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  1. Search giant marks the occasion with a social-distancing Doodle. Google social-distance celebrates. Google is marking its 22nd year in existence Sunday with an animated birthday Doodle. The Doodle shows us Google's G celebrating with its oogle colleagues with cake and presents in an online video conference party. The virtual party reminds us that in the time of coronavirus, it's important to maintain social distancing, even on special occasions. The company was founded roughly 22 years ago when Stanford Ph.D. students and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page published a paper called The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. In it, the pair outlined Google, a prototype "large-scale search engine" that had a database of "at least 24 million pages." In the 22 years since Brin and Page outlined their vision for a search engine, the company has grown up dramatically. Google's search engine now indexes hundreds of billions of webpages, but the company has gone from humble beginnings as a search engine to the most dominant force in advertising. Google now has a parent company, Alphabet, with tentacles that touch everything from self-driving cars to its Android mobile software to the extension of life. But its birthdate is actually a bit murky. The company has celebrated its birthday on Sept. 27 since 2006, but the previous year, it celebrated its birthday on Sept. 26, and in 2004 and 2003, the date was Sept. 7 and Sept. 8, respectively. Google isn't even sure why this is, especially since it was incorporated on Sept. 4, 1998. Source
  2. If you’re not wearing a mask in public or properly practising social distancing to prioritize your comfort and convenience over everyone else’s health and well-being, you not only deserve to be called out but also reminded of your social responsibilities with a gentle 4.5-volt zap courtesy of this Covid-19 cattle prod. The Social Distancing Zapper sounds like an April Fool’s Day prank, but then again, so does all of 2020. If someone had told you way back in January that a seven-inch, pocket-friendly cattle prod that extends up 25-inches in length letting you shock humans, not cows, from a distance of around six feet (depending on the length of your arm) would be a device you’d actually consider buying by year’s end, you’d have laughed in their face. Ten months later, it seems like a must-have accessory, especially if you live somewhere the locals are endlessly whining about their freedoms. An electric prod designed for livestock can deliver enough voltage to seriously harm a human, but this one uses a pair of AAA batteries to deliver just 4.5 volts. For comparison purposes, shuffling your feet across a carpet floor in the winter and then touching a metal doorknob will deliver an audible and painful static shock closer to 4,000 volts. The Social Distancing Zapper, which you can order from Firebox for $14, is intended to be used more as a gentle reminder. It should be the physical equivalent of a throat clear when someone has absent-mindedly breached your personal space but doesn’t see your concerned expression hidden behind a mask or hear your requests for them to step back and respect the social distancing rules that have been put in place to help minimize the spread of Covid-19. Source
  3. What are the rules of social distancing? Staying home will stem the coronavirus outbreak, but what if you’re healthy — and bored? Is it ethical to go to the gym, get your hair done, or order delivery? Many Americans in recent days have received emails directing them to start working remotely, or announcing that schools would be canceled for weeks in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Major events are also being called off with a domino-like effect, including Coachella and South by Southwest, March Madness and virtually all sports events, business conferences, even religious services across the country. In many cases, the action is prophylactic — no one at work or school may be sick yet — though with each passing day, more of these decisions are being made in response to a community member testing positive for Covid-19, or the risk that contact with large groups of people could exacerbate transmission of the virus. The closures are a way to enforce social distancing, a crucially important public health intervention that can help stop coronavirus transmission by avoiding crowds and large gatherings such as weddings, concerts, conferences, sporting events, and mass transit. Best practice requires maintaining at least a six-foot distance between yourself and others. You may have already come into contact with an infected person — the woman who rode the bike before you at SoulCycle, the kindly fellow who coughed while standing next to you in line at Costco, or someone who touched your mail as it made its way to your mailbox. (At least one study estimates that about 25 percent of transmissions of coronavirus may have occurred in pre-symptomatic stages — meaning it may be spread by people who don’t