewater could provide up to a week of warning for a COVID-19 spike
Finding coronavirus RNA in sewage may signal that people in a community are infected. Monitoring sewage for the coronavirus’s genetic material could give public health experts up to a week of warning before COVID-19 cases peak in an area, a new study finds. Scientists have found the coronavirus’s RNA in stool from some COVID-19 patients. Though it remains unclear whether the virus can be transmitted through feces, researchers have also detected coronavirus RNA in raw wastewater. Because most people don’t get tested for the virus until they begin to get sick, and some may never develop symptoms (SN: 4/15/20), researchers are considering using sewage to look for early signs that the virus has hit a community. In Connecticut, the amount of the virus’s genetic material in sewage peaked a week before the number of cases in one region did, researchers report in a preliminary study posted May 22 at medRxiv.org. Hospitalizations related to COVID-19 hit their highest point three days after RNA levels did. From March 19 to May 1, researchers collected sludge — which contains solids that can settle out of water — from a wastewater treatment facility in New Haven. The team tested the sludge for coronavirus RNA, and then compared the amount of RNA in those daily samples with the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions in the region. The study “shows that we can monitor wastewater in cities to get an early warning of when coronavirus outbreaks will occur,” says Aaron Packman, a civil and environmental engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved with the work. Public health experts already use wastewater to track pathogens like poliovirus, norovirus and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Such surveillance for the coronavirus could help pinpoint areas where cases will soon be on the rise.

5-28-19 Isle of Wight pterosaur species fossil hailed as UK first
A fossil of a species of prehistoric reptile, previously found in China and Brazil, has been discovered in the UK for the first time, a university said. The delicate jaw fragment was collected by an amateur fossil hunter who spotted it while walking his dog at Sandown Bay, Isle of Wight. The University of Portsmouth identified it as a tapejarid, a flying pterosaur from the Cretaceous period. Researchers said it demonstrated a wide global distribution of the species. Palaeontology PhD student Megan Jacobs said she saw the fossil on a friend's kitchen table after he received it from the collector. She said she recognised the "characteristic tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food". Ms Jacobs added: "Complete examples from Brazil and China show that they had large head crests, with the crest sometime being twice as big as the skull. "The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly coloured. "It's the first tapejarid found in the UK." Professor David Martill from the University of Portsmouth, said: "This new species adds to the diversity of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles found on the island, which is now one of the most important places for Cretaceous dinosaurs in the world." The Isle of Wight fossil had been donated to Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown for future display. The university's findings have been published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

5-27-19 We can see when your brain forms a memory by watching you move
How do we make a memory? An idea gaining ground is that forming memories and recalling them involves brainwaves cycling several times a second in our hippocampi, two small curved structures on either side of the brain. Evidence to support the idea is accumulating, including the first glimpse of subtle patterns in people’s actions that reflect these underlying rhythms. “You can make these brainwaves visible in behaviour,” says Maria Wimber at the University of Birmingham, UK. The findings raise the possibility that one day we may be able to boost memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease by enhancing these brainwaves, says Aidan Horner at the University of York, UK, who wasn’t involved in the work. The hippocampi have long been thought to be central to memory because some people who have damage to this part of the brain become unable to form new memories of events. When rats are forming new spatial memories as they run around a maze, for instance, cells in their hippocampi start firing at between four and eight times a second, at the same frequency as we see in theta brainwaves. Some studies have suggested humans also have such brainwaves associated with memory formation, although their frequency may be from three to eight times a second. To investigate further, Wimber’s team made use of the fact that people who need surgery to stop epileptic seizures originating in their hippocampi have recording electrodes put into these structures for several days to pinpoint the source of their seizures. During this monitoring, people were asked to learn associations between unrelated words and pictures, and then were later shown the word alone and asked to recall the picture. Theta brainwaves could sometimes be seen in the hippocampi during the learning phase – but only when people went on to answer correctly during the test phase, suggesting they are necessary for forging memories. It took a further step to see the brainwaves reflected in people’s actions, though. Healthy volunteers did a similar learning task, but after being prompted with the word cue they had to press a button the instant they remembered the picture, to record their reaction times over multiple trials. It typically took between one and three seconds for the image to come to mind.

5-27-19 Cannibal dinosaurs resorted to eating each other when food was scarce
Abundant bite marks on a collection bones from the Jurassic Period show that predatory dinosaurs called allosaurs often scavenged on carcasses at one site – including those of other allosaurs. There is no reason to think that cannibalism was rare among predatory dinosaurs, says Stephanie Drumheller at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, but we don’t have a lot of evidence for it. Only T. rex and another species called Majungatholus have been shown to be at least occasional cannibals. Drumheller’s team studied a unique collection of 150-million-year-old fossil bones from the Mygatt-Moore quarry in Colorado. Normally a lot of material gets left behind when a site is excavated. “Only the pretty stuff gets brought back from the field,” she says. But for one season, Julia McHugh at the Museums of Western Colorado collected every single bone that was found at the quarry, with the help of volunteers. Nearly 30 per cent of the 2368 bones have bite marks on them, far more than thought normal. Usually less than 5 per cent of dinosaur bones have bite marks. “For dinosaurs, it’s really, really weird,” says Drumheller. “To find 30 per cent was really nuts.” The team think most of the bite marks were made by allosaurs, which were the most common large predator found at the site. A lot of the bite marks were found on the bones of other allosaurs. Why scavenging and cannibalism was so common at the site is unclear. One explanation is that something is unusual about this particular site – maybe environmental conditions forced predators to scavenge more. The other explanation, says Drumheller, is that this bone collection reflects the norm. The tendency of fossil hunters to leave behind damaged bones could have skewed our picture. She is trying to persuade people at other sites to try collecting every single bone, too. But it is a lot of work, especially if the bones are from massive species such as the allosaurs, which could grow up to 10 metres long.

