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  1. India asks social media firms to remove reference to 'Indian variant' of coronavirus India's information technology (IT) ministry has written to all social media companies asking them to take down any content that refers to an "Indian variant" of the coronavirus, according to a letter issued on Friday which was seen by Reuters. The World Health Organization said on May 11 that the coronavirus variant B.1.617, first identified in India last year, was being classified as a variant of global concern. The Indian government a day later issued a statement saying media reports using the term "Indian Variant" were without any basis, saying the WHO had classified the variant as just B.1.617. In a letter to social media companies on Friday, the IT ministry asked the companies to "remove all the content" that names or implies "Indian variant" of the coronavirus. "This is completely FALSE. There is no such variant of Covid-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO has not associated the term 'Indian Variant' with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports," stated the letter, which is not public. A senior Indian government source told Reuters the notice was issued to send a message "loud and clear" that such mentions of "Indian variant" spread miscommunication and hurt the country's image. The IT ministry could not be reached for comment. Around the world, coronvirus variants have generically been referred to by doctors and health experts on the basis of where the are identified. This includes South Africa and Brazil variants. A social media executive said it would be difficult to take down all content using the word as there would be hundreds of thousands of such posts, adding that "such a move would lead to keyword based censorship going forward." The Indian government is facing increased criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Prime Minister Modi and state authorities being blamed for not adequately planning for the ongoing second wave of coronavirus infections. India has the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world and has been reporting around 250,000 infections and 4,000 deaths daily. Source: India asks social media firms to remove reference to 'Indian variant' of coronavirus
  2. Trial started for vaccine against one of the scariest coronavirus variants The vaccine is being developed "out of an abundance of caution," Fauci says. Enlarge / A vial of the current Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers have given out the first jabs of a tweaked version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, one aimed at fighting one of the most concerning coronavirus variants—the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. The jabs are part of an early trial of the tweaked vaccine, which is being run by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The agency aims to enroll around 210 healthy adults in the trial by the end of April. “The B.1.351 SARS-CoV-2 variant, first identified in the Republic of South Africa, has been detected in at least nine states in the United States,” NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said in an announcement. “Preliminary data show that the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States should provide an adequate degree of protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, out of an abundance of caution, NIAID has continued its partnership with Moderna to evaluate this variant vaccine candidate should there be a need for an updated vaccine.” Data so far on the B.1.351 variant (aka 501Y.V2) suggests that it may be about 50 percent more transmissible than earlier versions. It also appears to evade immune responses from previous infections and current vaccines. Experiments in the lab found that it took about six times the amount of antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients to neutralize the variant, compared with the amount needed to neutralize an earlier version of the virus. The variant also appeared to knock back Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine; the vaccine appeared 72 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in the US but was only 64 percent effective in South Africa while the B.1.351 variant was widely circulating. B.1.351’s concerning abilities likely stem from key mutations in its spike protein, the protruding protein that juts from the outside of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles. The virus uses the spike protein to bind to and gain entry into human cells. Some of the most potent antibodies against the virus bind to the spike, where they can physically block the virus from binding cells. Tweaks and tests The original Moderna vaccine works by delivering to human cells the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike in mRNA form. Once delivered, our cells read the code and make their own spike protein, which is used to train immune responses to spot and destroy any invading SARS-CoV-2. For the tweaked version of the vaccine, researchers at Moderna simply incorporated key mutations from the B.1.351 variant's spike protein into the mRNA code used in the vaccine. As Fauci mentioned in his statement, it’s unclear how necessary these variant-specific vaccines will be, given that current vaccines do provide some protection. However, with SARS-CoV-2 still widely circulating in the US and worldwide, the virus has ample opportunities to continue mutating. With every new infection, there are more chances for mutations and new variants to arise, which in turn increases the chances that variant-specific vaccines will be a fixture in our future. To understand how variants might fit into current vaccine use, the new NIH trial is testing 10 different vaccine regimens. Approximately 60 of the 210 people the institute aims to enroll will be people from the original Moderna vaccine trial, who were first immunized against COVID-19 last year. Some of those people will get a single booster shot with just the variant-specific vaccine, while others will get a booster that contains a mix of the original vaccine and the variant-specific vaccine. The remaining 150 people in the trial will be those who have not received any COVID-19 vaccines yet. Two groups of 15 will get three shots at varying dosages, 28 days apart: two doses of the original vaccine, then a variant-specific booster. Two groups of 20 will get just two shots at varying dosages of the variant-specific booster. Two groups of 20 will get two shots at varying dosages: a dose of the original vaccine and then a variant-specific booster. Lastly, two groups of 20 will get two shots, each with mixtures of both the original and variant-specific vaccine at varying dosages. Researchers will then monitor the participants for safety issues, side effects, and immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Source: Trial started for vaccine against one of the scariest coronavirus variants
  3. Coronavirus: Latest data shows vaccine reduces transmission - Hancock There is "early data" showing a reduction in transmission in people who have had a coronavirus vaccine, the health secretary has said. Matt Hancock said hospital admissions were falling "much more sharply" than they were in the pandemic's first wave. The government aims to offer a first jab to all adults in the UK by the end of July, with one in three adults already vaccinated, Mr Hancock said. Boris Johnson will unveil his plan for ending England's lockdown on Monday. The PM is due to hold a final meeting with senior ministers later, to finalise the details, before presenting them to MPs in the Commons on Monday afternoon. He will lead a Downing Street briefing in the evening. A further 9,834 coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Sunday and 215 more people have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test, according to the government's daily figures. The UK's devolved nations have the power to set their own restrictions, and have been moving at different speeds: In Scotland, the government hopes to publish a route out of lockdown next week, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged people not to book Easter holidays In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced up to four people from two different households can exercise outdoors together from Saturday; he said he hoped the "stay-at-home" requirement could end within three weeks, with some non-essential shops and hairdressers possibly reopening at the same time Northern Ireland's health minister has played down the prospect of restrictions being eased in time for Easter - a review of current measures will take place on 18 March As part of the road map, Public Health England will publish new data on the impact of vaccines on transmission rates. Mr Hancock told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that he was "absolutely delighted" with the progress of the vaccine rollout. But he added that while hospital admissions were falling, the number of people in hospital - currently around 18,000 - was still "far too high". The health secretary reiterated the government's new plan to offer a jab to adults aged 50 and over and those in the top nine priority groups by 15 April, followed by all adults by the end of July. The government's previous target was to offer all adults the first dose by September, but the PM has said he wants the rollout to "go further and faster". Mr Johnson has said that this would give vulnerable people protection "sooner" and help to further ease lockdown restrictions across the country. When will it be my turn to be vaccinated? How many people have been vaccinated so far? What are the UK's lockdown rules and when will they end? However, the order of priority for the under-50s has yet to be outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). Prof Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI, told BBC Breakfast earlier that he expected a public announcement would be made on vaccine priorities at some point in the next week. Lockdown has reduced cases more than some believed was possible - and now there are the early indications the vaccination programme is having an impact too. Despite this, it looks likely the government will announce a very gradual lifting of restrictions in England on Monday. Why the caution? Even if rates rebound only a little, there are still large numbers of vulnerable people. Nearly half of hospitalisations have been in the under-70s, for example. What is more, high levels of infection at a time when vaccines are being rolled out and immunity being built provides the perfect breeding ground for new variants. Mutation may be unavoidable in the long-term, but encouraging them at this point would, many experts believe, be foolish. The problem is that there are so many unknowns. Will the arrival of spring help keep the virus at bay? Will the UK variant mean the re-opening of schools has a significant impact on infection levels? But, on the flip side, being too cautious will prolong the costs of lockdown. It is, to say the least, a tricky balancing act. So far, more than 17 million people have received a vaccine since the rollout began in December last year. Mr Hancock said ministers were "confident" the vaccine worked effectively against the old strain of the virus and the so-called Kent variant. However, he warned the government did "not yet have the confidence" the jab was "as effective" against the South Africa variant and the variant first seen in Brazil, but that enhanced contact tracing and stricter border controls were reducing the cases of those variants in the UK. The latest data showed "around a dozen" new cases of the South African variant in the UK, with an overall total of around 300 cases, Mr Hancock added. Asked if the spread of the South Africa variant was "shrinking", he said: "I think that's a good summary yes". Meanwhile, Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme that vaccine transmission data was "looking really good", but scientists still needed to estimate by how much the vaccine interrupted transmission. Source: Coronavirus: Latest data shows vaccine reduces transmission - Hancock
  4. Coronavirus is in the air — there’s too much focus on surfaces A team disinfecting the Qintai Grand Theatre in Wuhan, China, in January.Credit: Xia Junjun/VCG/Getty A year into the pandemic, the evidence is now clear. The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted predominantly through the air — by people talking and breathing out large droplets and small particles called aerosols. Catching the virus from surfaces — although plausible — seems to be rare (E. Goldman Lancet Infect. Dis. 20, 892–893; 2020). Despite this, some public-health agencies still emphasize that surfaces pose a threat and should be disinfected frequently. The result is a confusing public message when clear guidance is needed on how to prioritize efforts to prevent the virus spreading. In its most recent public guidance, updated last October, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised: “Avoid touching surfaces, especially in public settings, because someone with COVID-19 could have touched them before. Clean surfaces regularly with standard disinfectants.” A WHO representative told Nature in January that there is limited evidence of the coronavirus being passed on through contaminated surfaces known as fomites. But they added that fomites are still considered a possible mode of transmission, citing evidence that SARS‑CoV-2 RNA has been identified “in the vicinity of people infected with SARS-CoV-2”. And although the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its website that surface transmission is “not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads”, it also says that “frequent disinfection of surfaces and objects touched by multiple people is important”. This lack of clarity about the risks of fomites — compared with the much bigger risk posed by transmission through the air — has serious implications. People and organizations continue to prioritize costly disinfection efforts, when they could be putting more resources into emphasizing the importance of masks, and investigating measures to improve ventilation. The latter will be more complex but could make more of a difference. The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority alone estimates that its annual COVID-related sanitation costs will be close to US$380 million between now and 2023. Late last year, the authority asked the US federal government for advice on whether to focus solely on aerosols. It was told to concentrate on fomites, too, and has so far directed more resources towards cleaning surfaces than tackling aerosols. Now that it is agreed that the virus transmits through the air, in both large and small droplets, efforts to prevent spread should focus on improving ventilation or installing rigorously tested air purifiers. People must also be reminded to wear masks and maintain a safe distance. At the same time, agencies such as the WHO and the CDC need to update their guidance on the basis of current knowledge. Research on the virus and on COVID-19 moves quickly, so public-health agencies have a responsibility to present clear, up-to-date information that provides what people need to keep themselves and others safe. Source: Coronavirus is in the air — there’s too much focus on surfaces
  5. Why don’t we have an ideal mask yet? Global coronavirus deaths have been falling—but scientists are worried that new variants of the virus may reverse those trends. Some of these new variants, like one from the UK, are more infectious and take a smaller viral load to cause a full body invasion. Scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have started researching whether or not wearing two masks may be more beneficial than one alone. Some high-profile figures, including Anthony Fauci, the head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are already doubling up. Theoretically, wearing one masks over another could help protect you from incoming droplets, or others from the ones you expel. But there’s a limit to their utility depending on the kinds of masks used for layering. Scientists are working to set global standards for the myriad kinds of masks available to help consumers make those decisions—but until then, here’s what you need to know to make your own masking decisions. Fuller filtration—to a point The added benefit of layering one mask over another is the added filtration potential. The more filters between your airways and the outside world, the less likely you are to encounter a pathogen-containing particle. These benefits are additive. “It’s increasing your protection by the added benefit of that surgical mask,” says Christopher Zangmeister, a scientist who studies aerosols at the US National Institutes of Standards and Technology. Put another way, a double-layer cloth mask with a surgical mask could have roughly the same kind of filtration as a three-layered cloth mask akin to the ones the World Health Organization has previously recommended. Depending on the protection provided by your original mask, it may meaningfully increase your filtration—or it may not. But at a certain point, there’s a tradeoff between more filtration and overall protection. For one thing, more layers may be less comfortable—which could lead to dubious face-touching or adjusting. The more you touch your face, the more likely a particle on your hands could reach its way into your airways. And there’s another problem: too much filtration becomes unbreathable. “Are you breathing through the material, or are you breathing through the gaps in the material?” Zangmeister says. If you’re breathing through the gaps in between the mask and your face, you’re not getting any filtration production at all. In lab settings, Zangmeister and his team have found these areas where air escapes tend to be behind the cheeks, or right above the bridge of the nose, which can look like a droplet exhalation geyser, he says. There’s a simple test to see if your masks aren’t actually working as a filter, Zangmeister says. Go outside on a cold day, and wear either glasses or sunglasses and breathe for 30 seconds. If your breath fogs the glasses, too much air may be leaving (and therefore coming in) above your nose, rather than through the mask itself. Standardizing filtration It’s frustrating that at this point in the pandemic, we still don’t have an ideal mask. Masks vary widely depending on who manufacturers them. Some even fraudulently boast they can filter more than they actually do. The problem is there is no universal standardization for commercial masks. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration approves medical-grade masks while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration certifies and tests professional grade masks for people like firefighters or construction workers. But there’s no single authority that makes an easy-to-read standard for masks for the general public. ASTM InternationalASTM stands for “American Society for Testing and Materials” but the group serves the global community “1”, a global regulatory agency that comes up with all kinds of guidelines, is currently working on these standards. Zangmeister, whose current research could support their ultimate decisions, says the group could release a set of standards by mid-March. They’d appear like a simple number or lettering system on mask packaging to guarantee a certain level of protection. It may feel late in the pandemic for a set of global, commercial mask standards, but normally this process takes years, not months. When making these considerations, scientists have to consider the diversity of face shapes as well as mask materials. All those differences mean there’s no easy way to determine exactly which material will offer what specific level of protection. Source: Why don’t we have an ideal mask yet?
