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  1. the beginning? — Coronavirus: You may need to take a 2-week break from your life, CDC says CDC stresses individual action as situation looks out of hand. Enlarge / SEATTLE, WA - FEBRUARY 29: Healthcare workers transport a patient on a stretcher into an ambulance at Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020, in Kirkland, Washington. Dozens of staff and residents at Life Care Center of Kirkland are reportedly exhibiting coronavirus-like symptoms. Getty | David Ryder 290 with 117 posters participating As ramped-up testing for COVID-19 by individual US states exposes hidden cases, disease transmission, and deaths, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging citizens to do their part to stop the spread of the new virus—including taking an extended hiatus from their daily lives. “You may need to take a break from your normal daily routine for two weeks,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a briefing Tuesday. At the time of publishing this story, there were at least 118 COVID-19 cases and nine deaths reported across at least 12 states in the US. Of those cases, 48 are in repatriated citizens, and the rest are a mix of travel-related cases, cases linked to travel cases, and community-spread cases. All of the deaths have occurred in Washington state, where the first US case was detected. Many of the cases in the state have since been linked to an outbreak in a King County skilled nursing home called Life Care. Worldwide, the COVID-19 epidemic has reached around 92,000 cases and over 3,100 deaths. While most of the cases and deaths so far have been reported from China, the daily counts of new cases in China has been steadily decreasing. On Monday, there were nearly eight times more cases reported outside of China than from within (1,598 cases outside versus 206 from China.) The explosion of cases outside China is largely driven by outbreaks in South Korea (over 5,100 cases), Iran (over 2,300 cases), and Italy (over 2,000 cases). Iran reported over 1,000 new cases just in the last 24 hours. “What is happening now in the United States may be the beginning of what is happening abroad,” Dr. Messonnier said in the press briefing. “We will continue to maintain—for as long as practical—an aggressive national posture of containment. That said, you might see some local communities taking specific actions to mitigate the disease.” Those specific actions might be to close schools, cancel events and large gatherings, and isolate people in their homes. Under fire While state and local communities will make their own decisions about mitigation efforts, Dr. Messonnier stressed that individual actions can determine how this will play out in the United States. She urged people to practice proper hygiene and stay home if they’re sick. If you do have symptoms of COVID-19—which primarily include fever, dry cough, and trouble breathing—contact your health care provider by phone, she said. During the rest of the press briefing, Dr. Messonnier tried to sidestep questions about the CDC’s response to the outbreak. The agency has come under extreme criticism for its hobbled COVID-19 testing, which slowed the detection of cases. The CDC has had unspecified technical problems with the tests that have been slow to resolve. A recent report in Axios suggested that the kits may have been contaminated, which Dr. Messonnier said was only one possible explanation for the problem. The CDC has also been criticized for providing health care providers with seemingly restrictive recommendations on who should be tested. That is, the agency recommended health care workers primarily test those with travel or known contact with a case. Some health officials said the guidance kept them from testing sick patients who had COVID-19 symptoms but did not meet those criteria. The CDC has denied that it was restricting testing in this way. In an earlier emailed statement to Ars, a CDC press officer noted that “CDC guidance for persons under investigation (PUI) for whom testing is indicated does include a sentence that is permissive of testing if a patient does not meet the specific criteria for testing but for whom clinical suspicion of COVID-19 is high.” In the rest of today’s briefing, Dr. Messonnier responded to questions regarding testing problems generally with: “What we really need to focus on now is where we are today.” She was also asked if she is allowed to speak freely on the outbreak or if the Trump administration is restricting her comments. She did not directly respond to the question, only saying that during this outbreak the CDC has "been very open and able to answer lots of different questions." Source: Coronavirus: You may need to take a 2-week break from your life, CDC says (Ars Technica) reader comments 290
  2. Amazon confirms Seattle employee is in quarantine with coronavirus The employee went home unwell last Tuesday Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge An Amazon employee in Seattle has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus, as first reported by The New York Times. “We’re supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine,” the company tells The Verge in a statement. The employee is based out of the company’s “Brazil” (SEA53) building, according to an internal memo sent out to Amazon employees and obtained by The Verge. They went home feeling unwell on Tuesday, February 25th and haven’t returned to Amazon premises since. Amazon has notified employees who have been in close contact with the person. Earlier this week Amazon confirmed that two of its employees in Italy had contracted the virus and were in quarantine. The company had already requested that its nearly 800,000 employees halt non-essential travel within the US and elsewhere. Amazon has also had to deal with price gouging and misinformation on its marketplace in the wake of the virus outbreak. Nine people have died in Washington state from the novel coronavirus — and it’s the only place in the U.S. where deaths have occurred. There’s an ongoing outbreak of the virus in nearby Kirkland, Washington, where it spread among residents of a nursing facility. The virus may have been spreading undetected in Washington for six weeks, according to a genetic analysis. The spread wasn’t noticed until last week because the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hadn’t been testing people with no known exposure to the illness. Source: Amazon confirms Seattle employee is in quarantine with coronavirus (The Verge)
  3. YouTube will resume monetization for coronavirus-related content after all YouTube started demonetizing videos related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a few weeks ago in compliance with its sensitive events policy, which forbids advertising for topics that talk about "a loss of life, typically as a result of a pre-planned malicious attack". This type of content is not considered advertiser-friendly by that policy, but that's changing soon. Today, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in a blog post that the service will restore ads for coronavirus-related content in the coming days. However, content monetization will be limited only to a number of channels including some news organizations and creators who make their content reporting transparent in accordance with YouTube's advertiser-friendly guidelines. Regarding the platform's change of heart, Wojcicki explains: "We know many of you have had questions about our sensitive events policy, which currently does not allow monetization if a video includes more than a passing mention of the coronavirus. Our sensitive events policy was designed to apply to short-term events of significant magnitude, like a natural disaster. It’s becoming clear this issue is now an ongoing and important part of everyday conversation, and we want to make sure news organizations and creators can continue producing quality videos in a sustainable way." YouTube will also expand this kind of monetization to more creators over the coming weeks as it's working to finalize the policies and enforcement processes. Wojcicki also addressed the spread of misinformation around the virus, saying that YouTube will continue removing videos that violate its policy including "those that discourage people from seeking medical treatment or claim harmful substances have health benefits". Source: YouTube will resume monetization for coronavirus-related content after all (Neowin)
  4. Ars readers share their stories of coronavirus-related hardware shortages and more We asked readers if the epidemic has affected their work. We got stories back. Enlarge / Lenovo's Thinkbook 13s laptop. Valentina Palladino 58 with 49 posters participating A couple of weeks ago, IPC, a trade group that represents electronics companies, surveyed manufacturers to estimate the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on the industry. Manufacturers surveyed said their suppliers have warned them they should expect about three weeks of delays on average, but the manufacturers expect things to be even worse than that—about five weeks on average. A select few expect delays longer than nine weeks. On March 3, the Financial Times ran a story claiming that electronics retailers have been informed that they should expect it to take “up to three times as long for PCs and parts to be delivered” as normal. It also notes that small OEMs are at a significant disadvantage when supply is low because large companies like Apple are in a better position to work with the suppliers that are operating most effectively. But Apple and its ilk are not weathering this storm perfectly, either. Last week, Bloomberg wrote that Apple has told its tech support workers to expect multi-week delays for replacement iPhones at Apple Stores, and some Apple employees “also noticed a shortage of individual parts.” There were also previous reports that an iPad Pro refresh’s launch will be delayed because of the outbreak’s impact on Apple’s supply partners. We asked our readers, many of whom are professional technologists across a variety of industries, whether they have faced problems getting needed equipment or other issues related to this health crisis. We got several stories back. Here are some anecdotes about challenges IT managers and the like are facing right now. engrpiman 2 wrote: Our Lenovo computers are back ordered indefinitely. Both CDW and Anixter are reporting supply chain issues. mtgarden also relies on Lenovo and added: Lenovo is saying anything not already in stock is now being listed as 2-3 months. Likely won't be that long, but large orders (corporate stuff) should plan on a long lead time. From Dreamslacker: My workplace had an order of Lenovo laptops for a customer come in without the WLAN adapters installed. Lenovo has advised us that the leadtime for the parts to come in is in the three to six months region. For the time being, they've requested that we purchase off-the-shelf USB wireless dongles (they will reimburse this cost) and install them for the customer to use until such a time that they are able to provide the parts and installation services. punksmurph is facing some challenges, too: We are moving to Lenovo Laptops and thin clients (we use specific Dell models for high powered desktops). Right now our orders are all on hold. We are not returning Dell lease refreshes because we would inventory out in like two weeks if we did. Our Dell systems we need for desktops are 60-90 days out minimum for the desktops we need. And due to some technology requirements with Nvidia cards, we are stuck. It really is hell. Supply is not the only issue, Ars readers report. Some shared stories of how their companies are attempting to address the outbreak and keep employees safe, from sanitation to remote work to travel limitations. Writes numerobis: I have a customer, a multi-national software vendor, that’s had travel bans from certain sites for a while, and has now (today I think?) decided on a global travel ban, interviews to be done remote, global optional work-from-home. I am having my own team prepare to work at home; we don’t quite have the infrastructure yet. From binaryspiral: All work travel has been canceled. Any conferences or in classroom training, customer meetings that were in person are now remote. All our vendors—Cisco, Dell, HP, etc.—have released statements about possible limited product delays or availability and even tech support availability as call centers shut down. According to wkingan's experience, some companies are going to wild sanitation measures: Our IT Help Desk ordered about a million cases of bleach wipes and instituted a new policy where they wipe down all surfaces in the Help Desk walk-up space every 15 minutes. It smells really bleach-y in there now. anjoschu went into much more detail about the impact their company is seeing and the responses to it: Our company has doubled the capacities of the remote working infrastructure and is going to hold a massive test tomorrow where 50% of our employees (>1200 total) are asked to work from home as a stress test. The policies sound relatively sensible: no work travel except with explicit exception from the highest-ups, colleagues that have been in high-risk areas as defined by the national health agency have to work from home for 14 days, stay home if feeling ill, no shaking hands please, cough/sneeze in handkerchief/elbow, wash hands immediately after blowing nose, canteen has closed open buffet in favor of plates prepared for you by staff, etc. All in all, I feel pretty well cared for in this company. They try to make sure everyone washes or sanitizes their hands when touching buttons, door handles, etc. and provide the means to do so. There are daily updates on the company policies and measures dealing with the outbreak, which all include (strong) advice on what to do to decrease risk of infecting others or yourself and what the plans are should someone at our company become a known carrier. And a wide range of industries are heavily impacted. dargonite reported serious challenges in the freight industry in Canada: I live in Canada, work IT at a freight forwarding company. Between the shutdown in China and the rail blockades here at home, the entire shipping industry is pretty much at a standstill. All of the warehouse workers here have been laid off. Our warehouse usually moves hundreds of thousands of boxes a week and there hasn't been a truck for at least 2 weeks. We are anticipating customers will file for bankruptcy as they have not gotten their products and have missed sales/holiday sales and have had to pay for storage at the ports (ports have created Super Piles, which is hundreds of thousands of cargo containers piled sky-high) Imagine you are a small company selling products; you haven't gotten your goods, you still have to pay us (freight forwarding) as we have already paid the ships and truckers, etc, and on top of that any cargo that makes its way into the ports of Canada, are also not going out because of the blockades! (hence, super piles) so right now, everything is basically at a stand-still. For more information about the coronavirus and the world's response to it, read Ars Technica's detailed guide, updated daily. And thanks to our readers for sharing their stories. Source: Ars readers share their stories of coronavirus-related hardware shortages and more (Ars Technica)