5-27-19 The amazing Antarctic discovery that could tell us how Earth was made
Explorers trawling the polar ice have finally unearthed a trove of precious, iron-rich space rocks that might help crack the puzzle of how our planet took shape. A BEEP sounded in Katherine Joy’s earpiece and a light flashed on her handlebar display. The metal detector dragging behind her snowmobile had found something buried in the thick Antarctic ice. She dismounted. Could this finally be it? A convoluted story had brought Joy and her fellow treasure hunters here, 700 kilometres south of the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley VI research station. You might say the story started 4.5 billion years before, as a result, probably, of a massive star going supernova. Its rumbling shock wave caused a cloud of dust and gas laced with heavier elements to begin to collapse in on itself, eventually forming the sun and the planets, moons, asteroids and, eventually, other components of our solar system, like us. For decades, researchers have been hunting for pristine material from these turbulent times to better understand exactly how these processes occurred. Joy and her colleagues had ventured out into the Antarctic wilderness following a hot lead to fill a crucial gap in the tale: the mystery of the missing meteorites. What they found, however, wasn’t one mystery, but two. Meteorites are time capsules from the solar system’s birth. They are mostly fragments of asteroids that orbit between Mars and Jupiter, plus the occasional unsullied piece of the moon or Mars that has come unstuck and crossed Earth’s orbital path. These fragments have existed more or less untouched since bits of rock first began to accrete from smaller dust particles as they whirled around the infant sun. With their chemistry unadulterated by the tectonics, volcanism and other violent processes of Earth, they preserve vital clues as to how the solid parts of the solar system formed. We know lots of individual details about what must have happened as bits of rock crashed together and aggregated to form larger bodies, or sometimes split apart again in the maelstrom of the early solar system. But we lack a convincing, unifying picture. “We don’t have an equivalent of, say, evolution by natural selection in planetary science right now,” says Luke Daly at the University of Glasgow, UK. “We don’t have a good theory that takes us all the way from gas and dust to planetary systems.”

5-27-19 Coronavirus seems to reach the brain. What could this mean for us?
From loss of smell to stroke, people with covid-19 are reporting strange neurological issues that challenge our understanding of the disease – and how to treat it. JENNIFER FRONTERA has been treating people in intensive care for years. But she has never experienced anything like covid-19 before. “These patients are absolutely among the sickest any of us have ever encountered,” says the New York-based doctor. But the strange thing is, Frontera isn’t a lung disease specialist or a virologist, she is a neurologist. And it is the possible impact of the coronavirus on our brains that is worrying her. It was early in the outbreak in New York that Frontera and her colleagues began to notice neurological symptoms in those with covid-19. People were passing out before they were hospitalised. Once in hospital, some of them started having unusual movements. Some had seizures and others had strokes. Similar reports are coming in from hospitals around the world. Some neurological symptoms appear to be mild, such as the loss of smell and taste. At the other end of the spectrum, a few people have developed encephalitis – a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain. It is a surprising discovery in a disease that was generally considered to attack the airways, and one of pressing concern. One big question is how the new coronavirus is causing these kinds of symptoms. Growing evidence suggests that the virus may work its way into the brain, directly attacking neurons. If that is the case, we may need to reconsider some of the treatments being developed for covid-19. And we must also prepare for potential long-term and chronic neurological conditions in some survivors. Millions of people globally have now been infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, but we are still learning how it works. What we do know is that it can be spread by droplets from an infected person and seems to latch on to receptors on cells in people’s airways.

5-27-19 At work, school and seeing friends: How to lower your coronavirus risk
THE coronavirus is still circulating yet many countries are taking steps to relax restrictions. If you have been asked to return to work or send your children back to school, how can you minimise the risk of infection to yourself and your family?. Although there are still many unknowns about the virus, a growing amount of data on how it transmits and survives on surfaces can guide our decisions. You are most likely to catch the SARS-CoV-2 virus by spending a long time near an infected person in an enclosed space. Researchers in Guangzhou, China, examined how the virus was transmitted between 347 people with confirmed infections and the people they had contact with. They found that the risk of the infection being passed on at home or by repeated contact with the same person was approximately 10 times greater than the risk of passing it on in a hospital and 100 times greater than doing so on public transport (medRxiv, doi.org/dwgj). Outside the home, it is difficult to rank the relative risks, because environments vary so widely. However, “what we can say is that SARS-CoV-2 spread tends to be higher in communal areas where there are higher numbers of people passing through, or in areas where there is more physical engagement with the surroundings, for example door handles, desks and computer keyboards”, says Seema Jasim at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, UK. The risk also seems to be higher when people are more physically active. Investigations into a cluster of cases in the South Korean city of Cheonan revealed that eight fitness instructors became infected with the virus after attending a 4-hour Zumba workshop. Some of them subsequently passed it on to students during classes which involved high intensity exercise in a small indoor studio (Emerging Infectious Diseases, doi.org/ggwpjz). “The moist, warm atmosphere coupled with turbulent air flow generated by intense physical exercise can cause more dense transmission of isolated droplets,” writes the team that conducted the study. However, students attending smaller yoga and pilates classes in the same space didn’t become infected. Regular, thorough handwashing is still advised. It remains unclear how long the virus can survive and remain infectious on surfaces, but this is still thought to be a significant route of transmission.

5-27-19 Infecting people with COVID-19 could speed vaccine trials. Is it worth it?
Science News spoke with researchers on either side of the debate about human challenge trials. The world waits with bated breath for a COVID-19 vaccine, which could effectively end the pandemic once it’s widely available. Until then, more people will die from the disease, and economies will struggle to fully recover. With such intense pressure to get a vaccine quickly, many experts are contemplating a controversial shortcut to the usual vaccine testing protocol: human challenge trials. Instead of vaccinating hundreds to thousands of people and waiting to see if they naturally catch the virus, scientists would purposely infect a smaller number of vaccinated volunteers with COVID-19 in a controlled setting to see if a vaccine offered protection. If successful, such studies could fast-track vaccine evaluation, as well as our understanding of COVID-19 immunity. However, doctors and researchers don’t all agree on whether it’s ethical to infect people with a disease that remains poorly understood, and for which there is currently no reliable treatment. That leaves it to those bioethicists, researchers and regulators to weigh the pros and cons. If scientists stick to the usual playbook, a licensed vaccine is at least 12 to 18 months away, experts say. That’s not because it takes long to develop possible vaccines — dozens are already in the testing stage (SN: 5/20/20) — but because of the time that it takes to be sure a vaccine is safe and actually works. The final and most involved stage of this process, Phase III clinical trials, requires thousands of volunteers to get the vaccine or a placebo. Then, scientists track them over months to see whether vaccinated people are less likely to get sick compared with unvaccinated people.