  6. Apple is temporarily closing more stores due to COVID-19 The move affects retail locations in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. Apple Apple will temporarily close more than 20 of its retail locations in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas as coronavirus cases continue to climb in those states. In an update on its website first spotted by Bloomberg, the company indicates five Apple Stores in Georgia, five in North Carolina and about a dozen in Texas won’t be open to the public after they complete their regular hours on Friday evening. The closures include locations in major cities like Houston and Atlanta. If you left a device in for repair at one of those stores or have an appointment to pick up an online order, you can still visit them through to January 18th. “Due to current COVID-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” a spokesperson for the company told Bloomberg. “We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation, and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.” The move comes after Apple closed more than 50 retail locations in California due to the coronavirus pandemic last month. Separate from those concerns, the company has also temporarily shuttered its stores in the Washington DC area ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week. Source: Apple is temporarily closing more stores due to COVID-19
  7. How Fast Can Scientists Find the New Coronavirus Strains? The discovery of more contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the US sparks a push for a long-overdue national genomic surveillance network. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images Late last week, Charles Chiu’s lab at UC San Francisco received a shipment of test tubes from the California Department of Public Health. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. For almost a year, Chiu, an infectious disease doctor, has been collaborating with the state agency to conduct genetic sequencing on samples from people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 mutates as it moves through a population. Most of these mutations are trivial and don’t change how the virus behaves. But by making a record of these mutations, scientists can track the coronavirus’s spread and better understand the origins of different outbreaks. Chiu had been assisting with this kind of genetic detective work for months. This time, though, he had reason to think his team was about to find something new. Two of the samples belonged to members of a household in Big Bear, California, who got sick after one of them had contact with a traveler who had recently returned from the United Kingdom. And during standard diagnostic testing, something strange had happened to both samples. The test detected bits of a protein that protects the virus’s genome, but not the spike protein SARS-CoV-2 uses to invade cells. That meant that whatever strain had infected these people had probably acquired at least one mutation in the virus’s spike protein gene. Mutations in that location are one signature of the new, seemingly more contagious variety of the coronavirus that has been rapidly spreading in the UK and now around the world. By Saturday, Chiu’s lab had sequencing results. And sure enough, those two samples turned up 23 telltale mutations in the spike protein. Both people had been infected with the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7. At the time, there were fewer than 10 such cases in the US, following an initial discovery of the UK variant in Colorado on December 29. As of January 8, at least 52 people have been confirmed to have contracted the new strain, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, it has shown up in New York, Florida, and Georgia, in addition to California and Colorado. Chiu thinks the real picture is actually far worse. “I suspect it’s circulating in nearly every state in the US,” he says. “It’s just that other states don’t have the same sequencing capabilities.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus sequencing has been a patchy, ad hoc affair, dominated by areas with big biomedical research institutions that are staffed by scientists eager to investigate the virus’s evolution. States like California and Colorado are sequencing and uploading hundreds of viral genomes every week, according to the latest data from an international virus-sharing database known as GISAID. But others have only done a few dozen—total. North Dakota, which for the month of November held the ignominious record for the worst outbreak in the US, has yet to sequence a single sample. On a national level, the US simply hasn’t built out a robust, coordinated, genomic surveillance system capable of keeping tabs on problematic new mutations wherever they might arise. The result is not just scarce sequencing. It’s a monitoring system missing huge chunks of the country. “We are really behind in terms of having geographically representative data,” says Kelly Wroblewski, the director of infectious disease for the Association of Public Health Laboratories. She sees the failure as the inevitable outcome of the Trump administration’s decision to leave nearly every aspect of the coronavirus response up to individual states—from ramping up diagnostic testing to rolling out vaccines. “There was no national sequencing plan, because there has not been a national much-of-anything plan,” she says. Of the more than 21.5 million Covid-19 cases officially reported in the US, samples from just 59,438 people, or less than 0.3 percent, have been sequenced and analyzed for variants, according to GISAID. By contrast, the UK is regularly sequencing more than 10 percent of its Covid-19 cases. That allowed British public health officials to monitor in real time as the B.1.1.7 variant went from being a rare find at the beginning of December to dominating new infections three weeks later. The Brits might be an outstanding example in this regard, but they’re not alone. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, 42 other countries have sequenced more cases than the US, despite the fact that Americans account for a quarter of all coronavirus infections globally. “What the US is doing right now is completely inadequate,” says Chiu. He thinks American government officials should be setting their sights on that 10 percent threshold. But the effort will undoubtedly be complicated by the fractured US health care system. In the UK, which has a single nationalized health service and a supporting microbiology service, it’s relatively easy to flow samples and data. In the US, the private sector still dominates the testing market. In order for a sample to show up in Chiu’s lab, he says, it has to go from a commercial lab to the county lab and then to the state lab before it gets to him. That can take weeks—if it even happens at all. Often, by the time a public health department epidemiologist comes across a case they want to investigate with genetics, the original sample has already been discarded. “The rate-limiting step isn’t sequencing; it’s really getting the sample,” says Chiu. “That’s why we have to empower state and county labs to do it in-house, so we can get the data out faster.” Over the last decade, public health labs have built up their sequencing capacities as part of their role in tracking outbreaks of foodborne illness across the US. Every state lab, as well as a handful of large regional ones, has the technology readily available, according to Wrobleski. But they haven’t been able to deploy it widely during the pandemic because they’ve had their hands full just trying to conduct basic diagnostic tests and contact tracing, she says. And until a few weeks ago, they hadn’t been given marching orders to do anything differently. But that’s finally starting to change. In mid-December, the CDC released $15 million to public health labs around the country to boost sequencing outputs nationwide. That was part of a multipronged effort now underway at the agency to increase both the number of coronavirus variants being characterized and the locations from which they’re being drawn. The money will help states participate in a dedicated SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance program, dubbed NS3, which the CDC launched in November. When the program is fully operational, public health labs will be expected to send 10 randomly selected coronavirus samples to the CDC’s labs in Atlanta every other week. The samples should represent patients from different age, racial, and ethnic groups, as well as the geographic diversity of each state. In addition to sequencing them, CDC scientists will also use the samples to build up a centralized strain library that they can dip into to perform additional tests. “Sequencing will tell us a lot, but it can’t tell us everything,” says Gregory Armstrong, who leads the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection. For example, one of the things public health experts are concerned about is how well people with existing immunity gained through a previous bout with Covid-19 will be able to fend off infections with this new UK strain. To test it, scientists have to be able to assess how well the antibodies found in the blood of Covid-19 survivors attack and neutralize the B.1.1.7 version of the virus. Another alarming possibility is that the vaccines that have been developed and authorized so far won’t be as effective against emerging strains. “We need to have a library of variants in order to get those answers,” says Armstrong. The NS3 program, which Armstrong expects to be fully up and running by the end of the month, will help with that. But it won’t get the US as much genetic data as public health officials need to track the progress of B.1.1.7 and other emerging strains, like an alarming one that originated in South Africa, through the American populace. That’s why the CDC is also bringing large commercial testing labs on board. In December, the agency signed contracts with LabCorp and Illumina, and it is in the process of negotiating further deals with others that have the capacity to acquire and sequence samples from all around the country. In addition, since September the CDC has granted about $8 million to academic sequencing centers and is currently seeking to bring additional sites online. Data from all these efforts is continuously analyzed by CDC scientists and uploaded to public databases like GISAID for other researchers to use. These new efforts are designed to boost the efforts of scientists like Chiu, who since the early stages of the pandemic has been part of a CDC-led coalition of more than 160 research institutions, non-governmental organizations, and public health agencies called Spheres (Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology, and Surveillance). The federal initiative aims to help scientists agree on data and quality standards, but it doesn’t foot the bill for actual lab work. And it hasn’t been able to keep pace with the pandemic. “We feel very strongly that we haven’t been sequencing enough,” says Armstrong. “That’s why we’re taking these steps right now to scale things up.” In December, labs throughout the US were sequencing about 3,000 viral genomes per week. He’s optimistic that by combining the forces of public, academic, and commercial labs, the nation can get up to 6,500 viral genomes per week by the end of January. Wrobleski speculates that the newfound urgency at the CDC comes from a collision of forces—the surfacing of more transmissible, and possibly more dangerous, new strains right as the beleaguered public health agency wriggles free of the political meddling of the Trump administration. Whatever the reason, the window to get it right is closing, says Chiu. “The point of doing surveillance is to find these rare variants and, in doing so, make sure they continue to be rare. If we do it now, we can hopefully still prevent these variants from blowing up and becoming the predominant lineage. That would be a disaster.” How Fast Can Scientists Find the New Coronavirus Strains?