  5. FDA, FTC slam 7 companies selling bogus COVID-19 cures No, essential oils and silver solutions won’t ward off COVID-19. Enlarge / CALGARY - DECEMBER 23: LITTLE BIG MAN, theatrical movie originally released December 23, 1970. The film was directed by Arthur Penn. Pictured, Martin Balsam (as Mr. Allardyce T. Meriweather), a traveling swindler and snake oil salesman. Getty | ABC Archive 96 with 63 posters participating As the new coronavirus sweeps the US, federal regulators this week began cracking down on companies fraudulently claiming that their products prevent or treat COVID-19. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent joint warning letters to seven companies making false claims. “There already is a high level of anxiety over the potential spread of coronavirus,” FTC Chairperson Joe Simons said in a statement. “What we don’t need in this situation are companies preying on consumers by promoting products with fraudulent prevention and treatment claims.” “These warning letters are just the first step,” he said. “We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.” Collectively, the companies have suggested that colloidal silver, essential oils, herbal tinctures, and teas can prevent or treat COVID-19. As the FDA and FTC point out, they have used a potpourri of terms and pseudoscientific explanations to make their fraudulent claims. Herbal Amy Inc., for instance, wrote on its website, “Corona virus treatment. Stephen Buhner [a self-proclaimed “herbal medicine” expert] has analyzed how corona viruses infect tissues, what tissues they infect, and the herbs that are useful to interrupt that process, as well as the herbs useful to shut down the cytokine cascade they create.” Herbal Amy sells the three-tincture “Buhner Coronavirus Kit” for $155 on its website. It is currently said to be sold out on the site. A company called Xephyr, LLC dba N-Ergetics wrote on its website that its colloidal silver product can treat “Coronavirus 2019-NCoVat [sic]... This Chinese Wuhan Flu Pneumonia has a non-traditional remedy that has successfully killed coronaviruses from the flu virus to pandemic diseases, in vitro, for over 100 years.” As the FDA notes, there are currently no vaccines or drugs approved to treat or prevent COVID-19. “Although there are investigational COVID-19 vaccines and treatments under development, these investigational products are in the early stages of product development and have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness,” the agency says. Source: FDA, FTC slam 7 companies selling bogus COVID-19 cures (Ars Technica)
  6. Google tells employees to work from home to prevent coronavirus spread Google wants all North American employees to work remotely through April 10. Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018. Getty Images | zphotos 39 with 32 posters participating The threat of the new coronavirus is making working from home a more and more popular option for tech companies, and yesterday Google expanded its work-from-home recommendation to all North American employees. In a memo obtained by CNN, Google's vice president of global security, Chris Rackow, said, "Out of an abundance of caution, and for the protection of Alphabet and the broader community, we now recommend you work from home if your role allows." For now, Google's work-from-home recommendation extends through April 10, with the company saying it is "carefully monitoring the situation and will update the timeline as necessary." Alphabet, Google's parent company, employs around 120,000 people, and as a US-based company, the majority of those employees are based in North America. The new coronavirus has led to the cancellation of most of this year's large trade show gatherings. Mobile World Congress, which was scheduled for February, was canceled at the last minute. Google killed Google I/O 2020 just last week, Facebook shut down F8, and E3 was canceled yesterday. Big gatherings present a higher risk for spreading the virus, and along the same lines of thinking, going to work at your big tech campus is also a vector for infection. In a blog post yesterday, Google said it is "establishing a COVID-19 fund that will enable all our temporary staff and vendors, globally, to take paid sick leave if they have potential symptoms of COVID-19, or can’t come into work because they’re quarantined. Working with our partners, this fund will mean that members of our extended workforce will be compensated for their normal working hours if they can’t come into work for these reasons." Source: Google tells employees to work from home to prevent coronavirus spread (Ars Technica)
  7. Fearful reactions to the new coronavirus can put lives at risk It’s okay to be worried, but don’t let fear trump public health advice Photo by Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images People in the US are worried about the new coronavirus outbreak. That concern is warranted: the virus is a scary new threat, it can cause serious harm, and there aren’t any medications that can stop it. That’s not to mention the cancellations of schools, popular events, and the general disruption to people’s lives it’s causing. But fear, and the things people do when they’re afraid, changes and drives the societal impact of the virus. Viruses can’t function on their own: they require a host, a person, in order to survive and reproduce. That person makes choices and behaves in certain ways. When that person’s behaviors are driven by fear, it can lead to discrimination and decision-making out of line with public health recommendations — which can make the outbreak even worse. That’s the major common thread connecting outbreaks from the Black Death to the current novel coronavirus outbreak: fear and panic can magnify the harm done by a virus. “People can get worked up and do bad things in response,” says Philip Alcabes, professor of public health at Hunter College and author of Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to Avian Flu. In the US, panic over rising case counts has triggered a rush on grocery stores and pharmacies. In New York City, for example, there’s hardly a bottle of hand sanitizer to be found, and pasta and beans are in short supply. It’s good to prepare for disruption to everyday life, but there’s a difference between preparedness and panic buying — and the later can cause shortages. More troublingly, people in the US and around the world have also been buying up supplies of surgical masks and respirators, despite pleas from experts not to. Masks may offer some people comfort, but they don’t provide much protection against illness if they’re not used properly (and laypeople usually don’t use them properly). When they’re squirreled away in people’s homes, they’re not available for health care workers who actually need them and know how to use them. The World Health Organization says that there are worldwide shortages of masks and other protective equipment, and that puts health care workers’ at risk. That’s a problem for everyone, and it can exacerbate outbreaks. If health care workers, who are in close contact with COVID-19 patients, get sick in high numbers because they don’t have proper protection, it adds to the caseload for hospitals. It also leaves fewer nurses and doctors to treat patients. Panic also unearths racism and discrimination. The novel coronavirus originated in China, and when it started to spread, anti-Asian racism took off around the world. The same thing happened during the SARS outbreak in 2002. It’s an old story, Alcabes says. “When the Black Death first came to Europe, there were rumors in Switzerland that a Jewish guy had a secret recipe for poison and was putting it in drinking wells,” he says. “It caused a series of really dreadful attacks on Jewish communities.” The fear doesn’t create prejudice; it just reveals it. “It allows it to manifest. And it can do so in ways that can be really harmful to people,” he says. Also harmful are rumors and misinformation, which can spread quickly during epidemic outbreaks. They had devastating effects during the 2014–2015 Ebola outbreaks in West Africa: people kept sick relatives home because they were afraid of treatment centers. When they tried to care for them without proper equipment, they quickly became ill themselves. That let the disease spread among families, which made the outbreak harder to contain. At the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, false theories that the virus was a bioweapon developed by the Chinese government or by Bill Gates spread online and were repeated by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). A right-wing blog doxxed the Chinese scientist it accused of creating the weapon. In Iran, fake letters from health officials spread on social media, and bad information on the best ways to prevent infection from the virus circulated online. An email hoax led to protests in Ukraine that turned violent. People often turn to misinformation out of fear and when they can’t access or don’t trust information from experts or public health officials, Rob Blair, assistant professor of political science and international and public affairs at Brown University, told The Verge. Believing misinformation can then create distrust in experts. That cycle may lead people to disregard public health advice and continue to, for example, buy and hoard masks or to ignore recommendations around isolation and quarantine. In the US, the spread of misinformation around the novel coronavirus has been facilitated by President Trump — who has contradicted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by claiming, incorrectly, that vaccines would be available soon, that testing was widely available, and that people with symptoms of COVID-19 can go to work. The mismatch in messaging between the CDC and the president can make it hard for people to know what to trust and believe. That confusion can create and exacerbate panic. After the Ebola outbreaks, experts wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that public health officials and authorities need to grapple with fear in their response to future outbreaks. “Fear-related behaviors have the potential to accelerate the spread of a disease,” they wrote. During a disease outbreak, anxiety and worry are reasonable reactions, and it’s important to take precautions to reduce the spread of disease. People should wash their hands, stay home if they’re sick, and keep away from crowds; officials should consider rescheduling or canceling mass gatherings — all expert-recommended and evidence-based strategies that can blunt the worst societal side effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. But striving to avoid acting out of fear and pushing public officials to communicate in ways that help limit it can help make sure those strategies have the greatest possible effect. Source: Fearful reactions to the new coronavirus can put lives at risk (The Verge)
  8. US coronavirus cases top 550 with 22 deaths as virus spreads to over 30 states The case count rises despite testing difficulties. Enlarge / KIRKLAND, Wash.: A patient is shielded as they are put into an ambulance outside the Life Care Center of Kirkland on March 7, 2020. Several residents have died from COVID-19, and others have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Getty | Karen Ducey 209 with 98 posters participating The coronavirus situation in the United States continues to escalate with the country’s case total well over 550 and over 30 states reporting cases as of Monday. There have been 22 deaths. Cases in the United States rose fivefold just over last week. But it’s important to keep in mind that these aren’t necessarily new cases. The boom in disease detection stems from ramped-up testing by state and local health departments in the past week, revealing a backlog of cases that in some places may have been spreading quietly for weeks. The slowed access to tests has hobbled the country’s response to the virus. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed a test for the coronavirus early last month, but the test quickly ran into technical problems that the agency was slow to resolve. Those technical issues are now worked out, federal regulators have relaxed rules on who can develop additional tests, and commercial test kits are coming on line. Still, the US is struggling to meet testing demands as the disease has continued to spread and more people have potentially been exposed. While case numbers are ever shifting, data compiled by researchers at Johns Hopkins University suggests at least 565 cases in the US as of the time of publication. Those reports are coming from at least 34 states and the District of Columbia. Three states are particularly hard hit: Washington state, which reported the country’s first case in January; California, which has housed hundreds of quarantined citizens repatriated from China and a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship; and New York state, largely due to an outbreak in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. Currently, Washington state is reporting 136 cases and 19 deaths. Many of the deaths are linked to a skilled nursing home in King County in the Seattle area that is experiencing an outbreak. California is reporting 114 cases, including 24 in repatriated citizens, 37 travel-related cases, and at least 14 from spread in a community. At least one death has been reported in California. New York state is reporting 105 cases, including 82 from Westchester. There have also been two deaths reported in Florida. Two Princesses The US case count includes 45 cases in repatriated citizens who were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and 21 cases on passengers of the Grand Princess cruise ship. The Grand Princess is currently off the coast of San Francisco but is expected to dock later today. The more than 3,500 on board will be returned to their home countries or placed under a 14-day quarantine. The Diamond Princess, which was docked in Japan for an onboard quarantine that ended last month, had an outbreak involving at least 696 cases. As the disease spreads in the United States, experts have been talking more about social-distancing measures in the US to try to halt the virus’ march. That includes the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Fauci advises Americans: “Don’t go to crowded places, think twice before a long plane trip, and for goodness’ sake, don’t go on any cruises.” And for those who are older and/or have underlying health conditions, he advised: “Don’t wait for community spread. Now is the time to do social distancing, whether there is spread in your community or not.” Source: US coronavirus cases top 550 with 22 deaths as virus spreads to over 30 states (Ars Technica)