yet know they have the virus.) With Covid-19, “many people in the US will at some point, either this year or next, get exposed to this virus,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization czar announced this month. Social distancing, health authorities argue, can dramatically slow the rate at which the infection is spreading, easing the burden on the health care system. To that end, the CDC is now urging all gatherings of more than 50 people to stop for the next eight weeks. But how should social distancing affect your visits to the gym? Your weekly manicure? Play dates for your kids? Your weekend reservation at the buzzy Michelin-starred omakase spot you’ve been dying to try? Are those risky for an ostensibly healthy person like yourself? What do you, as a responsible, socially conscious human being, owe to your fellow men and women — particularly those who are sick, immunocompromised, and older? Are you breaking the social contract by going to hot yoga? Or, by not going, are you overreacting and hurting the economy? Vox spoke with six experts in public health, medicine, psychology, and bioethics for answers. (Please remember that as the Covid-19 landscape transforms week by week, so, too, will the advice.) I feel healthy. Why shouldn’t I get out a little bit to make this time pass easier? Vox’s Kelsey Piper makes a strong argument for choosing to stay home as much as possible, inconvenient as it may seem, to help your fellow human. “If you are young and healthy, you ought to take precautions because doing so can end up saving someone’s life,” she writes. Leah Lagos, a New York City-based psychologist and author of Heart, Breath, Mind, agrees. “Now is the time to do something for your fellow community members,” she says. Staying home as much as possible, even if you believe you aren’t infected, is the type of altruistic decision that, when performed en masse, has the potential to slow the infection rate, Lagos says. Christina Animashaun/Vox Considering — and prioritizing — the welfare of strangers is difficult, she acknowledges, but it helps to think of them instead as someone else’s parent, grandparent, or child. “It can be an interesting experiment in compassion for people we don’t know.” “A lot of us might be relatively healthy and think we might be able to withstand the rigors of an infection,” adds Jonathan Kimmelman, director of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University in Montreal, “but there’s the concern about spreading it to vulnerable individuals, as well as the pressure this outbreak will place on our health care system.” Kimmelman invokes the idea of “social solidarity,” saying “we have an ethical obligation to curtail activities, practice social distancing, and substitute activities with safer alternatives,” like teleconferencing instead of in-person work meetings, or changing a first date from a wine bar to a walk outside. But should you even be going on dates, period? If the messages are confusing, understand that “there are different levels of social distancing” in effect around the world, and that local health departments’ recommendations vary currently depending on known cases, says Syra Madad, an NYC-based special pathogens specialist who was featured in Netflix’s docuseries Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak. In Washington state’s King County, for example, the current recommendation is that “social interaction is still vitally important to the mental health of young people, and it is still possible for families to have safe gatherings among children and parents.” The county recommends, however, limiting indoor groups to 10 or fewer children and outdoor groups to 50 or fewer, and for residents to avoid parties, retail spaces, and movie theaters. Still, Madad notes, “It is better to operate under the pretense that there is transmission in your community already. There’s going to be disruption to daily life, but we want people to feel empowered by this. The decisions you make will ultimately affect the trajectory of this outbreak.” An empty restaurant in New York City on March 13, 2020. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images If I have to go out, how can I do it in the safest way possible — to protect myself as well as others? Kate Vergara, a public health and infectious disease specialist based in Chicago and New York City, has spent time fighting polio in Ethiopia and helping Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone (without contracting either disease). In order to even begin to approach the ethics of social distancing, she says, we must have a firm grip on how the virus is spreading. “Covid-19 is not airborne,” she says. “It is transmitted through droplets — being coughed on, or touching something that someone coughed on, for example, and then touching your face and allowing that pathogen to get into your system through your eyes, nose, or mouth.” The CDC and the WHO recommend several basic measures to help prevent the spread of Covid-19: Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects. Stay