5-27-19 Neanderthal DNA linked to higher fertility in modern humans
A chunk of Neanderthal DNA carried by some people living today appears to reduce the chance of miscarriage and promote fertility. The finding is the latest evidence that Homo sapiens benefitted from Stone Age sexual encounters with other human species. Genetic studies suggest anatomically modern humans interbred with Neanderthals on several occasions, and that people of non-African descent carry about 1 to 2 per cent Neanderthal DNA in their cells. For about 10 years we have suspected that some of that Neanderthal DNA proved useful. It might have helped Homo sapiens cope with Eurasian diseases that they hadn’t encountered during their evolution in Africa, for instance. But some Neanderthal DNA is probably detrimental to modern humans. In 2018, Jingjing Li at Stanford University and his colleagues found an example. They were studying the PGR gene, which plays a role in pregnancy, and realised a form (or allele) of the gene that increases the chance of premature birth contains Neanderthal DNA. The finding puzzled Hugo Zeberg at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Any harmful Neanderthal DNA that entered the modern human gene pool should have disappeared with time because it left carriers at a competitive disadvantage. But in some modern populations the PGR Neanderthal allele is carried by about 20 per cent of people. “The high allele frequency was surprising given the report of a detrimental impact,” says Zeberg. With his colleagues, Zeberg has found an explanation: the Neanderthal allele is probably beneficial after all. The researchers examined data from the UK Biobank, which includes the genetic and lifestyle information of more than 450,000 people in the UK. They found that women who carry the Neanderthal allele were less likely to have experienced a miscarriage or unexpected bleeding during early pregnancy.

5-27-19 Roman mosaic floor found under Italian vineyard
A Roman mosaic floor has been discovered under a vineyard in northern Italy after decades of searching. Surveyors in the commune of Negrar di Valpolicella north of Verona published images of the well-preserved tiles buried under metres of earth. According to officials, scholars first found evidence of a Roman villa there more than a century ago. Technicians are still gently excavating the site to see the full extent of the ancient building. Images posted online show the pristine mosaic as well as foundations of the villa. A note on the commune website said diggers finally made the discovery "after decades of failed attempts". Surveyors will liaise with the owners of the vineyard and the municipality "to identify the most appropriate ways to make this archaeological treasure hidden under our feet available and accessible". Technicians will need "significant resources" to finish the job. But local authorities have pledged to give "all necessary help" to continue with the excavation. Pompeii - the Roman city buried after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius - officially reopened to the public on Tuesday after months of closures due to the coronavirus pandemic. Greece's famous Acropolis reopened to visitors earlier this month.

5-26-19 Is the coronavirus mutating? Yes. But here’s why you don’t need to panic
Lab experiments would help determine whether mutations change how the virus infects cells. In novels and movies, infectious pathogens mutate and inevitably become more dangerous. In the blockbuster movie Contagion, for instance, a deadly virus acquires a mutation in Africa that causes the global death toll to spike in mere days. Reality, however, is far less theatrical. Over the past few months, a few research groups have claimed to identify new strains of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, that’s infecting people around the globe. That sounds scary. But not only is it sometimes difficult to determine whether a change amounts to a “new strain,” none of the reported changes to the virus have been shown to make it more dangerous. This has led to great confusion for the general public. Each time such studies surface, fears arise, and virus experts rush to explain that changes in a virus’s genetic blueprint, or genome, happen all the time. The coronavirus is no exception. “In fact, it really just means that it’s normal,” says Kari Debbink, a virologist at Bowie State University in Maryland. “We expect viruses to evolve. But not all of those mutations are meaningful.” Here’s what it means to find mutations in the novel coronavirus, and what evidence is needed to actually raise a red flag. Most of the time, mutations don’t do anything to a virus at all. Viruses are simply protein shells that contain either DNA or RNA as their genetic material. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, it’s RNA. The building blocks of RNA, called nucleic acids, are arranged in triplets, called codons. These nucleic acid trios provide the code for building amino acids, which make up the virus’s proteins. A mutation is a change to one of these nucleic acids in the virus’s genetic material — in SARS-CoV-2’s case, one of around 30,000 nucleic acids. Sometimes a mutation in a triplet is silent, meaning the codon still codes for the same amino acid. But even when an amino acid does change, the virus might not behave in a way that’s obviously different. Some mutations could also spawn dysfunctional viruses that quickly disappear as a result.

5-26-19 Asteroid that killed the dinosaurs hit just right for maximum damage
The trajectory of the asteroid thought to have killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago was just right to cause maximum damage. A new study of Chicxulub crater in Mexico, where the asteroid struck, has revealed that the angle and speed of the impact were probably in the perfect range to send clouds of choking vapour into the skies. When an asteroid hits a planet, the resulting crater is highly dependent on the angle of the impact. Gareth Collins at Imperial College London in the UK and his colleagues compared a set of simulations with geological data gathered at Chicxulub crater to reconstruct that impact. “That initial impact gouges a huge hole in the ground, which then collapses spectacularly and you form this huge overshoot, rather like what happens when you throw a pebble into the pond,” says Collins. In this “overshoot”, the middle of the hole bounces back up to create a plateau at the centre of the crater. In simulations of the Chicxulub impact, that central plateau was tilted toward the direction the asteroid came from, though how tilted it was depended on the angle of the impact. The simulations that best matched observations of the crater were those where the asteroid came in relatively fast, around 20 kilometres per second, and hit the ground at an angle of around 60 degrees from horizontal. Much of the devastation caused by the asteroid impact came from vaporised rock being blasted into the air and blocking out sunlight. It turns out that an impact angle of about 60 degrees is ideal for hurling as much vapour into the air as possible, Collins says – if it came in from straight overhead, the asteroid would have smashed up more rock but not sent as much into the atmosphere, and if it was more of a glancing blow, less rock would have been vaporised. “It’s sort of a perfect storm,” says Collins, which is good news for us today. “This was a very bad day for the dinosaurs, and the more special the circumstances that had to come together to cause this event, the less likely that it’ll happen again.”

