Category Archives: good news

Good News Monday: Boredom Buster

Guess who else is bored with COVID-19? Penguins!

It seems they’d been extra fidgety over at the Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, England until a donor came up with an ingenious solution: a bubble maker.

No mere entertainment, the CPC (chief penguin caretaker) explained that the bubbles also keep the penguins’ predatory reflexes sharp.

One wonders… could there be a tie-in between champagne and aggression in humans? Is this why some wedding celebrations turn into drunken brawls?

Anyway, the article and video are seriously cute.

cold nature cute ice

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Why Masks Work

Yes, it’s Tuesday. But, honestly, who can tell the difference between one day and the next?

This, from the Los Angeles Times, is interesting.  On the off chance that the link doesn’t work — because, mostly, they don’t since they want you to subscribe instead of reading for free — I’m pasting it here.

You’ll get the gist even if you don’t read the whole thing. (What’s a “gist”? Glad you asked. Extensive research indicates “early 18th century: from Old French, third person singular present tense of gesir ‘to lie’, from Latin jacere . The Anglo-French legal phrase c’est action gist [‘this action lies’ , e.g. occurs] denoted that there were sufficient grounds to proceed; gist was adopted into English denoting the grounds themselves.”  Now you know.

Masks offer much more protection against coronavirus than many think

RONG-GONG LIN II, MAURA DOLAN

There’s a common refrain that masks don’t protect you; they protect other people from your own germs, which is especially important to keep unknowingly infected people from spreading the coronavirus.

But now, there’s mounting evidence that masks also protect you.

If you’re unlucky enough to encounter an infectious person, wearing any kind of face covering will reduce the amount of virus that your body will take in.

As it turns out, that’s pretty important. Breathing in a small amount of virus may lead to no disease or far more mild infection. But inhaling a huge volume of virus particles can result in serious disease or death.

That’s the argument Dr. Monica Gandhi, UC San Francisco professor of medicine and medical director of the HIV Clinic at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, is making about why — if you are unlucky to get infected with the virus — masking can still protect you from more severe disease.

“There is this theory that facial masking reduces the [amount of virus you get exposed to] and disease severity,” said Gandhi, who is also director for the Center for AIDS Research at UC San Francisco.

The idea of requiring mask-wearing in public has become an increasingly pressing and politicized issue as California and the rest of the nation see a surge in new cases as the economy reopens.

California this week ordered a reclosure of many businesses, include a statewide halting of all indoor dining and a closure of bars. The state also ordered a closing down — in dozens of hard-hit counties, including L.A. County — of indoor gyms, houses of worship, hair salons, nail salons and offices for nonessential industries.

But experts say masks are essential for people to wear when they still go out in public, such as to shop or go to medical appointments, and to get exercise like heading to the beach or park.

California has mandated face coverings in public settings since June 18, and a growing number of communities said they will ticket people who disobey the rules. But there remains some resistance to the government mandating wearing masks in some corners of the state, including Orange County.

Some leaders in Orange County have pushed back against requiring students to wear masks should they return to classrooms in the fall.

In policy recommendations approved by the Orange County Board of Education on Monday, a document stated that “requiring children to wear masks during school is not only difficult — if not impossible to implement — but [is] not based on science. It may even be harmful.” Individual districts will have the final say on how schools open.

Some health experts were appalled by that language.

“This anti-mask rhetoric is mind-blowing, dangerous, deadly and polarizing,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Francisco. “There is no evidence that it is dangerous.”

In fact, wearing masks can help prevent children from being infected and suffering serious consequences of infection, such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare condition that has been seen in children who have been infected with the coronavirus. “Kids not only transmit, but they can get sick as well,” Chin-Hong said.

While children are less likely to develop severe illness from the coronavirus than adults, they can still be infected, be contagious and transmit the virus to other people, Gandhi said.

Wearing a mask at school would not only reduce their ability to transmit the virus to other classmates, teachers and administrators, but also protect the students from getting infected with a large dose of virus from infected people.

Transmission rates for coronavirus have been rising across the state. Nearly 1,000 of San Francisco’s nearly 4,600 cases have been diagnosed in just the last two weeks, said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city’s director of public health.

In San Francisco, nearly half of all those who have tested positive in the city are Latinos, he said, even though Latino residents make up just 15% of the city’s population. Overall, the city has seen 7.8 new infections per 100,000 residents over the last seven days, far above its goal of no more than 1.8 new infections per 100,000 people.