  8. Musk stated last week that his rapid tests were inconclusive, but he had an additional test this week. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he has "fully" recovered from his bout with a mild fever or cold about a week after he took to Twitter to say he tested positive for coronavirus. Last week, Musk caused a stir on Twitter after he called into question the accuracy of the coronavirus tests he took. "Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD," Musk tweeted last week. BD is the maker of the testing equipment. Musk went on to say that he was "getting wildly different results from different labs, but most likely I have a moderate case of covid." Then this week, Musk took a more reliable PCR test that he said showed "unequivocal" evidence that he had Covid. He described his symptoms as being the same as a "minor cold, which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold." In March, Musk announced that Tesla would be leaving California over "absurd and medically irrational behavior in violation of constitutional civil liberties," as the state looked to stop production in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Musk was still threatening to leave California as recently as August. On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley raised Tesla to overweight for the first time in more than three years, predicting that the electric carmaker is on the verge of a “profound model shift” from selling cars to generating high-margin software and services revenue. “To only value Tesla on car sales alone ignores the multiple businesses embedded within the company,” Jonas said in a research note to clients as he upgraded the shares from equal-weight and raised his price target by 50% to $540 from $360, suggesting 22% additional upside for the stock. Source
  9. Anthony Fauci said Thursday the global coronavirus outbreak will not be a pandemic for "a lot longer" because of the development of vaccines, striking a hopeful note even as the situation worsens in the short term. "Certainly it's not going to be pandemic for a lot longer because I believe the vaccines are going to turn that around," Fauci said at an event hosted by the think tank Chatham House. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said that while the virus will likely cease raging across the globe as it is now, it could circulate quietly below the surface, at least in certain areas. "Putting it to rest doesn't mean eradicating it," he said. "I doubt we're going to eradicate this, I think we need to plan that this is something we may need to maintain control over chronically, it may be something that becomes endemic that we have to just be careful about." Still, Fauci clearly thinks that vaccines will be a major boost in the fight against the virus. Pfizer reported this week that an interim analysis shows its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, higher than expectations. Moderna said trial results for its own vaccine candidate may be available by the end of the month. In the meantime, though, coronavirus infections in the U.S. and around the globe are surging. Case numbers are rising in every single state, the U.S. this week set a single-day high for new infections and a record number of people are hospitalized with the disease. Still, Fauci said knowing an end is in sight is all the more reason to keep up precautions like mask-wearing, distancing, and washing hands in the short term. The general public in the U.S. could start getting a vaccine sometime in the spring, officials have said, and high priority groups like health care workers and the elderly, as soon as December. "Ever since it became clear a few days ago that we have a really quite effective vaccine getting ready to deploy, [the message] is rather than 'Hey don't worry you're OK,' it's 'Don't stop shooting, the cavalry is coming but don't put your weapons down, you better keep fighting because they're not here yet,' " Fauci said. Source
  10. Humans aren’t the only creatures at risk from dying of covid-19, it seems. In recent weeks, the state of Utah has been dealing with mass die-offs at mink farms that health officials believe are linked to the viral pandemic—outbreaks that likely began from contact with infected human handlers. So far, nearly 10,000 minks in Utah are thought to have died during these outbreaks in the span of two weeks. According to Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), these deaths have been concentrated among nine fur farms in the state. Shortly before dying, UDAF veterinarian Dean Taylor told NBC News, these minks experience respiratory symptoms like trouble breathing or runny noses and eye discharge, similar to what happens in people sick with covid-19. As with people, older minks seem to be more susceptible to dying from the coronavirus, he added. For months now, scientists have known that minks and other weasels, like ferrets, can become infected with the coronavirus that causes covid-19, and that they can catch it from infected humans. Unlike cats, dogs, and other animals that the virus has infected through human contact, however, weasels seem to be especially vulnerable to more serious illness. That’s made these animals a useful model for studying the virus outside of a petri dish in the lab, but it’s also made them an easy target for the virus in the real world. Indeed, Utah’s outbreaks are not the first to have hit mink farms. Earlier outbreaks in the Netherlands and Spain prompted officials there to cull more than 1 million minks to prevent the infection from spreading further. So far, no minks in Utah have been killed as a precaution during these recent outbreaks, though affected farms have enacted quarantines. The UDAF is also working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to secure more personal protective equipment and training for farmers working with minks in the state. As dire as these outbreaks have been for the mink industry, the danger to people seems to be low. Though people can spread the virus to minks and other animals, the risk of these animals then spreading the infection back to other susceptible people is thought to be very low, according to the CDC. That said, the original strain of the coronavirus that became responsible for covid-19 likely came from an unknown animal source, possibly bats. Source
  11. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines Overview These landscape documents have been prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) for information purposes only concerning the 2019-2020 global of the novel coronavirus. Inclusion of any particular product or entity in any of these landscape documents does not constitute, and shall not be deemed or construed as, any approval or endorsement by WHO of such product or entity (or any of its businesses or activities). While WHO takes reasonable steps to verify the accuracy of the information presented in these landscape documents, WHO does not make any (and hereby disclaims all) representations and warranties regarding the accuracy, completeness, fitness for a particular purpose (including any of the aforementioned purposes), quality, safety, efficacy, merchantability and/or non-infringement of any information provided in these landscape documents and/or of any of the products referenced therein. WHO also disclaims any and all liability or responsibility whatsoever for any death, disability, injury, suffering, loss, damage or other prejudice of any kind that may arise from or in connection with the procurement, distribution or use of any product included in any of these landscape documents. WHO Team: R&D Blueprint Number of pages: 9 Download draft landscape documents (401.7 kB) Source
  12. When officers from Hungary's National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider they were unsurprised to discover large amounts of satellite and computer equipment for capturing and distributing live TV . However, what they also found was hundreds of pounds of food that had been stockpiled by the operator, who hadn't been outside for months due to fears of catching the coronavirus. 2020 has developed into one of the most memorable years in living memory for the entire planet but for mostly the wrong reasons. Not a day goes by without news of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on individuals, families, the economy, and health in general. In common with many industries, coronavirus has hit the entertainment sectors too, with few new films and TV shows coming out (with notable exceptions such as Mulan) as people are either forced or inclined to stay home and stay safe. Throughout all of this, however, pirate operations have remained mostly online, with notable spikes in interest reported earlier in the year. IPTV Raid and Arrest But Authorities Didn’t Expect This As part of European efforts to crack down on the supply of IPTV, a few weeks ago officers in the National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider. What they found was extraordinary to say the least. Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside. Indeed, the main contents of the building were as expected, such as an office with desks, chairs and various computers, plus a separate area containing what appear to be rows of servers used for capturing TV content from official providers and redistributing it over the Internet. In total, the authorities seized 52 computers, several decoders, TV cards, plus six servers dedicated to redistribution. The image above suggests that the operation wasn’t set up on the large budgets usually witnessed in police footage from raids elsewhere in Europe but with at least 8,000 paying customers, it was clearly functional. However, in a video released by the authorities, it is apparent that on some of the server shelves also sit items of food, including dozens and dozens of packets of flour. A panning camera shot also reveals a large refrigerator and then a small mountain of stacked canned food. Another shot, possibly in another area, reveals little floor space due to yet more stacked cans, a significant area occupied by box upon box of dried pasta packets, plus additional shelves loaded with soft drinks, other foodstuffs, and the coronavirus pandemic staple – dozens of toilet rolls. An Operator of the Service Was Scared of the Coronavirus According to the National Tax and Customs Administration, the service was founded by a man from Nagykanizsa who first set out to “redirect” his mother’s paid TV package to his own home for free. He teamed up with a man from Budapest to create a service that was subsequently offered to close friends too. Over time, however, they realized they could make money from the operation and began offering it on an invitation-only basis to outsiders. The network of customers grew and ultimately became available worldwide via the Internet. However, earlier this year, when the coronavirus started to sweep across Europe, one of the people in charge of the operation reacted like many across the region. In fear of catching what could be a deadly virus, he stockpiled the mountains of food detailed Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside.above – hundreds of pounds/kilos – so that he could keep the service running but without having to venture far outside. “In addition to IT equipment, durable food was in the Budapest property. The young man had accumulated hundreds of kilos of flour, canned food and pasta in fear of the coronavirus epidemic, and had not ventured into the streets for months,” the authorities explain. Damage to Copyright Holders But Also Paying No Taxes According to estimates provided by the tax authorities, the service is alleged to have generated around HUF 6 million (US$1.97m) for the pair but for reasons that aren’t explained, they “forgot” to pay the necessary duties to the state. This explains why the tax authorities were involved in the raid. “An illegal IPTV service that is provided without payment of royalties infringes copyright or copyright-related rights, which is a criminal offense. The offender can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison,” the National Tax and Customs Administration says. Whether the self-imposed prison sentence of a few months will now be extended to a forced sentence of a few years is currently unknown. Previous Post Source: TorrentFreak
  13. Blood donors will help researchers figure out how long novel coronavirus antibodies last The Red Cross is giving antibody tests to every donor A blood drive in Chicago at the Field Museum of Natural History. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images The American Red Cross is testing all donated blood for novel coronavirus antibodies and will use that information to learn more about the spread of COVID-19. They’ll also check back in with donors to find out how long their antibodies last. If someone has antibodies to the novel coronavirus, it’s a sign that they were, at one point, infected with the virus. While the tests on the market now aren’t perfect, many people are still interested in getting them — including people who thought they had COVID-19, but weren’t able to get tested when they were sick. One goal of the antibody testing initiative is to encourage more people to donate blood, says Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs at the Red Cross. Stay-at-home orders meant fewer people than usual donated blood over the past few months, and supplies have been running low. The organization has seen about an 150 percent increase in the number of donation appointments since the antibody testing started on June 15th. When someone donates blood to the Red Cross, they consent to allow their blood samples to be used in research studies. Thousands of people all over the country donate blood each month, which gives the organization a huge pool of blood samples to analyze. By testing all of those samples for novel coronavirus antibodies, the organization will also be able to get a sense of how widespread the virus is. “We collect 40% of the nation’s blood supply, so we have an easy picture to answer questions around how many people are antibody positive,” Stramer says. So far, with two weeks of data, around 1.2 percent of blood donors have novel coronavirus antibodies. The Red Cross will reach out to donors who have antibodies and ask them if they’re interested in participating in an additional follow-up study to test how their antibody levels may change over time. These antibodies probably help protect people against getting sick from the virus again, but a lot more research still needs to be done. Researchers still don’t have a good sense of how long antibodies against this virus actually stick around in the body. Some preliminary data suggests novel coronavirus antibodies might only linger for a few months, especially in people who didn’t have symptoms when they were infected. The study will check in once a month to retest participants’ antibody levels. “We hope to enroll as many people as possible, but I think if we get over 30 percent, we would consider that a success,” Stramer says. The Red Cross is also participating in a nationwide antibody study, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That study will include multiple blood donation organizations and will check the percentage of the population with novel coronavirus antibodies this fall and again in 2021. “It’s certainly the largest serosurvey I’ve ever been involved with,” Michael Busch, who’s helping lead the efforts as director of the Vitalant Research Institute, told Science. Each of those surveys will include 50,000 blood samples. The projects are similar but different in scope. “Ours is really a deep dive into the details of our donors and the antibody duration, whereas the CDC program will look at changes over time,” Stramer says. Blood donation centers have taken advantage of the thousands of samples at their disposal for scientific research for decades. Studies started through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute began studying donated blood in 1989 over concerns about the impact of HIV on blood transfusion safety. Since then, donated blood has helped scientists understand more about diseases like Zika and West Nile virus. Donated blood won’t give us a perfect snapshot of a population. Some groups are also excluded from donating blood entirely. Men who’ve had sex with another man in the past three months are ineligible, which effectively excludes non-abstinent gay men from donation. The Red Cross is also advertising their antibody tests, so people who were sick might be more likely to volunteer as blood donors — which could skew the data they’re collecting and make it more heavily weighted toward people who have antibodies. The organization is surveying donors to ask why they decided to donate, though, so they’ll have that information to accompany the study. People also have to be entirely healthy in order to donate blood, and because COVID-19 can linger, there could be a time lag between when people are sick and when they’d be counted in these types of studies. It’s still valuable to understand how many people who are currently healthy have novel coronavirus antibodies, Stramer says. “It really represents those individuals who may not know they were infected, or who were infected and are now symptom-free.” Blood donors will help researchers figure out how long novel coronavirus antibodies last
  14. What are contact-tracing apps and how will they help you? Three systems, one goal (Image credit: Shutterstock) One thing that’s come out of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is the development of a new type of app. These are known as contact-tracing apps, and you’ve likely heard of them. The name gives you the core idea of what these apps do – essentially allowing users to identify if they may have been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus. However, while a number of countries around the world are planning to start using contact-tracing apps (and in some cases already have started), the exact apps and systems vary from place to place. Below then, we’ll give you an overview of the solutions being worked on for the US, UK, and Australia. But first though, here’s a closer look at what exactly contact-tracing apps do. What do contact-tracing apps do? Contact-tracing isn’t a new idea. All it really means is attempting to identify people that may have contracted a specific illness, usually by asking someone who’s known to have it where they’ve been and who they’ve been in contact with. But with Covid-19 the scale of the challenge is much greater than normal, given how many people already have it and how easily it spreads. So rather than questioning individuals, contact-tracing apps are being designed to automate the legwork. These would run in the background on your phone, tracking where you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with. If someone you’ve been in contact with tests positive for Covid-19 (and enters that data into the app), then the app would alert you to this, so you would know to self-isolate or get tested yourself. It’s a method then of not just tracking who already has Covid-19, but of potentially getting countries safely up and running again while we wait for a vaccine. Though of course how effective it is depends not just on the technology of each specific contact-tracing app, but also on how many people have the relevant app running on their phones. Contact-tracing in the US The main contact-tracing app used in the US is likely to be a joint venture from Apple and Google, so of course the same app would work on both iOS and Android. Powered by Bluetooth, the app would exchange anonymous ‘beacon keys’ with everyone you come in contact with (assuming they’re also using the app). Then, if someone tests positive for Covid-19, they’re able to log this with the contact-tracing app, and it would alert those who the person came in contact with that they’d been exposed to the virus. The alert may not come until days later, as the infected person may not have initially known they were infected, and the contract tracing app only ‘periodically’ downloads the beacon keys of everyone who has tested positive in a user’s region. Importantly, these keys are anonymous – so if you get an alert that you’ve been in contact with someone infected, you won’t know who, when or where. But that’s okay, because if most people are running the app then everyone relevant will be alerted anyway. Users would also need to give consent for the app to share the fact that they’ve been diagnosed with Covid-19 (even though it’s kept anonymous). (Image credit: Apple / Google) (Image credit: Apple / Google) The system doesn’t sound like it’s without its problems though. For one thing, it requires Bluetooth Low Energy to function, which could count out as many as two billion phones across the world. Its focus on privacy meanwhile could hamper its effectiveness. Aside from requiring people to opt in, the fact that it doesn’t use location data could also limit the ability to identify coronavirus hotspots and map viral transmissions. As such, there are rival apps in the works. Utah for example is working on a contact-tracing app called Healthy Together, which uses GPS and location data as well as Bluetooth. Note that the Apple/Google app doesn’t have a name as such yet. In fact, it’s not likely to be a single app. Rather the tech could be integrated into an app for each country that chooses to use it. The actual app could vary from country to country, but the two tech giants have said they will limit the system’s use to one app per country, except where there’s a federated system in place, such as the United States. So the app you have access to may end up depending on what state you’re in, and in some cases – as with Healthy Together – you might not be using Google and Apple’s system at all. Contact-tracing in the UK While the Apple/Google initiative being used in the US would have been an option for the UK, the NHS has decided to go in a different direction, using an app developed by the NHSX (the NHS’s digital division). This decision seems to have been made because the NHS favors a centralized rather than decentralized system, the difference being that whereas a decentralized system carries everything out with users’ smartphones, a centralized one uses a computer server to work out who to send alerts to. There’s no official name for the app at the time of writing, but it in some ways sounds similar to the Apple/Google model, in that it’s powered by Bluetooth, allowing it to log when you come in contact with anyone else using the app. The NHS is opting for a centralized database (Image credit: Shutterstock) Then, if someone using the app gets diagnosed with Covid-19 or reports that they have symptoms, you’ll be sent an alert saying you were in contact with a potentially infected person. This alert may come days later, however, if they only got a diagnosis a while after you came in contact. As with the Apple/Google contact-tracing system, this would all be anonymous – you wouldn’t know who the infected person was, just that someone you crossed paths with was diagnosed or had symptoms. However, using a centralized system means the data is potentially more vulnerable to being mishandled by authorities, or accessed by hackers. On the other hand, in a conversation with the BBC, the NHS argued that having a centralized system makes it easier to audit the system and adapt it quickly based on the latest scientific evidence. Another downside to this system is that the NHS’s app will need to wake up every time your phone detects another device running the app, which shouldn’t be required on Apple and Google’s system. It’s a difference which will likely mean the NHS app uses more of your phone’s battery. Contact-tracing in Australia Unlike the US and UK, which are still developing and trialing their apps and systems at the time of writing, Australia has fully launched its coronavirus contact-tracing app. The app is called CovidSafe, and it’s available for those in Australia to download from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. Doing so isn’t mandatory, but the more people who use it the more effective it will be. (Image credit: Australian Department of Health) To set up the CovidSafe app you’ll be asked for your name (or a pseudonym), your phone number, age range, and post code, all of which will be stored on an encrypted government server. Then, the app will work much like most other contact-tracing apps – it will use Bluetooth to automatically (and anonymously) log other app users that you’re in contact with, the data from which stays on your phone unless you come into contact with someone infected. If someone is infected with Covid-19, and they consent to share this with the app, it will then send anonymized ID’s of everyone they’ve been in contact with for the last 14 days to the government’s secure server, allowing the relevant health officials to get in touch with affected people. Having a centralized database like this comes with privacy and security concerns, but the app doesn’t track location, and the Australian government has assured citizens that the data can only be accessed by relevant health officials, and only for contact-tracing. Source: What are contact-tracing apps and how will they help you? (TechRadar)
  15. The coronavirus will change Windows forever And that’s partly because it’s making it easier for Microsoft to head in a direction it was already taking. Martin Sanchez (CC0) It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic will forever change the world we know — in the ways we live, work and communicate. And that means technology and software will have to change as well. How? If we look at one dominant software product, Windows, we can already get some ideas. Although it’s still too early to know precisely what Microsoft will do differently with the operating system, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting what it might look like. Here’s what to expect from Windows in the age of pandemics. The first piece of evidence comes from the upcoming Windows 10 May 2020 Update; Microsoft has changed how it will handle all Windows updates for as long as the pandemic lasts. The Windows 10 May 2020 Update offers no major new features, has no significant changes, and looks and works pretty much the same as the previous version of Windows. That’s particularly striking, because it’s been a year since the last major Windows 10 update, and you would expect that Microsoft would come up with some notable improvements in that time. In addition, Microsoft announced that, effective May 1, it will pause the release of non-security Windows updates and only issue security patches. That’s due to the pandemic — IT staffs, which are struggling to keep systems running while working from home, will have to deal with far fewer updates this way. What do these two facts mean for the future of Windows? Expect very few new features for a while — and expect “for a while” to mean something longer than the duration of the pandemic. The Windows you see today will very likely be the Windows you see tomorrow. Expect fewer patches, and don’t look for much in Microsoft’s updates. It’s likely that what the company refers to as “feature updates,” which used to be released twice a year, will only be released once a year, and even then will be minor. There is good reason to believe that the end of the pandemic will not be the end of these changes. Microsoft has been traveling down this path for a long time, with fewer and fewer new features added to Windows. The pandemic has only accelerated that trend. Microsoft developers have been working at home for quite some time, and will continue to do so for a while yet. During that time, Microsoft will have to make hard decisions about which products need updating the most and which can be left fallow. And it’s clear that Windows needs fewer updates in the short term, because it’s no longer the company’s cash cow and doesn’t have fast growth ahead of it no matter how many bells and whistles are added. And that gets us to what new things will be put into Windows. The best evidence comes from the most recent Microsoft earnings report. The report showed that use of Teams, Microsoft’s collaboration chat and meetings app, has skyrocketed due to the coronavirus and the subsequent mass exodus from offices. As of late April, Teams had 75 million daily active users, the company said, up from 20 million users in January. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained the spike this way: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months. From remote teamwork and learning, to sales and customer service, to critical cloud infrastructure and security — we are working alongside customers every day to help them adapt and stay open for business in a world of remote everything.” The company believes the pandemic is a wake-up call that we need to change the nature of work. Disruption will likely become the new normal, with other pandemics and larger and more dangerous storms fed by global warming ahead of us. In that kind of world, remote collaboration will become king. Jared Spataro, head of Microsoft 365, says, “It’s clear to me there will be a new normal. If you look at what’s happening in China and what’s happening in Singapore, you essentially are in a time machine. We don’t see people going back to work and having it be all the same. There are different restrictions to society, there are new patterns in the way people work. There are societies that are thinking of A days and B days of who gets to go into the office and who works remote. … The new normal is not going to be like what I thought two weeks ago: that all is clear, go back everybody. There will be a new normal that will require us to continue to use these new tools for a long time.” What does that mean for Windows? Expect some form of Teams and possibly other collaboration tools to be built directly into Windows, rather than tacked on afterwards when you decide to download and install the software. That’s what Microsoft did with OneDrive cloud storage. OneDrive began life as a standalone storage service, and eventually migrated directly into Windows. Everyone gets a basic amount of OneDrive storage; those who want more can pay more for it. The same things will likely happen with Teams and other collaboration tools. Everyone will get a free copy in Windows with a license for a small number of people, or perhaps with an incomplete set of features. Various for-pay tiers will be able to be bought at differing fees for companies of all sizes. At first, Teams will be tacked onto Windows. But over time, as remote collaboration becomes an important part of everyone’s working life, it will become more intimately integrated into it, directly into the file system, for example, built into video and audio tools, enabled by voice. Eventually, expect that Windows will no longer be designed for one-person use, but for multi-person use. It’s hard to know right now exactly what that means. But expect collaboration to be baked directly into every aspect of the operating system in one form or another. Full integration will be years away. But it’s coming our way. Remote collaboration is the future of Windows in the same way that it will become the future of work. Source: The coronavirus will change Windows forever (Computerworld - Preston Gralla)