home when you are sick. Contact a health worker if you have symptoms; fever and a dry cough are most common. DON’T touch your face. DON’T travel if you have a fever and cough. DON’T wear a face mask if you are well. Guidance may change. Stay informed, and stay safe, with Vox’s guide to Covid-19. It’s important to practice good hygiene, like hand-washing — which protects not only you but others as well. When considering the ethics of spending time out and about, Vergara suggests reframing your view of hand-washing in the following way: “Wash your hands before you go out to protect others, and wash them again after the activity to protect yourself.” If you’re low-risk and itching to hit the gym, wash your hands first so you’re touching machines and weights with pristine hands; that protects others. Then, after your workout, wash them again to scrub off anything you may have picked up. And wipe down your exercise equipment, or anything else you might have touched. The same goes for getting a haircut, visiting the ATM, and the like. Should I feel guilty for wanting to go to the gym, or on a date? Between the relentless news alerts, social media memes, and gossipy texts, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and scared. We need self-care more than ever, says LaMar Hasbrouck, a public health physician and past medical epidemiologist with the CDC. “It’s important during these times to hold fast to any sense of normalcy that you can.” But try to find prudent ways to do so. Hasbrouck now picks off-peak hours to exercise to minimize contact with others; other options include walking, jogging, or biking outdoors. The more ventilated an area, the lower the risk of transmission, plus “if you cough, nobody is around and the droplets just fall and hit the ground,” he says. Better yet: breaking a sweat at home with help from an app or online video. Grocery shopping will need to happen, but instead of going at noon on a Saturday when the place is sure to be packed, try going really early on a weekday morning. If it’s still possible, order online. And wipe down any deliveries, just to be safe. Should I keep using grocery delivery services ... and ride-hailing companies … and restaurants? Hasbrouck encourages those who have access to services such as Postmates, Grubhub, Lyft, and Instacart to use them. “It’s a good way to social distance,” he says, noting that two main factors when it comes to Covid-19 transmission are closeness of contact and duration. “The handoff is five seconds, you go inside and wash your hands. Or just have them leave it at your doorstep.” (Last week, Instacart introduced a “Leave at My Door Delivery” option.) This poses some ethical questions, however: Having milk and bread delivered is convenient for you, minimizing your exposure to the virus. But what about the person doing your grocery shopping or picking up your Thai food? Or the Uber driver ferrying you to your significant other’s apartment? Is it right to ask them to assume the risk of being out and about? Yes, say both Hasbrouck and Vergara. However, contaminated hands pose a risk to drivers and riders, so be ultra-diligent about hand hygiene, washing or sanitizing hands before getting in the car and not touching your face at all. Cracking a window is a smart move for both you and the driver, as it promotes airflow. As for restaurants, honor upcoming reservations or attend gatherings as necessary. Unlike norovirus or hepatitis A, “food isn’t known to be a way of transmitting this or other respiratory viruses,” says Benjamin Chapman, a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. “You mainly need to be mindful about the surfaces you touch: menus, the table, condiments, things that other patrons might have used.” But the choice to dine out may soon be very limited for many Americans: Governors of several states, including Illinois and Washington, this week ordered all restaurants and bars closed; major cities such as New York and Los Angeles are following suit. Chapman, who continues to dine out, says that while he might not know who touched that soy sauce bottle or pepper shaker before him, “I do know I can break the pathway of transmission by using hand sanitizer or washing my hands.” With social distancing in mind, opt for establishments where it’s easy to keep six to eight feet between yourself and other diners (maybe save sitting at the packed bar for after the pandemic ends) and feel free to be “a public health nerd” like Chapman and ask if they’re using Environmental Protection Agency-approved sanitizing products, which they should be. Chapman notes that he lives in North Carolina, which is not currently a Covid-19 hot spot. “I’d have a different response if I was in New Rochelle, New York, or Seattle,” he says, two cities where the risk of transmission is greater due to higher numbers of community-acquired infections. In cities such as those, he would advocate taking advantage of the “great infrastructure we have set up for home delivery of food.” Should I cancel play dates? What are the rules for my kids? In Ireland, public