“This, again, indicates that the virus is spreading throughout the city, particularly … in the southeast part of the city,” Colfax said.

For every one person who contracts the virus, another 1.25 people on average are now infected, he said. “We really need to drive that down to 1 or below as quickly and as soon as possible.”

The transmission rate also rose above 1 in L.A. County in June, but has fallen back to 1. “The virus currently rages on in our community,” Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said.

The reason why masks are so important in controlling the spread of the coronavirus is that it can be widely spread by people who are not visibly sick — either because they haven’t yet shown signs of illness, or they will spend the entire course of their infections with little or no symptoms at all.

A key piece of evidence for this emerged earlier this year, on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that carried infected crew and passengers in Asia. A study published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of 712 people testing positive for the virus, nearly half were asymptomatic at the time of testing.

“We also know that viral load is highest early during disease,” said Dr. Chaz Langelier, an assistant professor at UC San Francisco, during the panel discussion. In fact, 44% of transmissions are believed to occur when the infected person has no symptoms, according to a study published in Nature Medicine.

That’s different from the seasonal flu, where peak infectiousness occurs about one day after the onset of symptoms, Langelier said.

Masks don’t filter out all viral particles, Gandhi said. But even cloth face masks filter out a majority of viral particles.

And even if a person wearing a mask gets infected, the mask — by filtering out most of the viral particles exhaled by the infected person — probably leads to less severe disease, Gandhi said.

The idea that a lower dose of virus when being infected brings less illness is a well-worn idea in medicine.

Even going back to 1938, there was a study showing that by giving mice a higher dose of a deadly virus, the mice are more likely to get severe disease and die, Gandhi said.

The same principle applies to humans. A study published in 2015 gave healthy volunteers varying doses of a flu virus; those who got higher doses got sicker, with more coughing and shortness of breath, Gandhi said.

And another study suggested that the reason why the second wave of the 1918-19 flu pandemic was the deadliest in the U.S. was because of the overcrowded conditions faced in army camps as World War I wound down.

Finally, a study published in May found that surgical mask partitions significantly reduced the transmission of the coronavirus among hamsters. And even if the hamsters protected by the mask partitions acquired the coronavirus, “they were more likely to get very mild disease,” Gandhi said.

So what happens if a city dramatically masks up while in public?

If Gandhi is right, it may mean that even if there’s a rise in coronavirus infections in a city, the masks may limit the dose people are getting of the virus and result in them more likely to show less severe symptoms of illness.

That’s what Gandhi said she suspects is happening in San Francisco, where mask wearing is relatively robust. Further observations are needed, Gandhi said.

There’s more evidence that masks can be protective — even when wearers do become infected. She cited an outbreak at a seafood plant in Oregon where employees were given masks, and 95% of those who were infected were asymptomatic.

Gandhi also cited the experience of a cruise ship that was traveling from Argentina to Antartica in March when the coronavirus infected people on board, as documented in a recent study. Passengers got surgical masks; the crew got N95 masks.

But instead of about 40% of those infected being asymptomatic — which is what would normally be expected — 81% of those testing positive were asymptomatic, and the masking may have helped reduce the severity of disease in people on board, Gandhi said.

The protective effects are also seen in countries where masks are universally accepted for years, such as Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea and Singapore. “They have all seen cases as they opened … but not deaths,” Gandhi said.

The Czech Republic moved early to require masks, issuing an order in mid-March, Gandhi said; that’s about three months before Gov. Gavin Newsom did so statewide in California. But in the Czech Republic, “every time their cases would go up …their death rate was totally flat. So they didn’t get the severe illness with these cases going on.”

By May, the Czech Republic lifted its face mask rule. “And they’re doing great,” Gandhi said.

End of article, back to me.  If it’s good enough for hamsters, I’m definitely wearing a mask.
hamster

Photo by Juris Freidenfelds on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Bad and Good Women Get What They Deserve

First up, breaking news: Amy Cooper, the white woman in Central Park who called the police on a Black bird watcher, will be charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Ms. Cooper will be arraigned in October.  If convicted — which seems likely since the incident was captured on video and went viral — she could be given a conditional discharge or sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time. (Counseling seems like an excellent idea, regardless of any other punishment.)

On Memorial Day, Ms. Cooper who’d been walking with her dog, encountered Christian Cooper (no relation), a Harvard graduate and bird watching enthusiast, in the Ramble, a semi-wild part of the park where dogs must be leashed.