  16. Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know Now available for Android and iOS (Image credit: Australian Department of Health) Following on from the release of its official coronavirus information app, the Australian Government has now launched its voluntary CovidSafe tracking app with the goal of tracing the spread of Covid-19 more accurately. Available now for Android and iOS, the CovidSafe app works by recognising and keeping track of other devices with the app installed and Bluetooth switched on, essentially keeping a record of the people (who have also opted in) who come within 1.5 metres of you for a period of at least 15 minutes. The idea is that the app will speed up the current process of notifying people who have been in close proximity to someone with Covid-19. The CovidSafe app will take note of the "date, time, distance and duration of the contact," as stated by the Department of Health's website. If diagnosed with Covid-19, users will have the option of consenting to the release of their contact data, in turn allowing the app to get in touch with other users who have been in close proximity to the affected patient. While the app's source code has not been released at this time, Twitter developer Matthew Robbins has independently decompiled the Android app and has found it to be "above board, very transparent and follows industry standard," as reported by Ausdroid. Privacy According to the CovidSafe app's privacy policy, the Australian Government will ask for your consent to collect your mobile phone number, name, age range and postcode. The collected personal data will reportedly be encrypted and stored on your device alone and will be automatically deleted after 21 days. If you are under 16 years of age, a parent or guardian will have to consent for you. For the app to work, the site admits that some data will have to be recorded elsewhere. This includes "the encrypted user ID, date and time of contact and Bluetooth signal strength of other COVIDSafe users with which you come into contact." The policy states that a new "encrypted user ID will be created every 2 hours," however, this information "will be logged in the National COVIDSafe data store, operated by the Digital Transformation Agency, in case you need to be identified for contact tracing." The data store is described as a "cloud-based facility, using infrastructure located in Australia, which has been classified as appropriate for storage of data up to the ‘protected’ security level." As for how long your data will remain in the cloud, the Department of Health's website states that "We will delete all data in the data store after the COVID-19 pandemic has concluded as required by the Biosecurity Determination." Your data will reportedly also be deleted if you uninstall the CovidSafe from your device or if you "upload your contact data to the data store." The policy stresses that "No location data (data that could be used to track your movements) will be collected at any time." The Australian Government has also released a more thorough 78-page Privacy Impact Assessment in PDF form. Other issues and concerns For the CovidSafe app to work effectively, your device's Bluetooth will need to remain switched on at all times so that the app can continuously ping other users. Of course, this is expected to drain your phone's battery life quicker than usual. While Android devices will be able to run the CovidSafe app in the background, meaning "you can use your phone as normal without having to open or check COVIDSafe," the app FAQ stipulates that iOS devices will need to "Keep COVIDSafe running and notifications on when you're out and about, especially in meetings and public places" – a barrier which could prove a nuisance for many. That said, while the app certainly has its drawbacks, it appears to be secure and seems to take users' privacy into consideration. With this in mind, potential users will need to weigh these minor downsides against the app's proposed benefits – namely, a far more accurate way of tracing the spread of coronvirus, which should in turn help speed up Australia's return to normalcy (or something like it). Source: Australia's CovidSafe tracking app is now available – here's what you need to know (TechRadar)
  17. Bill Gates says countries will probably use interviews and databases to track the coronavirus Photo by Nicolas Liponne/NurPhoto via Getty Images Bill Gates thinks most countries will fight COVID-19 with interview-based contact tracing and a central database to track exposure. Gates posted a paper today outlining potential pandemic treatments, vaccines, and containment strategies. He calls contact tracing, which helps identify and isolate people who could spread the virus, an “ideal way” to stop the pandemic. But he downplayed the importance of decentralized tech-only options like those proposed by Apple and Google, focusing on more traditional methods combined with large-scale data analysis. Gates believes privacy concerns will stop many countries from adopting GPS tracking like that used in South Korea and China. He also seems lukewarm on Bluetooth-based contact tracing systems, especially ones that operate without experts getting access to the data. “If most people voluntarily installed this kind of application, it would probably help some,” Gates writes. But he points out that someone can leave the virus on a surface where it’s later picked up by another person, even if the two never come near each other. These systems also require large-scale adoption that can be difficult to get. “I think most countries will use the approach that Germany is using, which requires interviewing everyone who tests positive and using a database to make sure there is follow-up with all the contacts. The pattern of infections is studied to see where the risk is highest and policy might need to change,” writes Gates. This raises obvious privacy questions and would require huge numbers of interviewers, something Gates acknowledges. “Every health system will have to figure out how to staff up so that this work is done in a timely fashion,” he writes. “Everyone who does the work would have to be properly trained and required to keep all the information private. Researchers would be asked to study the database to find patterns of infection, again with privacy safeguards in place.” While Gates doesn’t mention it, Germany is one of the prime drivers of a Bluetooth-based contact tracing initiative called the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing project. The system is similar in some ways to Apple and Google’s plans for a tracking system built into iOS and Android. But the anonymized data would be held on a central server, while Apple and Google have favored a system that’s supposed to store as much data as possible on users’ devices. (There’s still a lot we don’t know about its process.) Meanwhile, a separate group of experts has proposed a system called Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing. American health authorities are attempting to rapidly scale up a contact tracing interview system that may require an “army” of disease detectives. Massachusetts recently budgeted for 1,000 people to interview infected citizens over the phone and determine who they’ve been in contact with. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also sent contact tracing teams to eight states. Tracing efforts also depend heavily on having a robust testing system, which the country has been slow to roll out. Gates’ views on the pandemic are fairly mainstream, but he’s become a target of conspiracy theorists in recent weeks. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone made headlines for repeating a baseless claim that Gates wants to microchip people who receive a novel coronavirus vaccine, misinterpreting a comment the Microsoft co-founder made in a Reddit AMA. This week, right-wing extremists circulated a list of email addresses and passwords that included members of the Gates Foundation, prompting claims of a hack — but the credentials appeared to be cobbled together from past data breaches. Source: Bill Gates says countries will probably use interviews and databases to track the coronavirus (The Verge)
  18. Tech supply chains are still a complete mess Coronavirus lockdowns are wreaking havoc on our fragile manufacturing system Last week, we made the case that tech manufacturing was uniquely vulnerable to pandemic problems, from a combination of just-in-time manufacturing practices and a far-flung network of suppliers. But just a week later, the news is even worse. On Friday morning, analysts at S&P’s Panjiva Research laid out a grim picture, with US sea imports from China (which includes most of the electronics you buy) down more than 50 percent in the first three weeks of March, a result of the countrywide lockdown in China. At the same time, the subcontracting companies that actually build the hardware (the most famous is Foxconn, but of course there are a lot of them) are thinking about getting out of China entirely, at least as much as they can. Wistron Corp, which does a lot of work for Apple, boasted last week that it could move as much as half of its business outside Chinese borders within a year. It’s a huge sea change for tech manufacturing, and while it has been building for a long time, it’s going to be a lot faster and messier because of the pandemic. It also means that, while these companies are scrambling for labor and parts, they’re also going to be scrambling to stand up a whole new set of factories. At the same time, there are real concerns about the supply chain for lithium. A Benchmark report lays out the quarantine situation for a number of major lithium exporters, from Australia to Chile, and while there haven’t been any intense shortages yet, mines are having a lot of trouble getting shipments out. “It’s not the orders and it’s not the production, it’s [about] can we get it shipped?” one mining CEO said. “Can we get the vessels? Can we get the containers?” The result will be a lot less lithium for manufacturers, which could be a huge problem for anything with a battery. It’s hard to say what all this adds up to. It’s getting harder to make electronics, but with so many people out of work, there is less demand to meet. If the factories are half-closed, maybe it doesn’t matter if the lithium shipment comes in a little late. The current situation is so chaotic that it’s hard to be sure of anything. But the result is scary news for anyone trying to get a shipment of phones out on time — and you can be sure there is a lot of chaos happening behind the scenes. Source: Tech supply chains are still a complete mess (The Verge)