5-26-19 Australia's megafauna roamed the tropics with first humans but then disappeared
Giant wombats, six-metre-long goannas and the world's largest kangaroos are among the enormous megafauna that inhabited Queensland between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago, but where did they go? Some scientists have argued that hunting by humans was a possible cause of their extinction, but new evidence suggests it was most likely major climatic and environmental change.

5-26-19 Dinosaur asteroid's trajectory was 'perfect storm'
A clear picture is emerging of why the asteroid that struck Earth 66 million years ago was so catastrophic. The space object, which wiped out 75% of all species including the dinosaurs, hit the worst possible place on the planet and - according to new research - at the most lethal angle. Investigations at the crater site, together with computer simulations, suggest the impactor dug into the crust at an inclination of up to 60 degrees. This exacerbated the climatic fallout. We know that the target rocks, in what is now the Gulf of Mexico, contained huge volumes of sulphur from the mineral gypsum. When this material was thrown high into the atmosphere and mixed with water vapour, it produced a "global winter". And the angle of attack ensured this environmental crisis was intense and prolonged. "At 45 to 60 degrees, the impact is very efficient at vaporising and ejecting debris to high altitude. If the impact happens at shallower or much steeper angles, the amount of material that's put into the atmosphere that can then have climate-changing effects is significantly less," explained Prof Gareth Collins from Imperial College London. "It's evident that the nature of the location where this event happened, together with the impact angle, made for a perfect storm," he told BBC News. The majority of plant and animal life on Earth succumbed to the the challenging conditions. Prof Collins' and colleagues' work is published in the journal Nature Communications. Prof Collins is part of an international team that's been studying the anatomy of the crater associated with the calamitous asteroid strike. Today, this 200km-wide structure is positioned under Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, with its best preserved central portions sitting just offshore of the port of Chicxulub. It's hard to grasp the scale of the forces that produced it. The impactor, thought to be about 12km in diameter, punched an instantaneous hole in the crust that was probably some 30km deep. As fluidised rocks at the base of this bowl rebounded, they created in just a few minutes a mountain that was higher than Everest. This didn't last, however, and it fell back, to leave a prominent inner ring of hills, or peaks.

5-25-19 A blood test could reveal how quickly or slowly you are ageing
Age affects us all eventually, but a lucky few seem to stave off the effects of ageing for longer. A new blood test may help us understand why. As well as telling us how fast we are ageing, the test can also predict whether a person is more likely to develop a chronic disease or die in the near future. It is an update on epigenetic clocks, tests that estimate a person’s biological age based on markers thought to control the way genes are expressed. “It’s like a speedometer – it tells you how fast you’re going, in contrast to clocks, which tell you how far you’ve come,” says Daniel Belsky at Columbia University in New York. This means the new test is “a more immediate measure of the ageing rate”, he says. Epigenetic clocks often compare chemical tags on DNA that are markers of gene expression in people of different ages. But these may differ for reasons other than ageing, says Belsky. For example, older people might have had poorer diets or have been exposed to more pollutants and pathogens early in life, he says. To develop the “pace of ageing” test, Belsky and his colleagues followed 954 people and tracked changes in 18 markers of health. These included indicators of participants’ heart, liver, lung and kidney function, as well as their waist-to-hip ratio, blood lipids and markers of inflammation. Each volunteer was assessed at ages 26, 32, 38 and 45. The researchers used all this to get an idea of the average change in participants’ health as they aged and to measure how each person aged biologically. They then used this information to create a single blood test that measures chemical tags on DNA indicating changes in the 18 health markers. To check whether the test could predict how quickly a person ages, the researchers compared the participants’ scores at age 38 with their physical and cognitive health seven years later, when, at age 45, the volunteers took tests of their balance, coordination and cognition and were scored based on how old they looked. “In nearly every case, people whose DNA [markers] suggested they were ageing faster were showing these emerging deficits in function,” says Belsky.3

5-25-19 The surprising cultural contributions of the 1918 influenza pandemic
The 1918 influenza pandemic was a historic event with massive influence. Millions of people died. Roughly one-third of the entire global population was infected. But until the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, odds are you probably haven't thought much about the impact of 1918's flu outbreak. That might be because there seem to be few great works of art that keep the 1918 pandemic alive in cultural memory — the way a novel like "All Quiet On The Western Front," or the haunting paintings of Otto Dix did for World War I. But scholar Elizabeth Outka, author of "Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature," argues the 1918 flu pandemic's influence is an undercurrent that runs through many works of the period. She points to examples like Virginia Woolf's novel "Mrs. Dalloway," which follows upper-class London resident Clarissa Dalloway as she makes her way around the city. Though often read as a novel about the aftermath of the war, the pandemic leaves its mark, too. The titular character suffers from heart damage resulting from influenza — as did Woolf, in real life. Another surprising cultural byproduct of the pandemic? Zombies. Outka says the enormous death toll of the war and the pandemic — which required mass graves, delayed funerals, or insecure burials — deprived families of the traditional mourning process. There was also a fear of unwittingly infecting loved ones with a hidden, contagious disease. From these anxieties sprung proto-zombie figures in the works of horror author H.P. Lovecraft, as well as in the 1919 silent film "J'accuse," by French director Abel Gance. "It was a way, I think … of visualizing a monster that was invisible, in the case of the flu," Outka said. The pandemic and World War I also led to a renewed interest in spiritualism, a belief that humans could communicate with the dead through seances, mediums, and objects like Ouija boards. One prominent proponent of spiritualism was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series, whose son and younger brother died of influenza.