health officials are encouraging a “no parties, no playdates, no playground” policy, per the Irish Times. Muireann Ní Chrónín, a consultant respiratory pediatrician at Cork University Hospital, told the paper: “Children will get through this no problem. [But] remember with corona, children are vectors, not victims. In most epidemics, young children are the transmitters.” Here in the US, school closures are smart, Vergara says. “It’s a responsible practice for schools to shut down. That’s several hundred kids interacting in close quarters, and kids aren’t known for washing their hands very well.” But that leaves millions of working parents frantic about career responsibilities, and unsure of whether it’s appropriate to schedule play dates or try to split child care duties with friends. The experts interviewed for this story had differing opinions about whether play dates should continue in a pandemic. Vergara says that, if following healthy practices, small play dates are feasible, but before the kids come over, use disinfecting wipes to clean high-touch items like doorknobs, remote controls, and the table where they’ll be playing. Replace the hand towel in the bathroom with a fresh one, and when the visiting kiddos show up, everyone — your children included — should wash their hands thoroughly. Lagos worries that play dates during school closures are essentially “quasi-quarantines, defeating the purpose of social distancing.” Kimmelman concurs, and though he says no one knows the exact right answer, “we don’t know how things are going to unfold, and from my standpoint, the risks of underreaction are so much more catastrophic than the risks of overreaction.” Alyssa F. Westring and Stewart D. Friedman, co-authors of Parents Who Lead, writing in the Harvard Business Review, recommended finding inventive ways for children to play together virtually. “While it may not be feasible to trade-off childcare responsibilities (depending on quarantine restrictions),” they wrote, “consider other ways in which you can make things easier for one another — whether it’s sharing creative activities to keep the kids entertained or taking turns grocery shopping. … Be open to new ways of doing things.” When should I completely self-quarantine? The CDC has issued recommendations for travelers arriving from dozens of countries with widespread cases to stay home for 14 days. If someone at your work or school was definitely exposed, it’s also time to assess your own risk of exposure, and of spreading the coronavirus. “If you say, ‘Well, I know I’ve been mostly in my office, avoiding meetings and conference rooms, and I’ve been washing hands a lot,’ you could probably go about your daily routine with some social distancing to protect yourself, not so much to avoid infecting others,” Hasbrouck says. But if you have a fever or receive new information — that it was John, in the cubicle next to you, who was exposed — “you’re going to want to radically change your assessment.” That likely means self-quarantining, because that’s “the ethical decision and you don’t want to expose others. It’s a constant risk assessment, and it’s more of an art than a science. It’s about protecting yourself but also being socially responsible.” How far should we take social distancing advice? “Look at the trajectory of what’s happening in Italy. We’re 11 days behind Italy,” where a national lockdown that began March 10 has curtailed all travel and shuttered nearly all shops, schools, museums, movie theaters, and bars, says Madad. “Measures like travel bans and quarantining entire localities — you may not see that here,” she says. But we can undertake distancing measures ourselves. “One of the things we’ve learned from the H1N1 pandemic is that if you educate people, they will listen. You have to give them the facts, and speak with one voice.” The Vox guide to Covid-19 coronavirus Source: What are the rules of social distancing? (Vox)
  4. The Elegant Mathematics of Social Distancing Schools and sports leagues are shutting down. But experts say it's still safe for most people to shop for groceries and meet in small groups. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images My cousin had to cancel his bar mitzvah, which was planned for Saturday in Washington, DC. Some 100 people were scheduled to be there, but like many houses of worship this week, the synagogue suspended its services to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For my cousin, it means postponing the payoff from years of study, and a celebration with friends and family. Many other Americans are in similar situations during the outbreak of Covid-19, which has sickened more than 1,700 Americans and killed more than 40, according to an online tally being kept by Johns Hopkins University. Schools, religious institutions, and sports and concert venues have closed. Those who can work from home have been urged to do so. The White House reportedly overruled a proposal from the Centers for Disease Control that would have urged anyone over 60 to avoid airplane travel. In states and cities