  19. Experts worry that social distancing and stay-at-home-orders are exacerbating abuse. For weeks, experts and advocates have been raising alarms that the coronavirus outbreak could be disastrous for people in abusive relationships. With nearly three in four Americans being asked not to go out, more victims are isolated in unsafe homes. Abusers may be aggravated by mounting financial pressure and stress. And domestic violence organizations are already strained by social distancing requirements. Barbara Paradiso, director of the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado-Denver, says the current moment “feels almost like a petri dish for the levels of violence to increase within family relationships.” Data from police departments and local news coverage from around the country suggests that these concerns are justified. Mother Jones has identified 13 cities and counties that have reported increases in emergency calls to 911 or domestic violence hotlines over the past month. Several places have seen double-digit increases: Police in Seattle, the first US city hit by a wave of coronavirus cases, received 22 percent more domestic violence calls in the first two weeks of March than they did during same period last year. Police in San Antonio, Texas, reported a 21 percent increase in family violence calls, with more than 500 additional calls during the first three weeks in March compared to the same period last year. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department in North Carolina reported nearly 400 more domestic violence calls in March compared to the previous year—a 16 percent increase. Nassau County, on western Long Island, has seen a 10 percent increase in domestic violence 911 calls since January compared to last year, leading the county to announce last week that it was opening a second domestic violence shelter. Police in Portland, Oregon, made 38 domestic violence arrests during a 10-day period in mid-March—a 27 percent increase from the 30 arrests over the same period last year. As of March 22, New York City police had received 7 percent more complaints for domestic violence involving felony assault since January 1 compared to the same period last year. Law enforcement in Salt Lake City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Collier County (which includes Naples), Florida, have also reported upticks in domestic violence calls. During the week that Californians were ordered to shelter in place, domestic violence calls to police in Fresno, went up by more than 50 percent before returning to normal the following week. Some local domestic violence hotlines are reporting a spike in call volume too, including those in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Austin, and Charlotte. Some cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Denver have had no notable increases in domestic violence call volume in recent weeks. In East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there was a downturn in calls. Ruth Glenn, the president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, points out that police data is not a perfect gauge of whether domestic violence is getting worse. More 911 calls could indicate more violence, but they also could indicate greater trust of local law enforcement during times of crisis—or, simply, more neighbors overhearing arguments or disturbances. “My concern is victims that don’t report,” Glenn says. It’s still early in the coronavirus crisis, and domestic violence tends to escalate as people spend more time in close quarters. In Seattle, most of the 911 calls were for “disturbances”—arguments that did not lead to arrests or criminal charges. With time, Glenn says, “we may see an escalated type of domestic violence calls being made: threats with guns, ‘he strangled me,’ that kind of thing. Abusers escalate.” Isolation is already a well-known tactic of domestic abusers. But now, quarantines and shelter-in-place orders meant to protect public health may be fueling abusive relationships. With families being urged or required to stay home, “essentially, you’re sentencing victims and their children to being 24/7 with their abuser,” Paradiso says. “And that can be a terrifying prospect.” And because many workplaces are closed and visits to family and friends are off the table, many of techniques survivors rely on to deescalate tensions at home have vanished. So have the safety plans many survivors make to escape their abusers during violent episodes. “If things are beginning to get too hot, then they go visit mom for a while,” Paradiso says. “Or, when their partner is away at work for eight hours, the chances of things being able to deescalate are much higher.” Advocates on the ground report that abusers are using social distancing as a means of exerting control over their partners and victims. Twahna Harris, an advocate for survivors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been taking calls from victims who say the coronavirus has already intensified the fear and controlling behavior they live with on a daily basis. One woman who called Harris’ nonprofit, The Butterfly Society, wasn’t able to go to the grocery store to get essential supplies for her family because her husband controlled all their money. Another, a teacher stuck at home because schools are closed, said her partner demanded to review the receipt when she left the house to shop. “He looks over the receipt, what she’s paid, what time did she leave home, how long it took her to make it to Walmart, if the timeline adds up,” Harris says. She recalls the teacher telling her, “I am enslaved to him.” Over the last few weeks, Paradiso has heard stories of injured victims who would not go to a hospital for help because the were afraid of becoming infected with the coronavrius. She’s also heard of abusers threatening to expose their partners to the virus by kicking them out of their homes. Abusers may weaponize fears of contagion by withholding medical supplies or hand sanitizer from their victims, reports the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “An abusive partner will use any tool in the toolbox to exert power and control,” says Crystal Justice, the hotline’s communications officer. On top of all of this, financial insecurity can increase aggression in abusive relationships, according to Paradiso. Uncertainty around money, or job security, or ability to make the next rent payment or put food on the table—all of this stress adds fuel to the fire. “Any time that somebody who chooses to use violence experiences heightened levels of a lack of control in their lives, the tendency for violence escalates,” Paradiso says. Politicians are urging victims to leave their homes if they’re facing abuse. “I can’t stress enough: you do not need to stay in your home in a dangerous situation,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz during a Monday press briefing. “There are places of sanctuary for you to get out of that.” But domestic violence shelters are in a tough spot, simultaneously facing increased demand in some places and the need observe social distancing guidelines. Some organizations have reduced their bed count or sent survivors to motels. Many, like Charlotte’s Safe Alliance, have asked for donations to help with increased costs for food and cleaning. Last week, two dozen US senators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services urging the Trump administration to ensure that domestic violence organizations, many of which receive federal grants, have the “flexibility, resources, and information” needed to help survivors and their families during the pandemic. In the absence of other options, some advocates are suggesting that victims stay in cars or trailers. Harris has been telling people who can’t or won’t leave their homes to find safe spaces like closets, attics, or bedrooms with a lock, where they can take a few minutes alone to unwind. She encourages them to reconnect with family or friends digitally if they can, or plan a trip to the grocery store with a neighbor. Harris also knows the mental and physical toll that social isolation can take on someone living with abuse. She’s been through it herself, with a former partner who threatened to kill her if she left him. She was eventually able to escape with help from her boss. It’s not difficult for Harris to imagine how the current situation might have exacerbated her former partner’s attempts to control her. “If I was where some of these victims are right now, with my ex-abuser,” Harris says, “I don’t think I would have made it.” Despite the new constraints facing many survivors and the organizations that serve them, experts and advocates resoundingly encourage those in abusive relationships to reach out for help. “I think the most important message to get out there is that people should call,” Paradiso says. “Call 911 if you’re in fear.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline takes calls 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY. If you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522. The Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of organizations by state. Source : Mother Jones
  20. New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases It's a relatively simple means of potentially helping the worst cases. Enlarge / The machine at right can separate out blood plasma and simultaneously return red blood cells to the donor. Mikhail Tereshchenko/Getty Images 59 with 38 posters participating Back in our exhaustive review of potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2 infections, we mentioned one option that was relatively quick, easy, and required no further approval for use: transfer of blood plasma from those who had previously had an infection. The reasoning being that this plasma will contain antibodies that could neutralize coronaviruses in the blood stream, severely limiting the progression of an active infection. Now, trials of this method are starting in New York City, the hardest hit location in the US. We'll quote our earlier coverage of this potential therapy, which explains why it might be a quick route to a treatment, albeit with limitations: Spike is a complicated protein that provides a wealth of targets for potential therapies. As the most prominent feature of the virus' exterior, spike is the main target of antibodies against the virus produced by the immune system. This has already led to one option for therapies: purifying plasma from people who have fought off a coronavirus infection, on the assumption that the plasma contains antibodies that can neutralize the virus. This plasma can then be infused into sick people, where the antibodies should help the immune system clear the virus. While it's only a temporary fix—antibodies don't survive indefinitely in the blood stream—it may give a patient's immune system sufficient time to develop its own antibodies. There are unknowns about whether infected individuals produce effective antibodies. But the big issue here is scaling, as plasma treatment relies on having enough healthy, formerly infected individuals who are willing to donate blood plasma. If used strategically—on the most at-risk patients, or to help infected health care professionals—it could be a helpful tool but isn't likely an effective general therapy. There have been some anecdotal reports of the approach being used by countries like China, which were hit hard early in the pandemic; one published today indicated that plasma treatment improved the condition of five critically ill patients. But no detailed studies of its effectiveness have been reported so far (at least to our ability to determine). That may now be about to change, according to the New York Times. Several New York City hospitals are planning a joint test of plasma transfusions as a therapy, relying on the large and growing population of formerly infected people in the area. Initially, it will be tested in those who are suffering COVID-19 symptoms who require hospitalization but who have not progressed to severe breathing impairment. The Food and Drug Administration approved the research on Tuesday. The plan is to use the New York Blood Center, which normally coordinates blood, platelet, and bone marrow donations, as a sort of clearing house for the plasma. It will obtain it from donors and screen it for additional infections before approving it for use. (As a side benefit, this may help us better understand how long after infection the coronavirus persists in individuals.) The Blood Center will also ensure that the plasma has high titers of antibodies against the coronavirus. One good aspect of this method is that we have the ability to separate the plasma from the oxygen-carrying red blood cells and re-inject the latter during the donation. Since plasma is replenished more rapidly than red blood cells, this will allow a single donor to make repeated contributions. We still don't know whether antibodies are effective against an infection in progress; the therapy may do nothing, or only slightly slow the progression. But there's a reasonable chance it will help, and this trial will be a good opportunity to understand if it does. Source: New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases (Ars Technica)
  21. What World War II Can Teach Us About Fighting the Coronavirus Some manufacturers are racing to make ventilators, respirators, and face shields. But the situation is nothing like it was in the 1940s. During World War II, Ford's Willow Run plant near Detroit switched from making cars to B-24 bombers.Courtesy of Library of Congress Facing the continued spread of the novel coronavirus across the US, Ford announced Tuesday that it will not resume production, as initially planned, of trucks and SUVs next week. But while the automaker’s workers aren’t stamping metal, they’re not entirely idle either. They’ve started several projects aimed at helping fight the pandemic. That means collaborating with 3M on a new respirator design using stockpiled parts like the fans made to cool the fannies of F-150 drivers. The automaker is working with GE Healthcare to increase production of ventilators, a crucial tool for Covid-19 patients struggling to breathe. In addition, Ford designers are producing new sorts of transparent face shields to protect medical workers and first responders. It hopes to soon be making 100,000 a week at a subsidiary’s plant. Other automakers are working on similar efforts. Tesla bought more than 1,200 ventilators in China and donated them to the public health effort in California; CEO Elon Musk said his company is looking at how to build more. General Motors is helping Ventec Life Systems scale up its ventilator production and considering other ways to help, its CEO Mary Barra says. “We’re just going as fast as we can,” executive chairman Bill Ford said on CNBC Tuesday. “This is what very much our company does when we’re needed.” Indeed, Ford was a key part of the “arsenal of democracy” that helped power the US to victory in World War II. At its peak, the company was building a B-24 bomber every 63 minutes at its Willow Run plant west of Detroit. Efforts to combat Covid-19 fall far short of the contributions that Ford and other companies made to winning that war. In part, that’s because there’s no easy way to help: Just a few firms are set up for the complexity and precision of making the ventilators that patients need. But you could have said the same thing 80 years ago. To battle Germany and Japan, American manufacturers built new factories, trained massive workforces, and stopped what they were used to doing for what needed to be done. Frigidaire made machine guns. Lingerie factories churned out camouflage netting. Road-building companies made fighting ships. Parts designed for vacuum cleaners went into gas masks. Yes, the coronavirus calls for a different bill of munitions, on a different timescale. Health experts don’t need the same range of tools that the 1940s military demanded—ventilators and protective equipment top the list—but they need them desperately, immediately. World War II played out over years; the coronavirus has transformed life for billions in the past few weeks. American factories aren’t shut because the economy is already crippled, but because their workers must keep their distance. In 1941, most of the materials America needed to build its army lay within its borders. Today’s supply chains wrap around the globe. Still, the way American industry mobilized for war is remarkable for its scale, speed, and success—and offers lessons for anyone trying to help today. The first of these, sadly, isn’t much good now: Prepare well in advance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt got serious about stocking his armory (and drafting soldiers) more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, soon after France fell to Germany. By April 1941, the government had ordered $1.5 billion (that’s $26.4 billion today) worth of plane engines, tanks, machine guns, and other tools just from the auto industry—the country’s great manufacturing powerhouse. By the time Congress declared war eight months later, the auto industry was well into the process of realigning supply chains and preparing to arm America. “We weren’t ready to fight in December of 1941,” says Rob Citino, the senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, citing early losses like the fall of the Philippines. “But we were more prepared to fight than we would’ve been had Roosevelt not gotten us started early.” Ford workers are assembling plastic face shields for health care workers, aiming to make 100,000 a week. Photograph: Charlotte Smith/Ford This year, by contrast, US officials dithered for weeks while the virus approached, and it’s now too late to prepare. But in the past week, more companies have announced plans to join the fight. Beyond the automakers, Givenchy, Dior, and liquor giant Pernod Ricard, which use alcohol in their products, are making hand sanitizer in France and the US. Honeywell is hiring 500 workers to run an extra production line to crank out N95 masks. Prestige Ameritech has quadrupled its typical production to 1 million masks a day. Amazon is hiring 100,000 workers to meet demand for shipments to people stuck at home, and is now accepting only essential items at its warehouses. These efforts are worthy but scattershot. In his CNBC interview, Bill Ford said his company had no guidance from the White House, that it was figuring out how to help on its own. And so comes the second lesson from the war: Coordination is key, and should come from the federal government. Yet President Trump has left it to governors to acquire the supplies they need, saying of the federal government, “we’re not a shipping clerk.” That’s left states competing with each other—and with the feds—for supplies, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has said, driving up prices for everyone. That perverse result is reminiscent of the early days of the Civil War, says Mark Wilson, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, when states sent their own delegations to the same manufacturers for blankets, rifles, and so on. “That was a very inefficient and chaotic and, I think, wrong-headed process,” he adds. Unfortunately for the Nazis, by the 20th century the US opted for organizing things from the top. Coordination helped at lower levels too. While automakers today are each trumpeting their own, possibly overlapping initiatives, in 1941 they and their suppliers formed the Automotive Council for War Production, which put 192 manufacturing plants to work for the war effort. They created a shared list of every machine tool not being used to capacity, to squeeze out more productive power. They pledged to make their facilities available to other companies that might need them. In the five weeks after Pearl Harbor, the federal government let out contracts worth $3.5 billion ($61.6 billion today) to the automakers. Manufacturers were motivated by national unity and profits; a federal ban on the production of civilian cars all but ensured the auto industry would turn to munitions. The US government also pressured companies into sharing intellectual property, so production wasn’t limited by the capacity of a single company. When the military needed more B-17 bombers than Boeing could produce, it hired Lockheed to pick up the slack, requiring it to pay Boeing a modest licensing fee, according to Wilson. And during the war years, FDR’s government eased off antitrust enforcement. The same sort of moves now could help increase production of ventilators and other tools, but Trump has mostly abstained from directing private sector efforts, and resisted using the 1950 Defense Production Act. “We're a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said Sunday. “Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well." The law wouldn’t nationalize anything, though. It would allow the government to make companies accept government contracts, and to protect companies from antitrust actions if they work together. During World War II, the US government paid to build plants, owned them, hired companies to use them, and bought all the output. That allowed companies to expand their footprint without worrying about a return on their investment, and ensured that the government got what it needed, when it needed it. That’s how road-building company Brown & Root ended up with a $90 million Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, and how Ford got the mile-long assembly line at the Willow Run bomber plant. This effort “was really at the core of US mobilization,” says Wilson. Instead of waiting for corporate executives to decide if a plant made financial sense, “the government just threw money at the problem and said, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll absorb the risk.’” The economics aren’t as clear for companies enlisting in the fight against the coronavirus. “We haven't talked to anybody about any kind of reimbursement or anything like that,” Bill Ford told CNBC. But it’s hard to imagine any company launching a large-scale effort to boost production of ventilators or other products without considering how it will recover the costs. During the war, the feds made helping out rather tempting, promising its business partners profit margins of 8 percent, says Citino of the World War II museum. It wasn’t just patriotism that won the war, an old joke went—it was patriotism and that 8 percent. The key to winning a global fight—in the 1940s and maybe today too—was finding the right incentives to push every needed effort in the right direction, Citino adds: “You get to do good and do well at the same time.” WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the latest updates, and subscribe to support our journalism. Source: What World War II Can Teach Us About Fighting the Coronavirus (Wired)
  22. Dyson developed and is producing ventilators to help treat COVID-19 patients The company plans to produce 15,000 ventilators Dyson — the British technology company best known for its high-powered vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, and fans — has designed a new ventilator, the “CoVent,” in the past several days, which it will be producing in order to help treat coronavirus patients, via CNN. The company reportedly developed the ventilator in 10 days based on Dyson’s existing digital motor technology. Dyson is still seeking regulatory approval in the UK for the rapidly designed device, but it’s already received an order from the UK Government for 10,000 ventilators, of which the National Health Service (NHS) is in dire need. The CoVent is a bed-mounted and portable ventilator, with the option to run on battery power should the need arise. “This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume,” company founder James Dyson noted in a letter to the company obtained by Fast Company, adding that the CoVent was “designed to address the specific clinical needs of Covid-19 patients.” Dyson also pledged in the letter to donate an additional 5,000 ventilators to “the international effort, 1,000 of which will go to the United Kingdom.” “The race is now on to get it into production,” Dyson noted in his letter, with a company spokesperson telling CNN that the ventilators would be ready in early April. Ventilators — which provide assisted breathing for patients who are unable to breath themselves — are critical for the treatment of severe cases of COVID-19, which causes respiratory symptoms in some patients. Dyson isn’t the only major company that’s pivoted to ventilator design and production in recent days — carmarkers like Ford, Tesla, and General Motors have also pledged to repurpose their plants toward developing the critical treatment devices as shortages around the world continue to grow. Source: Dyson developed and is producing ventilators to help treat COVID-19 patients (The Verge)
  23. COVID-19 anxiety taking a toll? There’s a subreddit for that Reddit might not be reliable for COVID-19 information, but it could be the internet’s best support group COVID-19 is all anyone can talk about in real life, which means it’s all anyone can talk about on the internet, which means it’s all anyone is discussing on Reddit. There’s r/Coronavirus (1.4 million members), r/Covid19 (101,000 members), and the racist-ly named r/China_flu (101,000 members, disappointingly). These subreddits have quickly been overflowed with people seeking news about how the pandemic has thrown world economies and health care systems into collapse. They exist to disseminate information — and of course, are victim to misinformation. But there’s one much smaller, more intimate COVID-19 subreddit — Covid19_support, which boasts only 11,900 members — that is doing something different. The service it provides Reddit users is not one of news and information, but emotional support. One post in the r/Covid19_support group asked if anyone else had trouble going grocery shopping for fear of being sick, with one user responding, “I’m not so worried I’ll get the virus, I think just seeing shelves empty or a ton of people buying it will stress me out.” Others replied with worries for workers who have been deemed “essential.” Many of the posts focus on a topic that concerns many people. What about our parents and grandparents? People are having to make the difficult decision to isolate from family during a period that you want to be with them more than ever. Luckily, on r/Covid19_support, members are not alone in this struggle. Governments around the world have laid out varying instructions on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which, for many people, has meant staying at home. But there’s been little direction on how to actually live through a pandemic. How does one reckon with quarantine life? What about those with mental health issues strained by isolation? How about the self-quarantining individuals who are navigating symptoms but are not in need of immediate hospitalization — who is speaking to them? As people spend more time inside the house globally, those with the privilege of having access to a phone or a computer with a clear Wi-Fi signal can try to find support for the varied problems that inevitably come with staying put, avoiding illness, or simply attempting to navigate the financial hardship that has already hit many working class people. r/Covid19_support also offers a space for those who have been let down the most by our systems — those who may not be guaranteed sick leave and can’t work from home — to seek some sort of advice on how to handle the realities they face. One member with asthma (and elderly parents) posted about having to leave work early because co-workers were joking about “survival of the fittest” and they couldn’t take it anymore. “I do think people need online forums more as the outbreak goes on, though,” moderator u/JenniferColeRhuk tells The Verge. “They want to ask questions that are very specific to them and to their situation, which aren’t going to be easily answered by FAQs or government advice. Or they see something they don’t quite understand and want someone to clarify it for them.” Unlike most subreddits, which are a free-for-all, r/Covid19_support has strict rules about who can post. It’s not that they want to censor the way people cope with the crisis, but moderators are attempting to make the community “troll-proof.” u/JenniferColeRhuk considers this paramount when “you’ve got people who are looking for reassurance and support” in creating a space for people to feel their emotions freely about a grim reality. The subreddit requires only a little moderation for misinformation, since most users are sharing their personal stories, not news. Naturally, the moderators come down the hardest on things that are emotional. u/JenniferColeRhuk explains there is zero tolerance for redditors who don’t show other users support, especially if they’re provoking others. People can get banned for telling someone to “get a grip.” r/Covid19_support originated out of a post in r/Coronavirus by u/thatreddittherapist inquiring what everyone was doing for their mental health. That idea got picked up by u/JenniferColeRhuk, so the two of them created r/Covid19_support. “[The] main difference from the other COVID-19 subs is that it’s mainly self-posts from people who are struggling with various aspects of the outbreak — worried about their friends and family, or their own health, or what will happen to their jobs,” u/JenniferColeRhuk says. Those realities are existential. Members of the subreddit, like the rest of the world, brace for the “new normal” as we look onward at a pandemic that has yet to be contained, an economy collapsing, and a global workforce no longer able to work. Internet access has become an indisputable necessity as many people socially distance in their homes or nervously await news of what is to come as they journey to their jobs, risking illness to be able to pay their rent. Subreddits such as r/Covid19_support will continue to be more important as this pandemic tolls on. As the world awaits what is to come, there is some solace to be found in anonymous strangers on the internet sharing that they too miss their parents, that they also can’t handle the boredom with their ADHD, and that they as well have struggled with layoffs due to the virus. There is an understanding hand of humanity reaching out in a latex glove to give you a pat on the back. Having been in my own house for eight days, I’ve often visited r/Covid19_support to find some sort of relief for the various stresses that this has brought on. I scroll the subreddit as I stress about whether there will actually be a rent freeze, as I wait for phone calls from home about my family members getting sick because they’re in jobs deemed “essential,” as the boredom only heightens all of my anxieties. Until the pandemic is over, whenever that is, r/Covid19_support may be one of the many ways that people are trying to cope with the crisis, together and alone in our bedrooms. Source: COVID-19 anxiety taking a toll? There’s a subreddit for that (The Verge)