  9. Twitter has announced that employees are encouraged to work from home in an effort to stop the spread of a novel coronavirus that has infected at least 105 people in 15 states and killed six people in the U.S. The San Francisco-based social media company is believed to be the first major U.S. firm to announce a work-from-home policy as companies around the world enact new plans to fight COVID-19. Shelves where disinfectant wipes are usually displayed at a Target store on March 2, 2020 in Novato, California in the Bay Area. “Beginning today, we are strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able. Our goal is to lower the probability of the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus for us—and the world around us,” Twitter said in a statement posted to the company’s website. “We are operating out of an abundance of caution and the utmost dedication to keeping our Tweeps healthy.” There have been no reports of any Twitter employees contracting the virus, but with over 4,800 employees worldwide, the company clearly doesn’t want to take any chances. As of Tuesday morning, the coronavirus pandemic has reached at least 67 countries, sickened over 91,000 people worldwide, and killed at least 3,118. Twitter cofounder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who has recently come under fire from activist investors who want him to step down, recently cancelled his appearance at this year’s South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas over concerns about the coronavirus outbreaks. South by Southwest is still scheduled to start on Friday, March 13 and will not be cancelled, despite a petition to do exactly that, according to the Austin American-Statesman. While Twitter is encouraging people to work from home, it’s also allowing employees in some countries to continue traveling into the office if they like. Working from home is already mandatory for Twitter employees in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea due to government restrictions. “We are working to make sure internal meetings, all hands, and other important tasks are optimized for remote participation,” Twitter said. “We recognize that working from home is not ideal for some job functions. For those employees who prefer or need to come into the offices, they will remain open for business.” Hong Kong has 100 cases and two deaths, while Japan has 274 cases and 6 deaths, not including the passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise that was, until recently, docked in Yokohama. At least 706 of the roughly 3,700 people on board contracted the virus and six have died. South Korea has also been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, with 374 new cases on Tuesday alone, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 5,186. South Korea’s government, which has declared a “war” on the virus, announced on Tuesday that the country has 28 deaths so far, according to Yonhap News. Twitter added that it’s “deep cleaning and sanitizing” its buildings and is installing visual reminders on personal hygiene and food safety. And it’s unlikely that this will be the first U.S.-based company to encourage employees to stay home. “While this is a big change for us, we have already been moving towards a more distributed workforce that’s increasingly remote,” Twitter said in a statement. “We’re a global service and we’re committed to enabling anyone, anywhere to work at Twitter.” Source
  10. Stanford group wants to use your computer to help researchers study the coronavirus [email protected] leverages unused computing power from idle machines Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images Stanford University’s [email protected] distributed computing project is seeking volunteers to help researchers develop treatment therapies for the novel coronavirus. [email protected] (FAH) uses the processing capacity of networked computers to simulate the complex process of protein folding, which helps determine how to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer, and SARS, another coronavirus. A brief explainer from [email protected]: For both coronaviruses [the current 2019 nCoV and SARS], the first step of infection occurs in the lungs, when a protein on the surface of the virus binds to a receptor protein on a lung cell. This viral protein is called the spike protein ... Proteins are not stagnant—they wiggle and fold and unfold to take on numerous shapes. We need to study not only one shape of the viral spike protein, but all the ways the protein wiggles and folds into alternative shapes Studying how the protein folds could eventually help researchers develop drugs that could treat infections of the virus. This kind of research requires substantial computational power, which FAH generates by tapping into volunteers’ CPUs when they’re idle. The project famously used to use idle Sony PlayStation 3s, whose unique “Core” processors offered better performance at the time than comparable computers for the specific tasks FAH was doing. But Sony removed the functionality from PS3s in 2012. To participate in the coronavirus project, download the FAH software, and your computer’s unused resources will go to the [email protected] Consortium, “where a research team at Memorial Sloan Kettering is working to advance our understanding of the structures of potential drug targets for 2019-nCoV that could aid in the design of new therapies,” according to FAH’s blog post. There have been more than 89,000 confirmed cases worldwide of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. More than 3,000 people have died from the disease, including six people in Washington State. Marked by a cough, fever, and shortness of breath, the illness is typically mild, affecting the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions most acutely. Source: Stanford group wants to use your computer to help researchers study the coronavirus (The Verge)
  11. [ Because this Ars Technica article will be regularly updated, I'm only posting the title and the link. ] Don’t Panic: The comprehensive Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus This is a fast-moving epidemic—we'll update this guide regularly. Source: Don’t Panic: The comprehensive Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus (Ars Technica)
  12. IBM cancels its biggest event of the year over coronavirus fears IBM CEO Ginni Rometti IBM has canceled its biggest developer conference of the year over coronavirus concerns. IBM Think was set to be held in San Francisco in May, but it will instead it will hold a digital event. IBM also placed restrictions on employee travel, including limits on domestic work travel and a ban on attending events with more than 1,000 people. In a statement, IBM said: "The health of IBM's clients, employees and partners is our primary concern. In light of global precautions for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and building upon recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), IBM is taking a new approach to its signature events and adopting new travel policies." As the coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, IBM is canceling its biggest developer conference, limiting employee travel, and restricting employees from participating in events with more than 1,000 attendees. IBM's client and developer conference IBM Think, which brought 30,000 attendees last year, was supposed to take place May 5-7 in San Francisco. Instead, IBM announced Wednesday that it will now hold a digital event with "live streamed content, interactive sessions and certifications and locally hosted events, which will highlight IBM's technology and industry expertise for developers and clients without the risk of travel." IBM is also placing new travel restrictions on employees through the end of March. IBM plans to suspend all domestic travel for internal meetings, and it plans to cut back on international travel to only "business-critical situations when virtual methods are insufficient." IBM is still allowing domestic travel for work with clients, although employees are encouraged to hold meetings virtually. In addition, if IBM employees have traveled recently to any restricted locations, they must inform their manager and self-quarantine for 14 days after their trip. "The health of IBM's clients, employees and partners is our primary concern," IBM said in a blog post. "In light of global precautions for the COVID-19 Coronavirus, and building upon recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), IBM is taking a new approach to its signature events and adopting new travel policies." IBM is also withdrawing its attendance in the HIMSS health care conference in Orlando next week. Recently, there has been a false rumor spreading around about an IBM employee in Austin who has coronavirus, and IBM has been working to assure employees that it's not true. IBM's cancellation and new rules highlights how COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has been causing widespread disruption and uncertainty for major tech companies. The outbreak has infected more than 95,000 people and killed more than 3,250, mostly in China. Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon have taken measures in response to the spread of coronavirus, such as canceling conferences, encouraging employees to work remotely, and conducting interviews virtually. Source
  13. Everything you wanted to know about self-isolation, from a person who’s living it My generation was made for this Photo via Daria Nepriakhina / Unsplash It’s a romance story, really: boy asks girl to go to Milan for Valentine’s Day weekend. They dine, wine, ski, shop, then come home and spend two weeks at home unable to leave each other’s side. At least, it would be a romance story if it weren’t for the fact that just days after they returned, Italy experienced an outbreak of the novel coronavirus that, to date, has killed and infected more than 100 people and 3,000 people, respectively, in that region. The girl in question is me, by the way, and the first reaction people have when I tell them I’ve been advised to self-quarantine is that they’re shocked or sorry. But the truth is there’s nothing that prepares you better for isolation than the internet era. I already spend my days in front of screens and in my own head. We’re a generation built for this kind of alonement. In all seriousness: self-isolating is an important decision that should not be made lightly. When done right, you could help prevent the transmission of the virus in your community and might help contain an outbreak. So just how do you properly self-isolate? From my experience so far, you’ll need patience and to take a lot of precautions. How do I know if I have to self-isolate? On a virtually empty flight from Italy. Maybe that was the first sign that something was off. Have you traveled to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, Hong Kong, or Japan in the last 14 days? If the answer is yes, you should probably self-isolate for two weeks from the last day you were in the affected country. Other countries that are also experiencing smaller outbreaks include Macau, Singapore, and Mongolia. If you’ve recently returned from those areas, you may also want to consider self-isolating out of extra precaution. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can exhibit symptoms between two and 14 days after exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So even if you feel fine in the first few days, you should wait for a full two weeks to make sure nothing develops within that incubation period. I haven’t been to those places recently, but someone in my class / office / family has. Have you been in close contact with those people in the last 14 days? You’re probably fine if you just waved at each other from across the hallway, but if you’ve been in the same meeting room for an extended time or went out for food with them, it’s likely a good idea to also stay home to monitor for symptoms, especially if that person begins exhibiting them, too. Fine, I guess I’ll self-isolate. What am I looking for during this period? COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and symptoms include fever, coughing, chest pains, and difficulty breathing. If you experience any of those symptoms during your self-isolation, call your doctor to get advice on what to do next. Wearing a mask and showing up to your local hospital or urgent care may risk infecting others in your community along the way, so it’s safer to get advice from a medical professional before heading to a facility for treatment. Got it. So how am I supposed to live while stuck at home for two weeks? If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s how much we touch our faces without thinking about it or how much stuff we share with our community in daily living. The day I found out I had to self-quarantine, my immediate thought was to get groceries to last the weeks. Then I realized I couldn’t leave my house to go pick my own vegetables and fruits at the risk of potentially infecting a whole supermarket. There are several options here. Most major cities offer food and grocery delivery services like Peapod, Instacart, or FreshDirect. You can also employ labor markets like TaskRabbit or ask friends and family to get you necessities like food, toiletries, and medicine while you’re in isolation. Only use these options if you are truly self-isolating and need to be! You don’t want to risk depleting supplies from those who actually need them. Before your delivery arrives, it’s a good idea to disinfect public areas that the delivery person might interact with, such as the doorknob or doorbell, by using wipes or cleaning solutions. When your savior arrives with the goods, ask them to call you or leave a sign out front to drop the items outside your door. Only when they’ve departed should you retrieve your goods to avoid potential person-to-person spread. Whoa, my house is piling up in trash! Isn’t it wild how much