around the country, gatherings of 500, 250, or sometimes even 75 people have been forbidden. The term “social distancing”—that is, public health measures to reduce the spread of a highly contagious disease—has become one of those particular pieces of field-specific esoterica that’s vaulted into the American vernacular, like “obstruction of justice” or “security theater.” But people have lives: weddings to attend, kids’ birthday parties to endure, commutes to make, bonkers grocery store lines to stand in. What is safe right now? What isn’t? The answer isn’t clear, given what researchers know—and don’t know—about the disease. And even experts aren’t united in their responses. “This is not black and white,” says Ben Lopman, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “We're trying right now to increase social distancing to slow down transmission of this infection. But that doesn't mean no human contact for the foreseeable future. It means us all taking sensible steps and doing our part to reduce the amount of interactions we have.” “This is not black and white.” Ben Lopman, infectious disease epidemiologist, Emory University Go to the grocery store, Lopman says, but maybe take one big trip rather than three smaller ones. Other experts suggest staying about six feet away from other people, if you can. If the person in front of you keeps coughing, maybe choose another line. To some degree, the sorts of things you should be doing right now depend on who you are. Are you someone at higher risk, like over age 60, or someone with a chronic medical condition like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease? Do you often come into contact with someone with those conditions? Are you exhibiting any Covid-19 symptoms, like fever, cough, or shortness of breath? Have you been in contact with anyone who has? Check any of those boxes, and you might want to be more careful about where you go and who you interact with. But “if you feel pretty sure that those answers to those questions are ‘no,’ you can get together [with others with similar answers] and play board games,” says Katie Colborn, a biostatistician and assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “We all have to make contacts with people while we live our lives, what we should aim to do is to limit them, and certainly not to add more,” says William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. “This may seem silly if your community is not yet reporting infections, but it is best to get used to thinking this way.” From a mathematical perspective, determining how big a crowd is safe depends on a couple of key questions: How many people in a given area are infected with the disease? And how big is the event? If you know those things, you can estimate the probability of someone getting infected at the event. An elegant “Covid-19 Event Risk Assessment Planner” by the Georgia Tech quantitative biologist Joshua Weitz makes the following calculation: If, say, 20,000 cases of infection are actively circulating the US (far more than are known so far), and you host a dinner party for 10 folks, there’s a 0.061 percent chance that an attendee will be infected. But if you attend a 10,000-person hockey match, there’s a 45 percent chance. Hence the suspension of the NHL season, along with the NBA, March Madness, and Major League Baseball. Unlike in a flu epidemic, there’s no underlying immunity in the population, meaning if you come in contact with the fluids of an infected person, you’re likely to get sick. In light of these sorts of calculations, and the fact that the virus seems to be spreading throughout a number of American communities, “it makes sense to do things like cancel mass gatherings and schools,” says Lopman. Public health experts like social distancing for three reasons. For one, it likely “flattens the curve,” or decreases the number of infections at one time, or even overall. That helps prevent overloading the health care system, with its limited number of doctors, nurses, beds, and equipment like ventilators. Also, it buys time for a vaccine to be developed, says Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and the former assistant director of the Houston Health Department. (Officials hope to have a coronavirus vaccine available in 12 to 20 months.) “We all have to make contacts with people while we live our lives." William Hanage, epidemiology professor, Harvard Data from China and South Korea have given researchers a general sense of the severity of the disease: It seems, right now, that 3.4 percent of known Covid-19 infections result in death. But that number isn’t for sure. And researchers still don’t know how contagious the disease is—that is, how many other people a single infected person may infect. And they don’t know how many cases there are in the US, because testing in most of the country has been slow to ramp up. All those unknown variables mean that everything at this point is a guesstimate. When public officials set cut offs for mass gatherings—500, or 250, or 150 people—they’re deciding how risk averse they