5-24-19 How pandemics change society
History can tell us a lot about the ways coronavirus might transform how we live. The Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and other widespread disease outbreaks have transformed how people live. Here's everything you need to know:

  1. Will Covid-19 change the world? Yes, if it's similar to the pandemics of the past. Plagues and viral contagions have regularly blighted the course of human civilization, killing millions of people and wreaking economic devastation. But as each pandemic receded, it left cultural, political, and social changes that lasted far beyond the disease itself.
  2. When was the first pandemic? The earliest on record occurred during the Peloponnesian War in 430 B.C. Now believed to have been a form of typhoid fever, that particular "plague" passed through Libya, Ethiopia, and Egypt before striking the city of Athens, then under siege by Sparta
  3. What caused the Justinian Plague? Yersinia pestis, a bacterium spread by fleas on rodents — the same culprit behind one of the worst pandemics in human history: the Black Death. Arriving in Sicily on a trading ship in 1347, the Black Death eventually spread throughout Europe and wiped out about 200 million people — up to 60 percent of the global population.
  4. What other impact did it have? The Black Death's biggest socioeconomic legacy was its role in ending feudalism. Feudalism was a medieval system that empowered wealthy nobles to grant the use of their land to peasants in exchange for their labor — with rent, wages, and other terms determined by the lords.
  5. What about other epidemics? In 1802, an outbreak of yellow fever in the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti) triggered a chain of events that led to the vast expansion of the United States. The epidemic, caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes, killed an estimated 50,000 French troops trying to control Haiti, forcing France to withdraw.
  6. What was the Spanish Flu? It was a virulent strain of H1N1 influenza that may have actually originated on a Kansas poultry farm. One of its first victims was a U.S. soldier stationed in Kansas. Unlike the bacterial plagues of the past, the Spanish Flu was a virus, which became more deadly when it picked up some genetic material from a virus infecting birds.
  7. COVID-19's possible legacy: The coronavirus has already had a huge and potentially enduring impact on everyday life. Our work and social lives have gone virtual, with even G-7 leaders conducting their meetings via videoconferencing. Movie studios, gyms, musicians, and karaoke bars are streaming their content straight into our homes.

5-24-19 How coronavirus stress may scramble our brains
Imaging studies show we should give ourselves a break. I’m on deadline, but instead of focusing, my mind buzzes with unrelated tidbits. My first-grader’s tablet needs an update before her online school session tomorrow. Heartbreaking deaths from COVID-19 in New York City make me tear up again. Was that a kid’s scream from upstairs? Do I need to run up there, or will my husband take care of it? These hornets of thoughts drive out the clear thinking my job demands. Try as I might to conjure up a coherent story, the relevant wisps float away. I’m scattered, worried and tired. And even though we’re all socially isolated, I’m not alone. The pandemic — and its social and economic upheavals — has left people around the world feeling like they can’t string two thoughts together. Stress has really done a number on us. That’s no surprise to scientists who study stress. Our brains are not built to do complex thinking, planning and remembering in times of massive upheaval. Feeling impaired is “a natural biological response,” says Amy Arnsten, a neuroscientist at Yale School of Medicine. “This is how our brains are wired.” Decades of research have chronicled the ways stress can disrupt business as usual in our brains. Recent studies have made even more clear how stress saps our ability to plan ahead and have pointed to one way that stress changes how certain brain cells operate. Scientists recognize the pandemic as an opportunity for a massive, real-time experiment on stress. COVID-19 foisted on us a heavy mix of health, economic and social stressors. And the end date is nowhere in sight. Scientists have begun collecting data to answer a range of questions. But one thing is clear: This pandemic has thrown all of us into uncharted territory. The human brain’s astonishing abilities rely on a web of nerve cell connections. One hub of activity is the prefrontal cortex, which is important for some of our fanciest forms of thinking. These “executive functions” include abstract thinking, planning, focusing, juggling multiple bits of information and even practicing patience. Stress can muffle that hub’s signals, studies of lab animals and humans have shown.

5-23-19 World faces risk of 'vaccine nationalism' in COVID-19 fight
With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. Global competition to find a vaccine to tackle COVID-19 is fierce, with at least 130 groups racing to be first. One U.S.-based company, Moderna, announced preliminary positive results in May, saying a human vaccine trial produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers. The Moderna vaccine is one of more than 100 under development intended to protect against the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 4.7 million people globally and killed over 315,000. There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, and experts predict a safe and effective vaccine could take 12 to 18 months to develop. The very early data offers a glimmer of hope for a vaccine among the most advanced in development. And with so many groups around the world working towards an inoculation, the odds of finding a way to put a stop to the pandemic increase. But the competition is also somewhat worrisome. With so many competing interests facing off, it's far from clear that once an effective vaccine is produced, all of the world's citizens will have equitable access to it. It's a problem Jane Halton, a former WHO board member, calls "vaccine nationalism." "I worry that some countries will see that there is strategic advantage in the use of any developed vaccine, if they are successful. I also think that there is, in some cases, a need to deal with domestic concerns," Halton said. "And I understand that being able to balance a need for domestic distribution, particularly for the vulnerable, but at the same time acknowledging that all countries are in this together — I think there's a middle line to be struck here." Halton, who is chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and former head of Australia's health and finance departments, tells The World's host Marco Werman that vaccine production should be globally distributed and initially target the most vulnerable in all nations. "What I hope is that whomever succeeds in this search, the quest for a vaccine, that when that vaccine is actually developed and is approved for use, that it isn't used exclusively for the needs of one population, when in fact, the people who need this vaccine are the vulnerable healthcare workers around the world, the elderly, the immune-compromised. And I think that is going to be the very big challenge we're about to face," she added. (Webmaster's comment: Keep in mind that in America it's always profits first, safety second!)

5-23-19 Coronavirus: Can children catch and pass on coronavirus?
How likely children are to catch and spread coronavirus is talked about a lot when it comes to deciding how and when to reopen schools. The problem is that Covid-19 is a new disease and not something scientists have had long to study - meaning the available data on the subject that's currently available is sparse. Here, BBC's Health Correspondent Laura Foster explains what we do know currently about how children are affected by the virus.