Mr. Cooper said that he asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog, and when she refused, he attempted to lure the dog with treats, hoping to compel her to restrain her pet. (Pet owners don’t like strangers to offer treats and usually leash their dogs to avoid this.) The encounter then got ugly when Ms. Cooper decided to call 911 and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life.

That’s the Bad Women part of this report. Now, let’s celebrate more illustrious women.

On a more positive note, this year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the long-overdue right to vote. In honor, The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently crowdsourcing locations where women made history.

Savingplaces.org directs visitors to a number of distinctive destinations, including the house where Susan B. Anthony was arrested for voting in 1872, the First Ladies’ Museum, Frederick Douglass’ D.C. home, which Helen Douglass and the National League of Colored Women worked to save, the first secondary school for women, the home where the initial Girl Scouts meeting was held, and many others. They’re hoping to receive hundreds of suggestions.

[pixabay.com]

Good News Monday: Plastic Fantastic

These amazing artworks, created from the tons of plastic that wash up on local beaches, are exhibited at the Oregon Zoo, The Smithsonian, and other locations to call attention to pollution and its effect on marine life. I imagine the schedule is changing due to coronavirus, but this is something I can’t wait to see!

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea

What Is Washed Ashore?

Roughly 300 million pounds of plastic is produced globally every year—but less than 10 percent is recycled. As a result, millions of pounds of plastic end up in our oceans.

Washed Ashore takes on the global marine debris crisis by turning plastic waste into beautiful, thought-provoking works of art. With the aim to educate viewers on the state of plastic pollution in our oceans, Washed Ashore features larger-than-life sea creatures made entirely of discarded, washed-up plastic waste.

Washed Ashore founder and director Angela Haseltine Pozzi began the project in 2010, collecting accumulated plastic along the Oregon coast. With the help of a small staff and thousands of volunteers, Pozzi has since processed around 18 tons of plastic and transformed it into powerful art with an important message.

Washed Ashore will be on display at the Oregon Zoo beginning in late January. Come view these spectacular sea creatures for yourself, and discover the reality of the “deadliest ocean predator”—plastic pollution.

Reducing plastic pollution

The rise of plastic pollution has created a global plastic waste crisis, and our oceans are feeling the effects. Plastic pollution is a threat that continues to grow, and impacts the health of both marine and land-based wildlife, as well as our ecosystems and humans. The Oregon Zoo believes that reducing sources of plastic pollution is an essential aspect of protecting the health of both wildlife and people, and the ecosystems we all depend on.

Reducing plastic pollution is only achievable through a combined effort on the part of consumers, business and governments. To learn more about what the Oregon Zoo and the city of Portland have done to reduce plastic waste and consumption, and see actions that you can take to help, click here.

 

Good News Monday: A Step Towards Equality

Truly happy to report an important step towards recognizing that being able to live one’s life is a human right.

Today, the US Supreme Court ruled that a landmark civil rights law from 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.

It’s about freakin’ time!

no labels written on a piece of paper

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: COVID-19 is Killing the Drug Trade

The coronavirus pandemic has crippled cities and crushed businesses from coast to coast.  It’s also costing drug traffickers millions, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News, because their methods of moving money have been compromised.

Since the start of the crisis, federal drug agents in major U.S. hubs have seized substantially more illicit cash than usual amid statewide lockdowns that have disrupted the way cartels do business, the officials said.

“Their activities are a lot more apparent than they were three months ago,” said Bill Bodner, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Los Angeles field office.

Bodner said California’s stay-at-home order has made it more difficult for traffickers to launder money and move around the city unseen.

“When there’s less hay in the haystack, it’s easier to find the needle,” he added. “It’s caused the drug cartels and money launderers to take more risks, and that’s where we can capitalize.”

Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.
Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.DEA

From March 1 to May 8, seizures of cash in the greater Los Angeles area have more than doubled from $4.5 million last year to $10 million during the same period this year. Bodner said that includes four separate seizures of more than $1 million in Long Beach, Cerritos, Anaheim, and Wildomar.

DEA agents operating on the East Coast have seen similar success.

The New York City field division’s cash seizures are up 180 percent since last year, said special agent in charge Ray Donovan, with the bulk of them coming in the last couple of months.

“It’s really around April, where we started saying, ‘Hey, we’re having a lot more success in this area,’” Donovan said.