waste we generate in just a few days? Many cities are asking that those in self-quarantine line trash cans with double bags and do not take them out until the isolation period is over. Separate your wet and dry trash to contain the smell as best you can. If you’re in the clear after two weeks, take the garbage out as usual; otherwise, a medical professional will advise you on what to do. (If you have gloves on hand, it wouldn’t hurt to take them out while wearing them.) What if I have roommates? I hope you like your bedroom because this is your home for the next 14 days. You shouldn’t leave it other than to get something to eat or use the bathroom — and you should let your roommates use the kitchen / bathroom before you go in. Remember to also thoroughly disinfect surfaces you touch after you’re done to avoid contaminating shared spaces, and do not share household items like cups, plates, utensils, and towels during this time. If you share a bed with your partner, it’s best to also isolate from each other if possible to avoid potentially transmitting the virus to one another. Even if you both were in an impacted country together, it’s still possible one person could have caught it separately. If you live in a small studio apartment and have no place else to go, the CDC recommends wearing a face mask when you’re around housemates. If you’re responsible for taking care of others (yes, that includes pets!), you’ll need to make plans for someone to take over those duties for the next two weeks as COVID-19 can be particularly dangerous for those with underlying health conditions or the elderly. If you’re a nursing mother, you should also consult with a medical professional. The CDC guidelines indicate that if you must breastfeed, wash your hands before handling the infant or a breast pump machine. It’s been said a bunch of times already, but you should also wash your hands thoroughly and often. Each wash should last 20 seconds using soap and water. Kill time by singing the verse of your favorite song, chanting the ABCs, or put on a good TikTok. (Each one lasts 15 to 60 seconds, and since it loops, you can watch a short one twice. What, like you have some place to be right now?) What the heck am I supposed to do for two weeks in a room? Your imagination is as good as mine! Are there any side projects you’ve always wanted to start or at-home hobbies you want to get back into? Shows you’ve always meant to binge but never found time to? Things you want to learn but haven’t found a way to commit? Books you’re behind on? Thankfully, I’ve been able to work from home with my personal laptop, stream some TV shows at night, and find a lot of time to start working out more regularly without distractions luring me into the outside world. The new Final Fantasy VII PS4 demo is also out, if you have a system. The thing that helped me was to consider the quarantine not as a prison sentence, but as an opportunity to regain time for myself and learn how to be happy being alone. It’s actually kind of nice. Of course, getting lonely is natural, so also use this time to connect with yourself or call a loved one; you might not be allowed to have visitors at home but you can always talk to friends by phone or video call if you begin to get cabin fever. But really, are you okay, Natt? Look, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t already watched all of the reruns of Project Runway this season. Yes, you will get bored. Cabin fever will happen, but it’s going to be fine. In the meantime, feel free to send funny GIFs to @nattgarun. Source: Everything you wanted to know about self-isolation, from a person who’s living it (The Verge)
  14. The Elegant Mathematics of Social Distancing Schools and sports leagues are shutting down. But experts say it's still safe for most people to shop for groceries and meet in small groups. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images My cousin had to cancel his bar mitzvah, which was planned for Saturday in Washington, DC. Some 100 people were scheduled to be there, but like many houses of worship this week, the synagogue suspended its services to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For my cousin, it means postponing the payoff from years of study, and a celebration with friends and family. Many other Americans are in similar situations during the outbreak of Covid-19, which has sickened more than 1,700 Americans and killed more than 40, according to an online tally being kept by Johns Hopkins University. Schools, religious institutions, and sports and concert venues have closed. Those who can work from home have been urged to do so. The White House reportedly overruled a proposal from the Centers for Disease Control that would have urged anyone over 60 to avoid airplane travel. In states and cities around the country, gatherings of 500, 250, or sometimes even 75 people have been forbidden. The term “social distancing”—that is, public health measures to reduce the spread of a highly contagious disease—has become one of those particular pieces of field-specific esoterica that’s vaulted into the American vernacular, like “obstruction of justice” or “security theater.” But people have lives: weddings to attend, kids’ birthday parties to endure, commutes to make, bonkers grocery store lines to stand in. What is safe right now? What isn’t? The answer isn’t clear, given what researchers know—and don’t know—about the disease. And even experts aren’t united in their responses. “This is not black and white,” says Ben Lopman, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “We're trying right now to increase social distancing to slow down transmission of this infection. But that doesn't mean no human contact for the foreseeable future. It means us all taking sensible steps and doing our part to reduce the amount of interactions we have.” “This is not black and white.” Ben Lopman, infectious disease epidemiologist, Emory University Go to the grocery store, Lopman says, but maybe take one big trip rather than three smaller ones. Other experts suggest staying about six feet away from other people, if you can. If the person in front of you keeps coughing, maybe choose another line. To some degree, the sorts of things you should be doing right now depend on who you are. Are you someone at higher risk, like over age 60, or someone with a chronic medical condition like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease? Do you often come into contact with someone with those conditions? Are you exhibiting any Covid-19 symptoms, like fever, cough, or shortness of breath? Have you been in contact with anyone who has? Check any of those boxes, and you might want to be more careful about where you go and who you interact with. But “if you feel pretty sure that those answers to those questions are ‘no,’ you can get together [with others with similar answers] and play board games,” says Katie Colborn, a biostatistician and assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “We all have to make contacts with people while we live our lives, what we should aim to do is to limit them, and certainly not to add more,” says William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. “This may seem silly if your community is not yet reporting infections, but it is best to get used to thinking this way.” From a mathematical perspective, determining how big a crowd is safe depends on a couple of key questions: How many people in a given area are infected with the disease? And how big is the event? If you know those things, you can estimate the probability of someone getting infected at the event. An elegant “Covid-19 Event Risk Assessment Planner” by the Georgia Tech quantitative biologist Joshua Weitz makes the following calculation: If, say, 20,000 cases of infection are actively circulating the US (far more than are known so far), and you host a dinner party for 10 folks, there’s a 0.061 percent chance that an attendee will be infected. But if you attend a 10,000-person hockey match, there’s a 45 percent chance. Hence the suspension of the NHL season, along with the NBA, March Madness, and Major League Baseball. Unlike in a flu epidemic, there’s no underlying immunity in the population, meaning if you come in contact with the fluids of an infected person, you’re likely to get sick. In light of these sorts of calculations, and the fact that the virus seems to be spreading throughout a number of American communities, “it makes sense to do things like cancel mass gatherings and schools,” says Lopman. Public health experts like social distancing for three reasons. For one, it likely “flattens the curve,” or decreases the number of infections at one time, or even overall. That helps prevent overloading the health care system, with its limited number of doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment like ventilators. Also, it buys time for a vaccine to be developed, says Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the former assistant director of the Houston Health Department. (Officials hope to have a coronavirus vaccine available in 12 to 20 months.) “We all have to make contacts with people while we live our lives." William Hanage, epidemiology professor, Harvard Data from China and South Korea have given researchers a general sense of the severity of the disease: It seems, right now, that 3.4 percent of known Covid-19 infections result in death. But that number isn’t for sure. And researchers still don’t know how contagious the disease is—that is, how many other people a single infected person may infect. And they don’t know how many cases there are in the US, because testing in most of the country has been slow to ramp up. All those unknown variables mean that everything at this point is a guesstimate. When public officials set cut offs for mass gatherings—500, or 250, or 150 people—they’re deciding how risk averse they are, and balancing economic and social concerns. “There’s a lot of other consequences of canceling gatherings, and you have to weigh those. Workers need to work to pay their rent and not go homeless, because that might create a worse public health situation,” says Troisi, the epidemiologist and former public health official. Troisi is making her own personal tradeoffs. “We are going, hell or high water, to St. Louis next week because we haven't seen those grandbabies in a long time,” she says. She and her husband plan to take an airplane from their home in Houston. She notes that, yes, they are both over 60, and therefore at higher risk. No, she will not travel if she comes down with a fever. Stay tuned for the invite to my cousin’s rescheduled bar mitzvah. Like many plans right now, his are up in the air. Source: The Elegant Mathematics of Social Distancing (Wired)
  15. Apple to close US retail stores and all others outside China until March 27th The company’s online store will remain operational Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge Apple is temporary closing all of its retail stores “outside of Greater China” until March 27th, CEO Tim Cook announced in a letter posted on the company’s website late Friday night. “The most effective way to minimize risk of the virus’s transmission is to reduce density and maximize social distance,” Cook wrote. “We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers.” The nationwide closure is among the first from a major retailer in the United States. But this extends far beyond the US, with every Apple location globally shutting down effective immediately — except for those in China. Apple’s online store will remain operational (as will the Apple Store app) during the downtime for physical retail locations, and customers seeking customer support can visit support.apple.com to find authorized repair shops that remain open or arrange mail-in service. “The global spread of COVID-19 is affecting every one of us,” Cook wrote. “At Apple, we are people first, and we do what we do with the belief that technology can change lives and the hope that it can be a valuable tool in a moment like this.” Employees affected by the stores closing up shop will still be paid. Here’s what Cook said on that and other adjustments Apple is making to accommodate workers impacted by the virus: All of our hourly workers will continue to receive pay in alignment with business as usual operations. We have expanded our leave policies to accommodate personal or family health circumstances created by COVID-19 — including recovering from an illness, caring for a sick loved one, mandatory quarantining, or childcare challenges due to school closures. Apple’s “committed donations” to COVID-19 have reached $15 million, according to Cook, and the company will be “matching our employee donations two-to-one to support COVID-19 response efforts locally, nationally and internationally.” Like other large companies with a worldwide presence, Apple is strongly encouraging employees to work from home if their job allows for it. Apple recently reopened the China stores it closed soon after the initial spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. “Though the rate of infections has dramatically declined, we know COVID-19’s effects are still being strongly felt. I want to express my deep gratitude to our team in China for their determination and spirit,” Cook said in his note. Earlier on Friday, Apple announced that WWDC 2020 will shift to an online-only experience — still with a keynote and developer sessions — when the conference happens this June. In that press release, Apple only mentioned the “current health situation” without addressing COVID-19 directly. Cook struck a somber but hopeful tone to close his letter. There is no mistaking the challenge of this moment. The entire Apple family is indebted to the heroic first responders, doctors, nurses, researchers, public health experts and public servants globally who have given every ounce of their spirit to help the world meet this moment. We do not yet know with certainty when the greatest risk will be behind us. And yet I have been inspired by the humanity and determination I have seen from all corners of our global community. As President Lincoln said in a time of great adversity: “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” That’s always how Apple has chosen to meet big challenges. And it’s how we’ll rise to meet this one, too. Apple operates some of the most high-profile retail stores in the world and ranks first in the US for highest sales per square foot. Source: Apple to close US retail stores and all others outside China until March 27th (The Verge)