  24. What Coronavirus Isolation Could Do to Your Mind (and Body) Social distancing can lead to adverse psychological and physiological effects. But there are things you can do to maintain your overall health. Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images By now, you may have noticed a divide among your friends. As social distancing and self-imposed quarantine wear on and more workplaces urge employees to avoid the office, the Covid-19 outbreak has left many people more alone than they’ve been in a long time, or ever. Some are responding by hunkering down into cozy domesticity: baking bread, reading books, taking long baths. Others have begun to fray: FaceTiming with friends is a necessity, not a luxury; the closure of a favorite coffee shop is cause for tears; the walls seem to be closing in. Be kind to your local extroverts. They’re having a hard time. Still, no matter how hygge you’re feeling at this moment, experts suggest that the negative feelings and experiences associated with prolonged isolation will come for us all. Humans are social creatures—yes, all of us. While the coronavirus pandemic is an extreme, largely unprecedented moment, the kind of seclusion that’s been eating at people over the last few weeks is not as uncommon an experience as you might imagine. The impacts of social isolation on our bodies and minds have been felt and studied in a variety of different groups, from astronauts to incarcerated people to immunocompromised children to Antarctic researchers to the elderly. The patterns that have emerged from their experiences with radical aloneness illuminate ways to understand and improve your own. First off, it’s important to remember that isolation doesn’t just numb your brain with boredom. “People start getting lethargic when they don’t have positive inputs into their small worlds,” says John Vincent, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston. “We can expect depression to kick in, and depression and anxiety are kissing cousins.” These symptoms are likely to be particularly intense during coronavirus-related isolation, according to Lawrence Palinkas, who researches psychosocial adaptation to extreme environments at the University of Southern California. “Oftentimes, if you have a very well defined period of time in which you’re isolated people do pretty well up until the halfway point,” Palinkas says. “Then they experience a let down. But when you’re in a situation like we are now, when you’re not certain how long you’ll be asked to maintain social distance, that produces anxiety as well.” When people, like those kept in solitary confinement or scientists working in a remote region, know their sentence is nearly up, their mood lifts again in anticipation. Those practicing social distancing due to Covid-19 may not get that any time soon. “Open, transparent, consistent communication is the most important thing governments and organizations can do: Make sure people understand why they are being quarantined first and foremost, how long it is expected to last,” says Samantha Brooks, who has studied the psychological impact of quarantine at King’s College London. “A huge factor in the negative psychological impact seems to be confusion about what's going on, not having clear guidelines, or getting different messages from different organizations.” So far, many governments, including the United States’, haven’t been heeding this advice. Perhaps even more concerning is that the psychological strain of loneliness manifests physiologically, too. Harry Taylor, who studies social isolation in older adults, particularly in the black community, says that it’s one of the worst things that humans can do to their overall well-being, adding that “the mortality effect of social isolation is like smoking 15 cigarettes per day.” In older people, social isolation seems to exacerbate any preexisting medical conditions, from cardiovascular diseases to Alzheimer’s, but its ill effects aren’t limited to those over 60. Alexander Chouker, a physician researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich, has seen radical changes in the bodies of people participating in simulations of manned spaceflight missions like Mars-500. “They were young and trained people not in a condition of real threat,” he says. “The pure fact of being confined affects the body. If you change your environment in a quite extreme way, it is changing you.” Participants, some of whom were only isolated for three months, experienced changes to their sleep, changes to their immune, endocrine, and neurocognitive systems, and alterations to their metabolisms. “Being confined and isolated affects the human physiology as a whole,” Chouker says. Does this mean your body will go wonky like an astronaut trapped on fake Mars for over a year? Not necessarily. You probably aren’t truly socially isolated, at least not to that extreme degree. And even those who study the negative consequences of social isolation still think practicing social distancing is a good idea. “Covid-19 is flipping everything on its head,” Taylor says. “This is the first time since we have been alive that actively practicing social isolation is a method to improve health.” The people who are most at risk from the isolation associated with Covid-19 are the people who are at heightened risk of social isolation in the first place. “Among older adults, lower income people and men experience isolation at a different level,” says Thomas Cudjoe, a geriatrician researching the intersection of social connections and aging at Johns Hopkins University. (In both cases, Cudjoe says that a lack of time or inclination to develop social ties outside of work creates the disparity between those groups and their female or higher income counterparts.) Taylor points out that anyone who is marginalized is more likely to have a more limited social network, whether they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a survivor of domestic abuse, or just live in a more isolated rural area. These people may not have friends or family to call, or may be unable to do so. “Some people have posited technology as a means of connecting people, but lower income groups might not even have FaceTime or Skype or minutes on their phone,” Cudjoe says. “People take that for granted, using their devices can be a strain on people’s incomes.” Particularly if Covid-19 has left them out of a job. “Minority bodies are going to be hit particularly hard because they often work in service industries, which increases risk for social isolation and loneliness and coronavirus,” says Taylor. “It could create an economic and social recession.” No matter what your unique situation is, there are many things you can do to improve your experience while being socially isolated. Chouker and others recommend exercise as a mood boost. “Create as much structure and predictability as you can with the pieces of your life that you do have control over,” Vincent says. Pursue neglected projects, get on with life, but also be patient with yourself—both now and when this strange time eventually ends. People who go through a period of isolation, whether they’ve been on the International Space Station or in quarantine, often experience PTSD symptoms and struggle while reintegrating back into their ordinary routine. Social isolation may gradually become your normal, and losing it may still be a jolt. Fortunately, you’re not in this alone, and you shouldn’t leave others that way, either. “For the general public who are not isolated, think about those people who were in your network that you haven’t heard from in a while, and give them a call or write a letter,” Cudjoe says. “Strengthen those weak connections.” With any luck, you’ll emerge from social distancing a whole lot closer. WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update to get the latest in your inbox. Source: What Coronavirus Isolation Could Do to Your Mind (and Body)
  25. The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Crisis That Robots Were Built For Robots can help doctors distance from patients, and help those in isolation cope. But getting the machines into hospitals is fraught with difficulties. An engineering student configures a robot modified to screen and observe COVID-19 patients. A group of roboticists is today calling for the field to fast-track development of such medical machines.Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/Getty Images We humans weren’t ready for the novel coronavirus—and neither were the machines. The pandemic has come at an awkward time, technologically speaking. Ever more sophisticated robots and AI are augmenting human workers, rather than replacing them entirely. While it would be nice if we could protect doctors and nurses by turning more tasks over to robots, medicine is particularly hard to automate. It’s fundamentally human, requiring fine motor skills, compassion, and quick life-and-death decision-making we wouldn’t want to leave to machines. But this pandemic is a unique opportunity to jumpstart the development of medical robot technologies, argue a dozen roboticists in an editorial out today in the journal Science Robotics. Perhaps “people start to reflect that for situations such as this, how robots can be used not only to help with in terms of social distancing, but also that can be used for increasing social interaction,” said Guang-Zhong Yang, founding editor of the journal, during a press conference. The editorial serves as a call to arms for more research. “Robotics and automation could play a major role in combating infectious diseases, such as COVID-19,” Yang and his fellow editors write in their piece. In particular, they argue: “Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear.” Additionally, robots could enable a form of telemedicine that would keep humans out of areas of contagion. “COVID-19 could be a catalyst for developing robotic systems that can be rapidly deployed with remote access by experts and essential service providers without the need of traveling to front lines,” they write. A cruel irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that medical professionals know better than anyone that social distancing is critical for slowing the rate of new infections, yet they’re forced to be the closest to the disease. And those that need social interaction perhaps more than anybody—the elderly—are the ones who need to isolate the most, as they’re the most susceptible to the disease. But if machines can help care for patients, it’s less likely that human caregivers will themselves get infected. Autonomous robots, for instance, can roam rooms, disinfecting surfaces with UV light. Or they can deliver supplies, as a robot named Tug is already doing. Smarter AI can help diagnose people with Covid-19, and the article’s authors suggest that engineers might develop mobile robots to perform simple tasks like taking a patient’s temperature. This could all go a long way to lightening the burden on human health care providers and helping them keep their distance from the infected. That could help stave off future bottlenecks, in which so many workers are ill or quarantined after potential exposure that hospital staff cannot adequately care for incoming patients. There’s plenty of precedent for machines helping humans do their jobs, notes MIT roboticist Kate Darling, who wasn’t involved in the editorial. “ATMs allowed banks to expand teller services,” she says. “Bomb disposal robots let soldiers keep more distance between themselves and danger. There are cases where automation will replace people, but the true potential of robotics is in supplementing our skills. We should stop trying to replace and start thinking more creatively about how to use technology to achieve our goals.” It’s not hard to imagine a future in which delivery robots bring food and supplies to quarantined people’s homes, preventing delivery workers from potentially infecting them. Quarantined folks are already keeping in touch with friends and relatives via Zoom and FaceTime, but social robots could also keep people company in the absence of human peers. The telepresence robot, often something as simple as a screen on wheels, has begun appearing in nursing homes to help family members connect with otherwise isolated elders. In hospitals, such robots could “teleport” a specialist doctor in London to a patient in San Francisco. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sensitive interaction between humans than the doctor-patient relationship, and this has remained a thorny problem in hospital robotics. A doctor has to keep people alive, but also keep them well, empathizing in a particularly difficult time. Robots don’t do empathy. How well a robot can tackle a health worker’s task depends, in some measure, on whether it’s replacing that human interaction, or simply channeling it. “It does depend on: Is the robot acting as a medium for a doctor or another healthcare provider or professional? Or is the robot in itself supposed to be running some sort of task?” asks Julie Carpenter, a roboticist and research fellow at the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who wasn’t involved in the new paper. “Certainly making them less threatening to people is important.” Take that Tug robot, for example. It’s more or less a rolling box that autonomously roams hospital corridors. It tells you in a friendly voice if it’s waiting for an elevator, and some hospitals even dress it up in costumes for the kids. Robots need to balance functionality and the patient experience. “For example, a robot may need to be very big in order to lift a patient, but then its sheer size can be intimidating,” says Carpenter. “Mitigating someone's psychological stress should absolutely be a significant and thoughtful part of designing robots, especially in caregiving scenarios.” Engineers also have to consider their hospital worker users when designing medical robots—which they haven’t really been doing up to this point. “They’re designed by engineers, for engineers,” says Henrik Christensen, the director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute and a coauthor on the editorial. Nurses and doctors are already stressed and strapped for time. If you tell them it’ll take two hours to teach them to use a robot, “then you've already lost them,” Christensen adds. “We're not good enough today at designing robots that are truly fluent.” One of the bolder ideas to come out of the Science Robotics press conference was a competition for medical robots. Darpa famously ran a robotics competition in 2015 that pitted humanoid machines against one another, greatly furthering research in robot autonomy. Now Darpa is running another challenge for robots to navigate underground environments. (Not to mention the Darpa Grand Challenge, which offered $2 million to the first team that could race an autonomous vehicle between cities in California and Nevada; the Stanford Racing Team won the prize in 2005.) So why not set up a robotics challenge in a hospital? “No doubt," says Christensen, "this is a way of crowdsourcing innovation.” WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update to get the latest in your inbox. Source: The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Crisis That Robots Were Built For (Wired)
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