5-23-19 Coronavirus: Protective badges and cannabis claims fact-checked
Social media is awash with posts containing fake and misleading information about the coronavirus pandemic. We've been fact-checking some of those claims most widely shared this week. Bogus 'protective' badges So-called "protective" badges which ward off viruses are being sold around the world. Some of the badges, featuring a white cross design, appear to be of the type falsely marketed as "virus stoppers" in Russia. Some members of the Russian parliament wore them at a recent meeting of the State Duma. However, the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) says the substance released by such badges - the bleaching agent chlorine dioxide - is harmful. It says claims that it helps protect against Covid-19 are "fraudulent". Cannabis treatment Thousands of people have shared articles referencing cannabis as a treatment for coronavirus, but some of the headlines have been misleading. It's true that there are several trials taking place worldwide, including in Canada, Israel and the UK, investigating whether cannabis could be useful as a treatment. Medicinal cannabis has been shown to reduce inflammation and so could, potentially, be used to treat "cytokine storms" - the dangerous immune response sometimes seen in the sickest Covid-19 patients. But these trials are at a very early stage, so it's too soon to draw any conclusions about whether cannabis will prove an effective treatment against coronavirus. Virus origin speculation Speculation about where the new coronavirus first emerged has been rampant online. We looked at a recent video from a Chinese state media outlet which suggests just because the virus was first reported in China, it doesn't mean that the virus originated there. The video references an Italian scientist's comments in a US radio interview about unexplained pneumonia cases in northern Italy in November. The narrator says this "could mean the virus was circulating in parts of Italy before the outbreak in China". "Since early May, China has been increasingly ramping up the rhetoric suggesting that the virus might not have originated in the country," says Kerry Allen, the BBC's China Media Analyst. There's currently no scientific basis for this idea.

5-22-19 There are two versions of the coronavirus. One’s not more dangerous than the other
Factors such as a person’s age and white blood cell counts matter more for disease severity. Differences among patients, not the genetic makeup of the coronavirus, determines how severe COVID-19 will be, a study finds. Factors such as a person’s age and white blood cell counts are associated with disease severity, an analysis of 326 COVID-19 patients from Shanghai shows. Older people and people with low levels of certain immune cells known as T cells and high levels of an immune chemical called IL-6 tended to be sicker. But the version of the coronavirus that people were infected with made no difference in how sick they got, the team reports May 20 in Nature. IL-6 is a protein known as a cytokine, one of many proteins that signal the immune system to rev up defenses. Overactive immune, known as cytokine storms, are a problem for people with severe cases of COVID-19. In the new study, the team identified two major versions of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, called clade I and clade II, by examining the genetic makeup of the virus from 94 of the cases and 221 genomes in the GISAID coronavirus database. GISAID is a repository that maintains hundreds of viral genomes — the complete set of genetic instructions of a virus — compiled by researchers around the world. Those genomes are used in monitoring how the virus is evolving and tracing its path around the world. Two mutations distinguish clade I from clade II. Other researchers had previously found the same genetic changes, and speculated that one version may be more virulent or transmit better among people. But the new data show no difference in contagiousness or disease severity between people infected with either clade. Clade I was associated with six cases from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. Clade II was found in early cases of the disease in Wuhan that weren’t associated with the market. Comparing the genetic makeup of the two versions, researchers conclude that the coronavirus probably made the leap from an animal to humans sometime in late November. The seafood market wasn’t where the virus originated, the team says, but was where people became infected with clade I, drawing attention to the new coronavirus.

5-22-19 Coronavirus: Immune clue sparks treatment hope
UK scientists are to begin testing a treatment that it is hoped could counter the effects of Covid-19 in the most seriously ill patients. It has been found those with the most severe form of the disease have extremely low numbers of an immune cell called a T-cell. T-cells clear infection from the body. The clinical trial will evaluate if a drug called interleukin 7, known to boost T-cell numbers, can aid patients' recovery. It involves scientists from the Francis Crick Institute, King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital. They have looked at immune cells in the blood of 60 Covid-19 patients and found an apparent crash in the numbers of T-cells. Prof Adrian Hayday from the Crick Institute said it was a "great surprise" to see what was happening with the immune cells. "They're trying to protect us, but the virus seems to be doing something that's pulling the rug from under them, because their numbers have declined dramatically. In a microlitre (0.001ml) drop of blood, normal healthy adults have between 2,000 and 4,000 T-cells, also called T lymphocytes. The Covid patients the team tested had between 200-1,200. The researchers say these findings pave the way for them to develop a "fingerprint test" to check the levels of T-cells in the blood which could provide early indications of who might go on to develop more severe disease. But it also provides the possibility for a specific treatment to reverse that immune cell decline. Manu Shankar-Hari, a critical care consultant at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, said that around 70% of patients that he sees in intensive care with Covid-19 arrive with between 400-800 lymphocytes per microlitre. "When they start to recover, their lymphocyte level also starts to go back up," he added. Interleukin 7 has already been tested in a small group of patients with sepsis and proved to safely increase the production of these specific cells. In this trial, it will be given to patients with a low lymphocyte count who have been in critical care for more than three days.

5-22-19 Fake news gets shared more when it is angry and anxiety-inducing
Fake news may go viral more quickly when it uses words associated with anger. Jichang Zhao at the Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Big Data and Brain Computing and Yuwei Chuai at Beihang University in China have analysed the spread of both fake and real news across Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media platforms. They analysed a data set of 22,479 posts from 20,532 users between 2011 and 2016, which Weibo had officially flagged as fake news. They also looked at 10,000 real news posts from 1527 users. The duo tasked a team of nine people with manually identifying the emotional content of posts, by scouring them for words that appear in a list of more than 6000 emotional terms. The reference list included 1323 terms associated with anger, 2066 with joy, 1243 with sadness, as well as terms relating to disgust and fear. Each post was given an emotion rating – for example, if five angry words appeared in a 10-word post, it would be assigned an anger rating of 50 per cent. “Compared with real news, fake news carries much more anger and less joy,” says Zhao. The proportion of anger in fake news that had been widely circulated was three times greater than that in real news with few shares. Across all posts, fake news was nearly 6 per cent angrier than real news and 17 per cent less joyful. The pair then surveyed 1316 active Weibo users to identify people’s motivations for sharing fake news. They found that angry posts evoked greater feelings of anxiety, which created an incentive for sharing. Flagging such angry posts could give social media users pause to critically analyse their content before reposting, say the pair. Labelling posts rated as more than 20 per cent angry would flag about 46 per cent of highly reposted fake news on Weibo, they found – but the catch is that it would also flag an estimated 22 per cent of popular real news.