  16. Don’t Go Down a Coronavirus Anxiety Spiral Here’s what you can do to relieve your worries, while still keeping you and your family safe. Photograph: Richard Drury/Getty Images The past few days have made clear how serious the escalating coronavirus pandemic is for many people in the United States. Schools and workplaces across the country closed, major events were canceled, and testing delays made it impossible to confirm how many people were infected. The stock market had its biggest decline in decades, Sarah Palin rapped to “Baby Got Back” dressed in a bear suit—it feels like the world is unraveling. There is so much going on, and so much uncertainty, it is all too easy to get trapped watching cable news or scrolling through Twitter all day. If all this news is making you feel stressed, you’re far from alone. Many people are sharing their worries online; there’s a whole subreddit devoted to coping with these feelings. Experts say overloading on information about events like the coronavirus outbreak can make you particularly anxious, especially if you’re stuck inside with little to do but keep scrolling on Twitter and Facebook. But you can take steps to mitigate the amount of stress you feel, while still keeping you and your family safe. Reducing anxiety won’t only make this difficult time more bearable, it will help keep you physically healthy and your immune system strong. Why the Coronavirus Is Uniquely Stressful “All of our attention is being focused on the threatening aspects of the situation,” says Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, where he runs a lab studying emotion and self-control “We’re zoomed in on the potential threat.” Headlines are dominated by places where the pandemic is currently hitting the hardest, like Italy and Washington state. Health authorities are cautioning about the dangers of once mundane activities, like gathering in large groups or shaking hands. As the US rolls out more testing, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is inevitably going to increase. The safety measures people are taking may be more immediate and visible, too, whether it’s public places looking less crowded or long lines outside of stores as people stock up on food. “That probably increased the perception that this is something dangerous,” says Thomas Rodebaugh, a clinical psychologist focused on anxiety disorders and the director of clinical training at Washington University in St. Louis. Even though most precautions in the US are being taken out of an abundance of caution, they can cause you to feel like everyone is panicking. “We are motivated to pay attention to what other people are doing,” he says. To make matters worse, you don’t have much control over the situation, which often makes people anxious, says Anu Asnaani, a clinical psychologist at the University of Utah specializing in fear-based disorders. No one knows when the pandemic will be over or when things will be back to normal, which can be maddening. “Control and certainty are at the core, from an evolutionary standpoint, of what has kept our species alive,” she says. “When we are uncertain, we take precautions to make sure we aren’t killed or we don’t die.” It can feel like everyone is trying to scare you, which, in some ways, they are. The intention is to motivate people to take actions that will keep them safe, but a side effect is that you may feel an overwhelming amount of anxiety that ceases to be helpful. Tips to Reduce Your Anxiety First, if you know you struggle with overcoming anxiety, this is a great time to reach out to a mental health professional, even if you can’t meet with them in person. “A lot of therapists are doing telehealth and phone sessions,” says Asnaani. If you’ve seen a therapist or counselor before, even if it was a while ago, she adds, “consider reaching back out to an old therapist and proactively keeping up with your mental health care.” On your own, Kross says it may be helpful to reframe the coronavirus outbreak by using a tactic called temporal distancing, or focusing your attention on a longer timescale. For example, imagine how you might look back on these events in a year, or even a few years from now. “Those kinds of perspective-broadening tools can really relieve emotions,” he says. You can also try putting the outbreak in historical context. “We have experienced these kinds of things as a society before, we have gotten through them.” (But don’t immediately jump to comparisons with the Spanish flu.) Another step is to limit how much information you consume about the coronavirus outbreak. Try to find a balance between being informed enough to make decisions about your life, but not so overloaded with information that it becomes stressful. Pick a handful of sources you know you can trust, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have a local newspaper, it might also be a good source for what’s happening in your community. National news outlets like The New York Times and Bloomberg BusinessWeek have daily coronavirus newsletters you can sign up for. (And, of course, continue reading WIRED.) “Even for me as a psychologist, I’m going to check in once a day in the morning,” says Asnaani. “What’s happening today and what are the guidelines? That’s it, I’m going to shut off from any Covid-19 media.” While social media can sometimes be helpful, sites like Facebook and Twitter also place us into filter bubbles, often amplify the most extreme voices, and are fervent breeding grounds for conspiracy theories and misinformation. If you find yourself growing more anxious reading them, put down your phone or step away from your computer. (And if that seems impossible, consider using tools that manage your screen time.) Do Something Else Now that you’ve shut down your phone and turned off the news, it’s a good time for stress-reducing activities. It isn’t a bad idea to try out meditation, says Rodebaugh, but there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel if you already have an anxiety-busting method that works. “When you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed, it’s a lot easier to use a coping strategy you’ve practiced a lot then to come up with a new one,” he says. Asnaani suggests to look for things that are future-oriented and pleasurable. Now is a good opportunity to do tasks around the house you have putting off and would feel happy to have accomplished, for example. Other ideas include cooking or baking, following an exercise or video on YouTube, and journaling. As more people stay home and take other precautions to avoid spreading the disease, that isolation can be its own source of stress. So can worries about family and friends, especially those who may be at higher risk for serious illness. But there are still plenty of things people can do for one another, even from a distance—and that can improve mental health for everyone involved. “Think about pro-social things you can do for them that distinctly goes against that anxiety voice,” says Asnaani, like making a photo album for grandma, playing an online game with your dad, or reading the same book as your aunt and agreeing to discuss it together. The ultimate goal is to find a way to mitigate your stress, while still keeping up to date on information that will keep you and your family safe. “We want to maintain the gravity of the situation,” says Kross. “But we don’t, to use a very technical term, need to freak out when doing it. We can remain cognizant of the big picture.” Source: Don’t Go Down a Coronavirus Anxiety Spiral (Wired)
  17. Singapore was ready for COVID-19—other countries, take note Singapore built a robust system for tracking and containing epidemics after SARS and H1N1. Enlarge / South Korean soldiers wearing protective masks sit at a temperature screening point at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, on Monday, March 9, 2020. The coronavirus outbreak in South Korea is showing signs of slowing as the rate of new daily infections falls and health authorities almost finished testing members of a religious sect at the center of the epidemic, the country's health minister said. Getty Images 206 with 83 posters participating This pandemic—the new disease COVID-19, the virus SARS-CoV-2—is not Singapore’s first epidemiological nightmare. In 2002 and 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the original SARS, tore out of China and through Asia, killing 33 people in Singapore and sparking wholesale revisions to the city-state’s public health system. “They realized they wanted to invest for the future to reduce that economic cost if the same thing were to happen again,” says Martin Hibberd, an infectious disease researcher now at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who worked in Singapore on SARS. So Singapore instituted new travel controls and health infrastructure. Then, in 2009, it got hit again—with H1N1 influenza, the so-called swine flu. “Pandemic flu came from Mexico, an Americas event, and Singapore tried to put in place in 2009 what they learned with SARS,” Hibberd says. “But flu was much more difficult to contain than SARS was, and they realized what they thought they’d learned didn’t work. It was another lesson.” When COVID-19 came around, Singapore was, it seems, ready. Along with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, Singapore instituted strict travel controls and protocols for identifying sick individuals—to get them help as well as to find the people they’d been in contact with. The Singaporean government posted detailed accounting for how many people had been tested for the virus, and the locations and natures of those people’s social contacts. All these governments instituted strict social distancing measures, like canceling events, closing schools, and telling people to stay home. As a result (at least in part), all have lower numbers of infected people and lower fatalities than China or Italy, proportionately. They “flattened the curve,” as public health experts now say—lowering a probable spike of infections, perhaps pushing that surge of seriously ill people further out in time so that health care systems don’t get overburdened. The lessons these countries learned could be instructive for places further out on the timeline—like the United States or most of Europe, which still lags a couple of weeks behind the virus’ spread through Italy, where there have been hundreds of deaths and the hospital system is so slammed with seriously ill people that it’s beginning to institute triage measures. These places offer models for what to do next, laying out best practices for how to respond to the pandemic with fewer deaths, to get a case fatality rate closer to South Korea’s apparent 0.8 instead of Italy’s 6.6. Detailed data can also tell epidemiologists what to expect about the dynamics of the disease, helping guide more targeted responses. “Highly detailed surveillance data will be critical for understanding the outbreak,” says Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. “It is this sort of detailed analysis that will be critical for answering key questions about the role of asymptomatic people and children in transmission.” How they did it Here’s how those Asian countries are doing it: According to a new article in The Lancet, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore all developed their own tests for COVID-19 as soon as the genetic sequences for the virus were published and ramped up production of the materials necessary for those tests. (That’s a sharp contrast with the US, which still doesn’t have enough tests for nationwide use, and may actually be running out of the materials necessary to make them.) Each country instituted controls over immigration (a controversial move that the WHO recommended against, but that they did anyway). They rejiggered their national financial systems to make sure people didn’t have to pay for tests or treatment. (Easier in places where most health care is already nationalized, to be sure—and in some more progressive American states like California, Washington, and New York. In fact, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even ordered paid sick leave for quarantined people and free hand sanitizer. Taiwan actually combined its national health care and immigration databases to generate automated alerts based on travelers’ potential for being infected. On January 20, when China had reported only a few cases of the disease, Taiwan spun up a Central Epidemic Command Center—created after SARS—to coordinate the national effort. Among other things, the CECC put limits on the prices of personal protective equipment like masks and deployed military personnel to manufacture more. In the US, mask shortages led the Food and Drug Administration to relax the rules on what kinds of masks health care workers can use; on January 20, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it had “44 million surgical masks, 1.9 million N95 masks, and 1,100 negative pressure isolation rooms” ready to go, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. People in Singapore, for now, get information from multiple government websites, frequently updated, as well as from a government WhatsApp account. People get their temperatures taken before they can enter most buildings, including businesses, schools, gyms, and government agencies, because fever is one of the main symptoms of COVID-19. (According to my sister-in-law, whose family has lived in Singapore for six years, everyone whose temperature is normal gets a sticker, and people are expected to acquire two or three stickers every day.) Hibberd, who’s in Singapore now working on the new coronavirus, says, “On every lift I ride, there’s a notice saying what I have to do. Everywhere you walk there’s information… There’s a confidence in that information, in the government and what they’re saying, and there’s an expectation you should follow it.” The country gives a bit of money to people who don’t have the kinds of jobs that support being out of work—and fines people who don’t follow the rules. In at least one hospital, the experience of SARS led to a complete reimagining of the ways physicians deal with patients. One article from personnel in the radiology department at Singapore General Hospital describes keeping teams of health care workers separate from one another in case one has to be quarantined, and physical separations for different kinds of patients—all sorts of seemingly small systematic changes that limit the spread of an infectious disease. As one Singaporean researcher told The Guardian, “We don’t do anything different, we just do it well.” These countries all have social structures and traditions that might make this kind of surveillance and control a little easier than in the don’t-tread-on-me United States. But then, none of those countries are China, either, with its full-on surveillance state. “Copying China would have a big impact on the economy,” Hibberd says of Singapore. “But everybody getting the disease quickly and the country panicking would also have a big impact on the economy.” So Singapore is taking a middle path, he says. Of course, if the disease continues to spread, that approach might get more draconian. “If COVID-19 turns out not to be controllable,” Hibberd says, “then the containment process will change, to not looking for every case but identifying and supporting those cases at most risk of severe disease instead.” Even that data will be helpful in a broader way, though. Wide-scale testing, as these countries are doing, sweeps up mild cases, people who don’t go to the hospital. That increases the denominator, so to speak. It gives a better picture of how fast and how far the disease spreads overall, which can be compared to the number of people who get sick or die, allowing for a more accurate calculation of the case fatality rate, or CFR. It’ll also bring more clarity to questions about which people are more vulnerable—so far, older people seem much more likely to suffer complications from COVID-19, but is that due to lung damage, immunological weakness, or something else? “That said, we have to be very careful not to generalize case fatality rate estimates from any one country to another,” says Maia Majumder, a computational epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. “As much as the CFR is a function of case-finding, it’s also a function of quality of care and population demographics.” Singapore’s health system is much better than, say, the one in China’s Hubei province, which got overwhelmed early, and seeing what was going on in China allowed all these other countries time to prepare. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea all share the characteristic of using their experiences with prior outbreaks to build a system—and then sustaining it. None of them had to deal with the fear of being a first-mover, of being the first city or country to institute seemingly severe countermeasures. Their countermeasures were already in place, waiting to be reactivated. In the United States, all the people ringing the bell the hardest for a Singapore-like approach hope they’ll be heard, and that it’ll work—and so, by next autumn, they’ll seem like fools for having been so worried. This story originally appeared on wired.com. Source: Singapore was ready for COVID-19—other countries, take note (Ars Technica)
  18. Prime minister delivers address from self-imposed quarantine Parliament shuttered and curbs on international travel Canada has unveiled aggressive new measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, shutting down parliament and advising against foreign travel, even as Justin Trudeau urged citizens to remain calm in a national address delivered from self-imposed quarantine. “We have an outstanding, we have outstanding public health authorities who are doing an outstanding job. We will get through this together,” said the prime minister, who has been in self-isolation after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday.In his address on Friday, Trudeau said he remained symptom free. “Of course, [working from home] is an inconvenience and somewhat frustrating. We are all social beings after all,” he said. “But we have to do this because we have to protect our neighbours and our friends – especially our more vulnerable seniors and people with pre-existing conditions.” Officials announced a raft of new measures including closing parliament for five weeks and redirecting incoming international flights to a small number of airports as part of enhanced screening measures. The government also announced it will ban cruise ships with 500 people from docking in the country’s ports until 1 July – but stopped short of closing the borders. “Borders don’t stop travellers. Travellers find other ways into countries. Travellers become less honest,” said Patty Hajdu, the county’s health minister. “Canada’s approach from the very beginning has been to use science and evidence.” Instead, the government has asked Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country and to limit contact with crowds. “Social distancing is an important contribution that everyone can make to our control efforts,” said Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer. “This means avoiding crowded places and non-essential gatherings, considering shopping or taking public transport in off-peak hours and greeting one another with a wave or elbow instead of a handshake, kiss or hug.” So far, Canada has conducted more than 15,000 tests and has 157 confirmed cases of the virus, most of which have been found in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, she said. Despite the relatively low number of cases, the federal government and provinces have acted swiftly in recent days. British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec have all banned events larger than 250 people. Ontario, the country’s most populous province, will close schools for two additional weeks following spring break, as will Quebec. “The actions you take today will save lives,” Hajdu said. “This is a serious public health threat, and a crisis as well as an emergency.” As the country prepares for a slowdown, driven by both the coronavirus and a plunge in oil prices, Trudeau said his government plans to green-light a wide-scale economic stimulus plan in the coming days. “We are in the enviable position of having significant fiscal firepower available,” he said. Alberta’s premier, Jason Kenny, has called on the federal government to announce a stimulus of at least C$20bn (US$14.3bn) – roughly 1% of the country’s gross domestic product – to offset the looming economic impact of the virus. “We need to design policies that will really help liquidity and cashflow for businesses that are uniquely affected right now,” he said on Thursday. The prime minister has not yet put a figure on the stimulus plan, but said the action will target Canadians who are most vulnerable to a downturn. “No one should have to worry about paying rent, buying groceries, or additional childcare because of Covid-19. We will help Canadians financially.” Source
  19. President Trump is weighing whether to declare a national emergency over the coronavirus, which would free up additional resources to combat the rapidly spreading disease. The president indicated to reporters that using an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act was under consideration, but would not say definitively whether he would sign it on Thursday. "We have things that I can do. We have very strong emergency powers under the Stafford Act," he said during an Oval Office meeting with the Irish prime minister. "I have it memorized practically as to the powers in that act, and if I need to do something I’ll do it. I have the right to do a lot of things that people don't even know about." Asked if he planned to declare a national emergency on Thursday, Trump deflected. "I don’t want to say that, but you know, at some point," he said. Trump can declare a national emergency or a major disaster declaration under the Stafford Act, which would enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to mobilize additional resources and funding to fight the coronavirus. There were roughly 1,300 people with confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. as of Thursday morning, and 37 people had died from the virus, according to The New York Times. Trump's remarks Thursday came a day after he announced that the U.S. would restrict travel from Europe for the next 30 days in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The president also said he would use executive orders to offer financial relief to individuals and small businesses impacted by the fallout over the disease. Multiple advisers to the president have indicated he is seriously considering signing an emergency declaration on Thursday in what would be the latest significant step to try to combat the fallout from the coronavirus. "If ever there was an emergency, it’s now. We’re a week away from being Italy," one adviser told The Hill, invoking the Italian government's decision to largely shut down the country to stop the virus from spreading. CNN reported that top economic adviser Larry Kudlow informed congressional Republicans that Trump could sign the declaration as early as Thursday afternoon. Trump may be hesitant to declare a national emergency after spending the past several weeks downplaying the severity of the coronavirus. He predicted in late February that the number of cases could quickly drop to near zero, and told a conservative conference that the administration deserved an "A+++" for its work containing the disease. But as new cases are reported each day, Trump has been forced to adopt more serious measures, such as those laid out in his Wednesday night address. Top health officials in the Trump administration said the decision to restrict travel from Europe would be beneficial, but have warned in recent days that the worst of the virus was yet to come. Still, Trump on Thursday projected optimism. "We’re in great shape compared to other places," he said. "We want to keep it that way." Source
  20. Personal privacy matters during a pandemic — but less than it might at other times Public health weighs individual privacy against the common good Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images During a disease outbreak, one of the best tools at the disposal of public health officials is low-tech detective work. When a person is diagnosed with an illness like COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, public health experts figure out where they’ve recently been and track down everyone they’ve been in contact with. “Sometimes it requires we know private information about a person who has been infected,” says Lisa Lee, director of the division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance at Virginia Tech and former executive director of the Obama administration’s Presidential Bioethics Commission. It also can mean that they have to share some of that information, including information about someone’s health. Usually, people think about health privacy in terms of the relationship they have with their doctors and clinicians who have to keep the vast majority of information confidential — both legally and ethically. But the public health system is set up with different legal permissions and protections than a doctor’s office, and by nature, it thinks about ethics and patient privacy differently. “We think about it from the perspective of the mutual obligations we have towards each other and the need to protect well being,” says Amy Fairchild, dean and professor in the college of public health at Ohio State University. “What you’re doing is weighing the risks to the individual against the harm to the person’s contacts and the rest of the population.” Legally, there are carve-outs in health privacy laws like HIPAA that allow public health officials to get information about a person’s health without their consent. Individual privacy and the risks that can come from the disclosure of personal health information — like stigma — are still critical concerns for public health officials, Lee stresses. They aim to collect the minimum amount of information possible to achieve a public health goal. “The principle is to collect and use the least amount of data possible, because it reduces harm,” she says. The information collected is also used only for public health activities. The balance between protecting individual privacy and collecting information that is critical to the public good changes over the course of a disease’s spread. The amount of data public health officials need to collect and disclose changes as well. Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating, and there is still a lot doctors and scientists don’t know about the disease. Collecting detailed health information is, therefore, more useful and important. That could change as the outbreak progresses, Lee says. For example, as the virus starts to circulate in the community, it might not be as important to know exactly where a sick person has been. If the virus is everywhere already, that information won’t have as much additional benefit to the community. “It depends a lot on the maturity of an epidemic,” she says. Digital tracking information is ubiquitous today, and that can make data collection easier. In Singapore, where there’s extensive surveillance, publicly available data details where people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are and have been. The Iranian government built an app for people to check their symptoms that also included a geo-tracking feature. When deciding to use those types of tools, Lee says, the same public health principles should still apply. “Should a public health official know where a person has gone, should that be public information — it’s not different. It’s a lot easier to do that now, but it doesn’t make it any more right or less right,” she says. “Tracking where people go and who they interact with is something public health officials have been doing for centuries. It’s just easier with digital information.” In addition, just because personal information about a person and their health is important to a public health official, it doesn’t mean that information is important for the general public. It’s why, despite questioning from reporters, public health officials only gave out a limited amount of information on the people who had the first few cases of COVID-19 in the US. During the polio epidemic in the US, health departments used to publish the names of people with confirmed cases of the illness in the newspapers — a practice that would be far out of bounds today. But that didn’t stop people in the US from trying to find out information about the few cases of Ebola in the country during the 2014 outbreak. People didn’t need that information to protect themselves, though. “Having someone’s name doesn’t protect you,” Fairchild says. “That’s generally the principle of public health surveillance. There are emotional reasons that the public may want to know — but it doesn’t protect you, and shouldn’t change what you’re doing.” Health officials worry about the stigmatization of individuals or communities affected by diseases, which is why they aim to disclose only necessary information to the public. Anti-Asian racism in the US and other countries around the world spiked with the outbreak because the novel coronavirus originated in China. People who were on cruise ships with positive cases reported fielding angry phone calls from strangers when they returned home, and residents of New Rochelle, New York, which is the first containment zone in the US, said that they’re worried about their hometown being forever associated with the virus. “This kind of group-level harm is concerning,” Lee says. “That’s why we worry about group identity privacy, as well. I’m nervous and sad to see that starting to poke its head out.” People can’t expect the same level of personal health privacy during public health emergencies involving infectious diseases as they can in other elements of their health. But the actions public health officials can take, like collecting information, aren’t designed to limit privacy, Fairchild says. “It’s to protect the broader population. The principle we embrace is the principle of reciprocity. We recognize that our liberty is limited, but we are doing that for others.” Source: Personal privacy matters during a pandemic — but less than it might at other times (The Verge)