are, and balancing economic and social concerns. “There’s a lot of other consequences of canceling gatherings, and you have to weigh those. Workers need to work to pay their rent and not go homeless, because that might create a worse public health situation,” says Troisi, the epidemiologist and former public health official. Troisi is making her own personal tradeoffs. “We are going, hell or high water, to St. Louis next week because we haven't seen those grandbabies in a long time,” she says. She and her husband plan to take an airplane from their home in Houston. She notes that, yes, they are both over 60, and therefore at higher risk. No, she will not travel if she comes down with a fever. Stay tuned for the invite to my cousin’s rescheduled bar mitzvah. Like many plans right now, his are up in the air. Source: The Elegant Mathematics of Social Distancing (Wired)
  5. As US fumbles COVID-19 testing, WHO warns social distancing is not enough The US is still struggling to ramp up testing as disease continues to spread. Enlarge / WESTMINSTER, MD - MARCH 16, 2020: Dawn Canova, clinical manager for outpatient wound care at Carroll Hospital, takes samples from people to test them for the coronavirus at a drive-thru station in the hospital's parking garage. Not open to the general public for testing, the station was set up to take samples from people who had spoken with their doctors and received explicit direction to get a test for the novel coronavirus called COVID-19. Chip Somodevilla 261 with 143 posters participating As the United States continues to struggle to ramp up basic testing for COVID-19, experts at the World Health Organization on Monday emphasized that countries should prioritize such testing—and that social-distancing measures are not enough. “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (aka Dr. Tedros) said in a press briefing March 16. Dr. Tedros noted that, as the numbers of cases and deaths outside of China have quickly risen, many countries—including the US—have urgently adopted so-called social-distancing measures, such as shuttering schools, canceling events, and having people work from home. While these measures can slow transmission and allow health care systems to better cope, they are “not enough to extinguish this pandemic,” Dr. Tedros warned. What’s needed is a comprehensive approach, he said. “But we have not seen an urgent-enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response,” Dr. Tedros said. “The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission,” he went on. “And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected.” Unnecessary The message was a sharp one for the United States, which has struggled to ramp up its testing capacity. While other countries have performed hundreds of thousands of tests since the outbreak mushroomed out of China’s Hubei Province in January, some estimates suggest that the US has tested a mere 38,000 people or so—a majority in just the last couple of weeks. By contrast, South Korea has been testing nearly 20,000 people every day. In a series of press conferences in recent days, members of the Trump administration’s Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, have announced plans to dramatically increase the country’s testing capacity, including partnerships with private companies. The officials have suggested that the country will soon be able to tests tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people per week. But confidence in the plans have been shaken by clumsy descriptions and overstatements. That includes an announcement Friday by President Trump that Google was developing a website that would allow people nationwide to determine if they should get tested and help them set up testing at a local lab. The announcement reportedly took Google by surprise. Its sister company, Verily, has since released such a site, but it only serves people in California’s Bay Area and, so far, doesn’t provide any useful information or services. Additionally, while experts at the WHO recommend thorough testing of suspected cases and contacts to get ahead of transmission, the Trump administration has so far emphasized mainly testing people with noticeable symptoms who largely self-identify as candidates for being tested. Officials also said testing would be prioritized for health care workers and those 65 years and older who had symptoms. “We don’t want everybody taking this test. It’s totally unnecessary,” President Trump said in a press briefing Friday. So far, the US has detected over 4,200 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia. This number is expected to be far lower than the actual number of cases due to the delayed and limited testing. There have been 74 reported deaths in the US. Worldwide, there are over 181,000 cases in at least 148 countries. More than 7,000 people have died. Read our comprehensive 8,000 word explainer about the novel coronavirus. Source: As US fumbles COVID-19 testing, WHO warns social distancing is not enough (Ars Technica)
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