5-22-19 Scientists sometimes conceal a lack of knowledge with vague words
Language can hinder our understanding of reality – or move it forward. You can’t kill a virus, common wisdom contends, because viruses aren’t alive to begin with. Yet some viruses sure act like they’re alive. And in fact, you can find biologists and philosophers who will insist that viruses do deserve a branch on the tree of life. Still, many oth­er experts refuse to confer viruses with life status. Debates about viruses as life-forms (or not) have raged for decades. But as more and more data on viral vitality accumulate, the disagreements do not diminish. Perhaps that’s because the argument is not really about the nature of viruses. Rather it’s about the definition of life. Scientists can’t agree on that, either. Science’s inability to define life reveals not merely a lack of lexicographic dexterity, but also signifies a broader issue — the peculiar way that science’s relationship with reality is connected to science’s relationship with words. Words are obviously indispensable for scientists, both to communicate among themselves and to report their findings to the rest of civilization. Even in the most mathematical of sciences, words must be attached to symbols in order to relate mathematical relationships to real-world phenomena. Words like energy or force or stress tensor describe a physical entity corresponding to a symbol in an equation. But many scientific ideas do not reduce to a neat mathematical expression, so the words are on their own. And sometimes the ideas originate with the words. Throughout history, scientists have often coined a word before fully formulating the underlying idea. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his poetic play Faust, in the absence of ideas, words can come to the rescue. “With words, the mind does its conceiving,” reads one translation. (Or, in another version, “If your meaning’s threatened with stagnation, then words come in, to save the situation.”)


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

5-28-19 Chimps have local culture differences when it comes to eating termites
How many ways are there to get a termite to run up a stick? A surprising variety, it turns out. A new analysis of how chimpanzees perform this “termite fishing” has revealed that different groups of animals have distinct dining cultures, similar to how chopstick use in humans differs across the world. The idea that non-human animals can even have culture in the sense that humans have it – behaviours and social norms that vary by group – has been controversial, but this new study firms up the idea of chimp ethnography, the study of chimp culture, as a viable subject. Carel van Schaik of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, who was not involved in the research, says the work confirmed beyond any doubt that the variation that has been found among chimpanzees is cultural. “This paper is an absolute milestone in ‘culture in nature’ research,” he says. Christophe Boesch at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and his colleagues chose to study termite fishing because it is a widespread behaviour, allowing the team to make lots of observations in different communities. The researchers set up camera traps in 39 different wild chimp communities to record them eating termites, which they found occurring in 10 of the groups. It may be that the other communities did not have enough termite mounds in the area to display the behaviour, or simply that the cameras did not happen to capture any termite fishing. The team carefully noted each element of the termite fishing behaviour from hundreds of video clips to create an ethogram, a behaviour profile for each chimpanzee in the study. It turns out there are 38 different technical elements all used in different combinations in each of the chimpanzee communities. Individuals in the same community used more similar techniques compared to chimpanzees from other groups – in other words, there were local cultural differences. “As in human social conventions, you do it as you see others do,” says Boesch.

5-26-19 Thailand: Elephants on 'great migration' to survive coronavirus starvation
With the collapse of the tourism industry due to coronavirus, many of Thailand's captive elephants are now at risk of starvation. BBC Thai follows one group of elephant keepers journeying into the mountains to find food.

5-25-19 New species of scaly, deep-sea worms named after Elvis have been found
The animals’ iridescent scales are reminiscent of sequins on the iconic jumpsuits of ‘The King’. A new look at the critters known as “Elvis worms” has the scale worm family all shook up. These deep-sea dwellers flaunt glittery, iridescent scales reminiscent of the sequins on Elvis’ iconic jumpsuits (SN: 1/23/20). “For a while, we thought there was just one kind of Elvis worm,” says Greg Rouse, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. But analysis of the creatures’ genetic makeup shows that Elvis worms comprise four species of scale worm, Rouse and colleagues report May 12 in ZooKeys. Rouse’s team compared the genetic material of different Elvis worms with each other, and with DNA from other scale worm species. This analysis places Elvis worms in the Peinaleopolynoe genus of scale worms, which includes two other known species — one found off the coast of Spain, the other off California. The four newly identified Elvis worm species are scattered across the Pacific, from P. elvisi and P. goffrediae in Monterey Canyon off California to P. orphanae in the Gulf of California by Mexico and P. mineoi near Costa Rica. These deep-sea Elvis impersonators share some common traits, such as nine pairs of scales. But each species has its own distinct flare. P. elvisi’s gold and pink iridescent color scheme earned it the honor of keeping the worms’ namesake in its official title. P. orphanae, on the other hand, mostly sports rainbow-sparkled scales of a bluish hue. The researchers don’t know why Elvis worms have evolved such eye-catching scales, since the animals live in the dark, deep sea. It could just be a side effect of developing thicker scales over time, which happen to refract more light, Rouse says. Thicker scales could come in handy in a fight, since Elvis worms are apparently biters, a behavior discovered while watching a worm skirmish. “Suddenly, they started doing this amazing jitterbugging — wiggling, and then fighting and biting each other” on their scales, Rouse says. “No one’s ever seen any behavior like this in scale worms.”

5-25-19 Lydia Millet's 6 favorite books about appreciating living creatures
The author recommends works about magnificent elephants, rethinking zoos, and the magic of trees. Lydia Millet's new novel, A Children's Bible, is a modern Noah's Ark fable in which adolescents take the lead when climate disaster strikes. Below, the award-winning author recommends nonfiction that deepens appreciation for other living creatures.

  1. Where the Animals Go by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti (2016).
  2. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson (2013).
  3. A Different Nature by David Hancocks (2001).
  4. Giants of the Monsoon Forest by Jacob Shell (2019).
  5. When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy (1995).
  6. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (2015).