  21. How coronavirus is affecting TV and movies so far, from Tom Hanks to Fast 9 Coronavirus is causing numerous delays in entertainment (Image credit: Universal) The world around us is changing quickly right now, as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the planet. Containing the virus and ensuring the safety of other people has to come first. Numerous industries have changed course because of Covid-19 – MWC 2020 in Barcelona was canceled, and GDC and E3's cancellation mean gaming faces a quiet year for events. In TV and film, the effects are now becoming more and more obvious, with movies like Fast and Furious 9, No Time To Die, A Quiet Place Part 2 and Peter Rabbit 2 all changing release dates to either later in 2020 or 2021. This is sure to have a painful effect on theater businesses. This isn't just about release dates moving, though – it's starting to affect the production of TV and film, as you'd expect. Tom Hanks is the highest-profile celebrity to test positive for coronavirus so far, and he was diagnosed as he was filming an Elvis biopic in Australia – that's now on hold, as you'd expect. TV show productions are shutting down as well, and in the coming months, we're only going to see more examples of this as coronavirus spreads. Here's a summary of how coronavirus has affected TV and movies so far. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have coronavirus and are in self-isolation Actor Tom Hanks posted the update above from Australia on March 12, revealing he and wife Rita Wilson tested positive for coronavirus. "To play things right, as is needed in the world right now, we were tested for the coronavirus, and were found to be positive," Hanks said, adding that he'll keep people updated on his progress. Hanks was filming an Elvis Presley biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby), and Warner Bros told Indiewire that filming has been put on hold for now. No Time To Die, A Quiet Place 2, Fast and Furious 9 and Peter Rabbit 2 are all delayed by coronavirus Movie release dates are dropping quickly, as the reality of reduced theater attendance is beginning to hit. No Time To Die's release date moved from April to November and A Quiet Place Part 2 has been delayed as well. Meanwhile, the less exciting Peter Rabbit 2 moved from March to August. The biggest move yet came with Fast and Furious 9, though, which will now release in April 2021, almost a year after its original May 22 release date. No word on Black Widow moving yet – its final trailer released earlier this week, and said it's still coming out in early May. This is a developing situation, obviously, and the world could look very different in a few weeks. Theaters are communal spaces, more likely to be avoided for the time being to stop the spread of the virus. China, a massive market for blockbusters, is basically closed for business. China closed all of its 70,000+ theaters in late January. This means numerous movies like Sonic the Hedgehog just can't release in the market – and Mulan, scheduled for March 27, is surely at risk. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier halted filming in Prague (Image credit: Disney/Marvel Studios) Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was filming in Prague this week, but production has been halted according to a Deadline report, with cast and crew recalled back to Atlanta. The show debuts in August, and there's been no indication it'll affect the release date. Actor Sebastian Stan reacted to the move on Instagram. "We've been shooting The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and experiencing one of the most beautiful cities in the world filled with the most wonderful and welcoming people. Now we are being sent home. Too soon. Prague, you’re gonna be in my thoughts for a long time. Thank you. Will be back. Thinking of you." Sports events are being critically hit by coronavirus Expect more to be canceled or delayed, but next week's Manchester City vs Real Madrid Champions League tie has been postponed, after the Real Madrid squad went into quarantine over coronavirus concerns. Juventus vs Lyon has also been delayed. The UK government is considering banning sporting fixtures altogether, according to the BBC. The NBA season has been suspended. The NFL, though, has said it won't delay the start of the league on March 18. Football/soccer leagues in Italy, Portugal, Spain, the USA and the Netherlands have been suspended (for 30 days, in the case of the MLS). The Australian GP has been 'called off' according to the BBC, and tennis tournament ATP has been bumped back by six weeks. Expect the cancelations to keep stacking up. Numerous productions have been put on hold, including Mission Impossible 7 Production of The CW teen drama Riverdale has been temporarily put on hold, as one of its 'team members' is being tested for coronavirus. EW reported that US reality show Survivor has delayed production as well, which joins fellow long-running reality series The Amazing Race in being put on hold. Filming on Mission Impossible 7 in Venice, Italy was stopped in late February. The Grand Tour will probably be delayed The next episode of The Grand Tour season 4 is imminent, but there might be a longer wait after that. Host Jeremy Clarkson has suggested on Twitter that the virus is holding up filming on more specials, which require international travel. Source: How coronavirus is affecting TV and movies so far, from Tom Hanks to Fast 9 (TechRadar)
  22. Mobile World Congress canceled due to coronavirus [Updated] Decision comes after a number of vendors pull out of world's biggest telecom show. Enlarge / MWC in 2017. Ron Amadeo [Update 2:32pm ET, February 12. 2020] Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC) organizer the GSMA has announced that the annual technology event in Barcelona is canceled this year. Part of the GSMA's statement on the decision says: "Global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern, and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event." The cancellation followed news of several major exhibitors backing out due to travel restrictions and concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak in China. See below for details on that developing story. Original story 6:05pm ET, February 10, 2020] Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC) is supposed to be the biggest week of the year for mobile technology, but the coronavirus public health scare and related travel restrictions have led to a great deal of uncertainty amidst the usual fanfare. Several major tech companies, including Sony, Amazon, LG, Ericsson, and Nvidia, have cancelled plans to appear at the conference, and some, like Samsung, still plan to attend but with a reduced presence. The GSMA was quick to point out, as quoted in the BBC, that the event remains "more than 2,800 exhibitors strong." The announcements have trickled in over the past few days. Many of these companies are usually key players at the event, and while many more companies still plan to attend, this year's show looks like it's going to be very different from what we saw in 2019 or 2018. Organized by the GSMA mobile interest group and held annually in Barcelona, MWC has become arguably the most significant event of the year for the mobile and wireless technology industry. Many mobile companies skip the noise of CES to unveil their plans and do business at this more focused event. This year's event was expected to be a major one: it will open the floodgates for the 5G transition, mobile companies have predicted. In 2019, 109,000 people from 198 countries and territories attended MWC. Six percent of those attendees were from China, and 16 percent were from the wider Asia-Pacific region, according to the GSMA's annual report. Yesterday, the GSMA responded to the back-outs by clarifying the safeguards the organization is taking to protect attendees and exhibitors at MWC. They include a ban on all travelers from China's Hubei province and a requirement for travelers to show proof they've been away from China for the 14 days preceding the event. Additionally, attendees must state that they have not been in contact with any infected persons and subject themselves to temperature screenings. The GSMA will also give "advice" that visitors not shake hands at the event. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau recently reassured visitors that the city is ready to handle the event in these circumstances. "I would recommend that we listen to the experts, scientists, and health authorities who tell us that the Mobile (World Congress) can go on with complete normality," she said. Catalan Health Minister Alba Vergés was quoted in the GSMA's statement on the subject, saying, "the Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona." The coronavirus outbreak's effect on the tech industry is not just about conferences; several companies have placed business travel restrictions on their employees, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Airbnb, and more. And both Apple and Amazon told investors on their most recent quarterly earnings calls that they are uncertain how severely the outbreak will impact their supply lines in China. There have been numerous reports of key factories for those companies closing or operating with reduced staff. The outbreak is also affecting other industries. The Singapore Airshow has seen some back-outs by major exhibitors, including Lockheed Martin. And in one of many examples for the gaming industry, popular video game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds saw the postponing of an esports event planned in Berlin. As Ars has previously reported, there are now 40,500 confirmed cases of the virus, and there have been 910 deaths. The majority of the cases occurred in China, and only one death has been confirmed outside of China. Source: Mobile World Congress canceled due to coronavirus [Updated] (Ars Technica)
  23. How do we test for coronavirus, anyway? A rundown of the biology behind testing for a virus we hadn't seen before. Enlarge / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield speaks during a press conference about the 2019-nCoV outbreak. Samuel Corum/Getty Images As the recently discovered coronavirus has rapidly spread beyond its origins in China, health authorities around the world have needed to quickly develop testing capabilities. In the United States, that task has been performed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which has published its methodology and is currently in the process of applying for an emergency waiver to allow medical-testing facilities to perform these tests. But if you're not familiar with the tools of molecular biology, the CDC's testing procedure might as well be written in another language. What follows is a description of how to go from an unknown virus to a diagnostic test in less than a month. Starting from nothing When Chinese health authorities were first confronted with the outbreak, it had a disturbing familiarity. They had already dealt with a similar set of symptoms during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s and had seen the spread of MERS a decade later. Thanks to these and related viruses, we already had a detailed description of the structure of the typical coronavirus genome as early as 2005. That knowledge would undoubtedly prove essential for the first step in developing a rapid diagnostic test: characterization of the genome of the new virus, 2019-nCoV. Because we know what the average coronavirus looks like, we have been able to identify areas that don't change much over the evolution of new members of this family of viruses. And that allows us to obtain sequences of its genome without first isolating the virus. The first challenge of sequencing a coronavirus genome is that it's made of RNA rather than DNA. Most of our tools for working with nucleic acids are specific to DNA. Fortunately, we've discovered an enzyme called "reverse transcriptase" that takes RNA and makes a DNA copy of it—transcription is the copying of DNA into RNA; this enzyme does the opposite, hence the name. (Reverse transcriptase was first identified in other RNA viruses that need to be copied into DNA as part of infection.) Using reverse transcriptase, researchers were able to make DNA copies of parts of 2019-nCoV as a first step to studying its genome. But reverse transcription of samples from infected individuals would simply create a mess of DNA fragments from everything present: the patient's own cells, harmless bacteria, and so on. Fortunately, DNA sequencing and analysis techniques have become so advanced that it's now possible to just sequence the whole mess, irrelevant stuff and all, and let computers sort out what's present. Software is able to take what we know about the average coronavirus genome and identify all of the fragments of sequence that look like they came form a coronavirus. Other software can determine how all these fragments overlap and then stitch them together, producing a near-complete coronavirus genome. At this point, Chinese health authorities recognized that the virus involved in these infections was new, and they rapidly published the virus's genome sequence so that other health organizations could be prepared. From genome to sampling To make a diagnostic test specific to 2019-nCoV, researchers had to look for areas of its genome that don't change rapidly over coronavirus evolution but have changed enough in this branch of the family that they can be viewed as its distinctive signature. Those sequences can be used to design a means of amplifying a piece of the 2019-nCoV genome using a technique called the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. We won't go into all of the technical details of how PCR works, in part because we've already done so. For the purposes of understanding the diagnostic test, all you have to know is that you need to design two small pieces of DNA that match (meaning they can base pair with) two sections of the genome a few hundred base pairs apart. These small pieces of DNA are called "primers." PCR will amplify the section of DNA between the two primers. It does this by putting the DNA through heating and cooling cycles in the presence of enzymes that copy DNA. Each time through the cycle, the enzymes can make two new copies of the section between the primers. Using this process, it's possible to take a stretch of DNA that's extremely rare and produce billions of copies of it. But PCR works with DNA, and the coronavirus is made of RNA. So we need to use reverse transcriptase first before trying to perform PCR. Fortunately, companies have developed solutions that have all the enzymes and raw materials that both reactions need, allowing for coupled reverse transcriptase-PCR reaction mixes. The combination of reactions has been termed RT-PCR. With the right primers, RT-PCR can allow us to start with a chaotic mix or RNA and leave us with a lot of copies of a specific piece of the 2019-nCoV, provided any was present in the original sample. The problem is that PCR is so sensitive that it can also amplify small errors—primers sticking to a distantly related sequence, a distantly related coronavirus in the sample, or even contamination from the previous sample. Even though these errors are rare, the exponential amplification provided by PCR can eventually allow one to dominate the sample. Fortunately, people have devised a way of taking advantage of the rarity of these errors. Get real If the right sequence for the primers is present—meaning 2019-nCoV is present in the sample—amplification will typically start with the very first cycle and grow rapidly. Errors, in contrast, may take a few cycles to occur and amplification therefore lags for a bit. To figure out when 2019-nCoV is really present, we have to identify when the amplification happens quickly and when it lags. We have to observe the progress of the PCR cycles in real time. To do so, scientists developed a dye that only fluoresces if double-stranded DNA is present. As the reaction starts, there's very little of that around, so fluorescence is low. But as more amplifications occur, the glow rapidly rises until there's so much DNA that sensing the difference between cycles becomes impossible. If the amplification starts early, this rise and saturation occurs early; if it depends on an error, then it takes longer to see them. Thus, real-time RT-PCR (RRT-PCR, for those excited about jargon) gives us a way to determine whether a PCR amplification occurs because our sequence of interest is present. (It can also be used to get an estimate of the relative amount of that sequence is present, but that's not needed for this test.) Because this is such an important technique, companies have developed products based around it. You can buy the fluorescent dye, enzymes, etc., as well as a machine that integrates the thermal hardware to cycle the reaction and has a light sensor to monitor the fluorescence. If you wanted to do this yourself, appropriate hardware seems to be available on eBay for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. Kits aren’t all you need If you look at the CDC's instructions, however, you'll see little discussion of the hardware or enzymes. Instead, you'll find discussion of ways to avoid contamination. If a facility is doing lots of sample testing, there's going to be no shortage of 2019-nCoV DNA around, both from the samples and from the previous PCR reactions. Given the ease with which PCR can amplify rare sequences, this can create the risk of hordes of false positives. So the CDC details reams of best practices, like preparing RT-PCR reaction mixes with a separate set of hardware than that used to handle samples. Another big chunk of instructions involves the details of appropriate controls. Some of those leave out key reaction components like enzymes or sample RNA, in order to make sure that contamination is not producing spurious results. This will tell you whether you should trust positive results. There's also a positive control, to make sure that there isn't something wrong with the reaction mix, thus telling you whether you can trust negative results. That said, the tests aren't going to be definitive. We don't know enough of the virus' lifecycle to know the dynamics of infection yet: how long after infection does the virus become detectable, and when does that compare with the onset of symptoms. It's quite possible that asymptomatic infected people won't have enough virus for this test to pick up the virus consistently. So the CDC is still advising caution with people considered to be at risk of infection. Still, as cases of person-to-person transmission outside China appear to be ramping up, testing without the need to ship samples to CDC headquarters in Atlanta could help significantly with our ability to respond to a rapidly changing outbreak. Source: How do we test for coronavirus, anyway? (Ars Technica)
  24. Coronavirus Is Bad. Comparing It to the Flu Is Worse The whataboutism of infectious disease is as dangerous as it is hackneyed. Photograph: MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty Images There's a deadly virus spreading throughout China right now, but SELF Magazine has a calming message for Americans: "For perspective," the publication tweeted Thursday, "the flu is a bigger threat in the U.S." This was just the latest in an epic run of such comparisons: “The virus killing U.S. kids isn’t the one dominating headlines,” the Daily Beast advised; “Don’t worry about the new coronavirus, worry about the flu,” said Buzzfeed. Even the U.S. Surgeon General has gotten in on this idea. There are as many as 5 million severe cases of flu worldwide each year, and 650,000 deaths; in other words, says Axios, “If you’re freaking out about coronavirus but you didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards.” Call it “viral whataboutism.” The appeal to hypocrisy has long been endemic to our political discourse; and in recent years the pox has spread. Now this mutant form of rhetoric has come into discussions of what could be a massive epidemiological threat. Is the new coronavirus something to worry about? Yeah, sure, but so’s the flu… and you don’t seem to care too much about that! For goodness’ sake, stop. Yes, we know the flu is bad—no one likes the flu. But the gambit of positioning the influenza virus as the scarier of two foes is as dangerous as it is hackneyed. During the outbreak of deadly hemorrhagic fever that hit West Africa in 2014, Americans were reassured, again and again, that “Ebola is bad. The flu is worse.” It’s true that Ebola didn’t become a true threat in the United States, where two people returning from Africa with the disease died, and only two cases of new infection were recorded. It’s also true that 148 children in America—and thousands of adults—would die from influenza over the following winter. But these whatabout statistics aren’t really meant to sharpen our vigilance around the flu, or even to encourage us toward higher rates of vaccination. They’re just supposed to calm us down, and make us realize that we needn’t go to pieces over some other, more exotic-sounding disease. Stemming panic can be a righteous goal, especially when that panic is unfounded. Ebola certainly hasn’t vanished from the Earth—a recent outbreak in Congo has infected more than 3,000 people since August. But we now have a vaccine against the illness, and we’re better equipped to quell its spread. In the meantime, panic has unintended, harmful consequences. For example, just in the last week, we learned that the hoarding of face masks by healthy consumers might cause a dangerous shortage for the health workers who need them most. In contrast to Ebola, which was discovered decades ago, the coronavirus strain behind the outbreak that began in China is brand-new to scientists. So far this pathogen has claimed 638 lives, and we simply don’t know how it will behave in weeks and months to come. By telling people not to worry—or that we should worry “more” about the flu—we may end up eroding public trust in the media. What happens if this coronavirus proves much worse than we expected? The Chinese government is already under scrutiny for downplaying the risks. Why would American news outlets want to repeat the error? Even taken on their own terms, the flu comparisons rely on wonky and myopic math. Flu can kill Amercans by the tens of thousands, but that’s because it’s been around so long and has had so much time to spread. Millions get the virus every year, and fewer than 0.1 percent of them perish from it. What’s the rate of death from the new coronavirus? No one can say for certain, but estimates have hovered at around 20 times the rate for influenza, or 2 percent. Some virologists assert this is an overestimate, because milder cases might be getting overlooked; others counter that, given lack of access to diagnostic testing, many deaths may be uncounted. In short, it’s too soon to say. It’s also unclear how efficiently this coronavirus spreads from person to person. The total number of confirmed cases has grown from 282 on Jan. 21 to 31,211 on Feb. 7. It’s possible the spread will slow. Or else it might accelerate. In light of this uncertainty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to counsel everyone to “get a Grippe” on their concerns. All I’m saying is, I wouldn’t want to have been the person telling people to worry about heart disease instead of the flu in 1918. Before that outbreak was over, it had killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide; and, in the U.S., the number of deaths from respiratory illness surpassed those from heart disease for the first time in a decade. When it comes to disease—and particularly infectious ones—it’s best to avoid pitting pathogens against one another in a sort of “mortality rate Olympics”. Mother Nature doesn’t let us choose, à la carte, which problems to digest and when. It’s more like she’s piling our plates with stuff we didn’t ask for, and then adding to it even though we’re full. I get it—there are enough things to worry about already. Democracy is crumbling, climate change is advancing, children are being held in cages, healthcare is increasingly unaffordable and bills are looming. It’s hard to pile on concern about something that’s happening on the other side of the planet. Still we shouldn’t let ourselves be swindled of our capacity for empathy. As rhetoric, viral whataboutism tends to paper over the suffering of other people. There are more than 50 million people on lockdown at the heart of the new coronavirus epidemic, and hospitals are struggling to keep apace. Tragic stories have been mounting up, like that of the 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who died in Hubei province when his father—his sole caregiver—was placed in quarantine. When news articles tell us that we should focus on the flu instead, they tacitly allow us to ignore this suffering in China. When they suggest that the so-called ‘2019nCov’ coronavirus appears to be of greatest threat to the old and already infirm, they encourage us to ignore the plights of people in those groups, and take an ageist and ableist point of view. In fact, scientists are still amassing data to know exactly who is most vulnerable to developing severe disease. Rather than returning time and time again to these flu comparisons, let’s focus on a problem we can fix. The global infrastructure for quelling outbreaks of new pathogens has been weakened by unstable funding: The World Health Organization has said that it needs $675 million to cover the cost of its response plan to the new coronavirus from February through April; and one academic paper notes that the organization’s entire 2018-2019 budget came to about $4.4 billion—just a fraction of the $33 billion annual healthcare and social services budget of Quebec, the Canadian province where I live. (The same paper notes that the WHO’s budget is “less than the budget of many major hospitals in the United States.”) Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is running out of money for global epidemic prevention, and reducing efforts in 39 out of 49 countries. I know, I know: Budget shortfalls are affecting lots of important projects, not just those aimed at preventing epidemics of disease. Some might claim, in this age of whataboutism, that while defunding the CDC is bad, cutting food stamps is worse. But when we play this zero-sum game, we end up shortchanging ourselves. We need to say ‘enough,’ or the whatabouts will never end. Source: Coronavirus Is Bad. Comparing It to the Flu Is Worse (Wired)
  25. “I have the Coronavirus”—two teens arrested for prank at a Walmart Police don't believe the teens were actually infected. Enlarge Alan Schein Photography / Getty A 19-year-old man named Tyler Wallace is in police custody after he entered a Walmart last Sunday in the Chicago suburb of Joliet. He walked through the store wearing a mask and sign that said "I have the coronavirus." He sprayed Lysol on produce, clothing, and other products. According to the Chicago Tribune, he faces charges of disorderly conduct, retail theft, and criminal trespass to property. A 17-year-old friend who accompanied Wallace in the store is also facing charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. His case will be handled by juvenile courts. Police don't believe that either teen is actually infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Walmart says it cost $7,300 to replace the produce and another $2,400 to clean up the store after the incident. People in the Chicago area are on high alert over the novel coronavirus since two residents, a wife and husband, have been identified as infected. The wife, who recently traveled to China, transmitted the infection to her husband upon her return. The husband’s case was the first documented instance of person-to-person spread of the virus in the US. There have been a total of 12 confirmed infections in the United States. Globally, more than 31,000 people have been infected with the virus, which has killed at least 630 people. The vast majority of these infections have occurred in China. There are also confirmed infections in neighboring countries—including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia—as well as Western countries like the United States, Canada, France, and Germany. Source: “I have the Coronavirus”—two teens arrested for prank at a Walmart (Ars Technica)
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