5-24-19 Millions of periodical cicadas to emerge in parts of US
After spending 17 years underground, millions of cicadas will be emerging in parts of the United States. Periodical cicadas are expected to come out in early summer across southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and in West Virginia. The last time the cicadas emerged in many of those regions was in 2003 and 2004, though some areas saw an emergence in 2013. As many as 1.5 million of the insects can emerge per acre of land. While they are some of the longest-lived insects in the world, periodical cicadas spend almost their entire lives underground as what entomologists call "nymphs". They live in the soil and feed on tree roots for periods of either 13 or 17 years depending on the species, according to Virginia Tech university. The species make up 15 separate "broods", with Brood IX (nine) emerging this year as part of their 17-year cycle. When the nymphs are ready, they build mud tubes - called a cicada hut - in the soil and crawl out to find a place to moult into their winged adult form and to mate. They are not harmful to humans and can be a food source for animals and birds. They only live for two to four weeks as adults but during that time can cause significant damage to young trees - including apple, dogwood, peach, hickory, cherry, and pear - as well as to vines and saplings where females lay their eggs. The male cicadas are also very loud, "singing" by vibrating membranes on their abdomen to court females. The sound is described by Virginia Tech as like a "field of out-of-tune car radios". Why the insects emerge on those specific intervals remains unclear, though some researchers think it could help them avoid predators. There is also a species of cicada that emerges every year, called dogday or annual cicadas.

5-22-19 Canada v US: Loon stabs eagle through heart
As with global affairs, nature has its pecking order. And in a contest between the bald eagle, America's national bird, and a common loon, which is featured on Canada's dollar coin, few would bet on the latter to come out the victor. But sometimes the underdog comes out on top, as was revealed when an eagle was found dead in the water near a dead loon chick in a Maine lake. A necropsy revealed he was killed by a stab to the heart from a loon's beak. Baby loons are common prey for eagles, which are fearsome hunters. Bald eagles are protected in the US, and typically their remains are sent to the directly to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado. It is a crime in the US to kill an eagle, possess one or disturb its remains, except for special exemptions, such as in the use of Native American ceremonies. But after seeing a dead baby loon chick so near the carcass, scientists began to wonder if the eagle could have been killed by an enraged mother loon in an avian equivalent of David and Goliath. So they sent the eagle not to the eagle repository, but to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin where it could be examined by a loon specialist. There, a pathologist found that the eagle died by a quick stab to the heart from what appeared to be a loon beak, and the chick had eagle talon marks, indicating it had been captured by an eagle. A nearby neighbour also told wildlife investigators she heard a "hullabaloo" the night before. Wildlife biologist Danielle D'Auria, who works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, shared the news on the department's blog, noting it is the first confirmed case of a loon slaying an eagle. "Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?" she wrote. (Webmaster's comment: Being a predator is not all it's cracked up to be! Note that the loon knew where to stab!)

5-22-19 Which animals are benefitting from coronavirus lockdowns?
Overall, the pandemic poses many threats to wildlife worldwide, as conservation programmes struggle for funding and poachers make the most of reduced patrols. But there are some instances in which coronavirus restrictions may be benefitting certain species. Some of the heart-warming stories about nature thriving during lockdown, like the claim that dolphins had returned to the canals of Venice, aren’t true. But others do stand up. There is evidence wild bees will benefit from the decline in air pollution, which can disrupt their ability to smell flowers at a distance. And, anecdotally, some wild animals are venturing into cities, including wild cats. “Some people have seen caracals in their garden or crossing their gardens,” says Marine Drouilly of the Panthera charity, who is based in South Africa. The International Bio-Logging Society is organising a global study of data from camera traps and other tracking devices to see if wild animals really are shifting their ranges, but the results may not be available for two years. We do know, however, that the oceans are quieter and that is likely to be a good thing for wildlife. In Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska, the first cruise ship of the tourist season was due on 30 April but it never arrived. Cruises have been cancelled because of the threat of covid-19. “There’s been no large vessel traffic, and we’re not expecting any until at least late July,” says Christine Gabriele of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Gustavus, Alaska. The only boats on the move are small local ones. Gabriele is engaged in a multi-decade study of humpback whales in the area. A key element is monitoring how they call amid the underwater noise caused by heavy boat traffic, using a permanent hydrophone anchored to the bottom of the ocean at the mouth of Glacier Bay.

5-22-19 Pollen-deprived bumblebees may speed up plant blooming by biting leaves
In a pollen shortage, bees can make tomatoes bloom early by nipping foliage. Here’s a bumblebee tip that might get a slowpoke plant to bloom early. Just bite its leaves. At least three species of bumblebees use their mouthparts to snip little confetti bits out of plant foliage, researchers report in the May 22 Science. This foliage biting gets more common when there’s a pollen shortage, says Consuelo De Moraes, a chemical ecologist and entomologist at ETH Zurich. Experiments show that mustard and tomato plants nibbled by Bombus terrestris bees bloomed earlier than unbitten plants by days, or even weeks, say De Moraes and her colleagues. So for the bumblebees, accelerating bloom times could be a lifesaver. When trying to found colonies in early spring, the bees rely on flower pollen as a protein source for raising their young. Foteini Paschalidou, an ecologist now at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research in Versailles-Grignon, was the first team member to call attention to the behavior. She was working on a different project with caged B. terrestris bees indoors. At first, De Moraes worried. “Is it something wrong with them?” The bees’ supplier and some farmers who used them to pollinate crops assured the researchers that nipping happens elsewhere, although the team hasn’t found any accounts in the scientific literature. To test a link between leaf biting and pollen shortages, the researchers did a caged-bee test. After three days without pollen, bumblebees trapped with nonblooming plants were more likely to poke holes in foliage than a bee group buzzing among plentiful flowers. When researchers swapped the bees’ situations, the insects now trapped without blooms started nibbling leaves. Tests done on the roof of the lab building with bees free to seek flowers in rooftop planters and elsewhere also found a link between pollen shortage and increased leaf biting, the researchers report.

5-22-19 How bumble bees trick plants into flowering early
Scientists have observed for the first time bumble bees tricking plants into flowering early. The practice is used by the bees when pollen is scarce.