When moving product along the West Coast, Mexican cartels use manufacturing businesses as de facto banks that help to launder the drug proceeds and funnel the money back across the southern border

But in New York, the cartels typically rely on “international Asian criminal organizations” to clean their cash, Donovan said. These cartel associates will buy American goods with drug money and ship them back to China. In return, the criminal gangs that receive the products will then send money back to the cartels in Mexico — often through bank wires, which are more difficult to track from China.

But the city’s lockdown has deprived the traffickers of using the first link in their sophisticated operation.

“With all the stores and shops closed down here, they don’t have that as one of the means to quickly launder money,” Donovan said.

As a result, the cartel’s cash has been piling up, Donovan said, resulting in larger seizures.

Pre-pandemic busts would often net cash hauls in the neighborhood of $100,000. Now, with the cartel’s laundering methods disrupted, New York DEA agents have been recovering piles of cash exceeding $1 million, Donovan said.

“More money is being stockpiled here,” he added. “So when we come across them, instead of seizing $100,000, we seize $1 million or several million dollars.”

The recent busts haven’t been confined to stacks of cash. Along the northern border, federal officers have confiscated large quantities of drugs over the past few months.

From March 21 to May 16, border patrol officers working out of the Detroit field office have seized 2,856 pounds of marijuana, 87 pounds of cocaine, 12 pounds of fentanyl and 12 guns.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick,” said Kris Grogan, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Detroit.

Image: Drugs seized at Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Mich., on April 17, 2020.
Drugs seized at Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Mich., on April 17, 2020.U.S. Customs and Border Protection

DEA agents in Michigan and Ohio have hauled in $6 million in drug money since March 16, officials said. That amount is not unusually high, but there’s been a marked increase in the amount of cash seized at airports.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Keith Martin, special agent in charge of the DEA’s Detroit field office. “Which is not normal.”

Unlike New York and Los Angeles, the drug money made in Michigan and Ohio is moved the old-fashioned way — by driving it across the southern border.

Martin said it’s too early to draw a firm conclusion on what’s fueling the spike in cash seizures at airports, but a drop in car traffic because of statewide lockdowns is likely a contributing factor.

“They don’t want to be that one vehicle out in the road that gets pulled over,” Martin said. “When there’s not a lot of border traffic, you’re singled out easier than if there were a thousand cars.”

Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.
Part of a $1 million seizure in the Los Angeles area.DEA

While COVID-19 is already reshaping parts of the global economy, the impact on the drug cartels’ overall business remains yet to be determined, the officials said.

The coronavirus is also affecting drug prices. The price of methamphetamine has skyrocketed in California, according to Bodner, rising from about $1,000 a pound in November to upward of $2,000 a pound. He said that’s due in part to the economic disruptions and difficulties in importing chemicals from China and India, as well as the closure of the southern border to nonessential travel.

In New York, the price of marijuana is up 55 percent, according to Donovan, in part because of the increased risk of getting it into the country. Cocaine is up 12 percent, and heroin 7 percent, he said.

The virus has also changed the way law enforcement operates. One example: fewer DEA agents in the office, and more out in the streets.

“We’re practicing social distancing,” said Martin, the Detroit agent. “But the pandemic has not kept us from doing our job.”

Federal agents are also out in the streets en masse in Los Angeles and New York.

“I asked all my agents to stay in the street and just work in the street,” Donovan said. “We are there for our community, and ultimately, we’re doing a pretty damn good job.”

By Andrew Blankstein, Tom Winter, and Rich Schapiro, NBC News 5.24.2020

Really Good News Monday: Hope on the Horizon?

The first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to be safe and able to stimulate an immune response against the virus, its manufacturer, Moderna, announced on Monday.

The findings are based on results from the first eight people who each received two doses of the vaccine, starting in March.

Those people, healthy volunteers, made antibodies that were then tested in human cells in the lab, and were able to stop the virus from replicating — the key requirement for an effective vaccine. The levels of those so-called neutralizing antibodies matched the levels found in patients who had recovered after contracting the virus in the community.

The company has said that it is proceeding on an accelerated timetable, with the next phase involving 600 people to begin soon. But U.S. government officials have warned that producing a vaccine that would be widely available could take a year to 18 months. There is no proven treatment or vaccine against the coronavirus at this time.

Good News Monday: An Expert Speaks

With so much misinformation out there, it’s useful to listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about. (Hint: Not politicians.)  While the below article is sobering, it does explain how we can avoid catching the virus.  And that’s good news.

[Reprinted from today’s New York Times]

Updated: 7 hours ago

The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them

It seems many people are breathing some relief, and I’m not sure why. An epidemic curve has a relatively predictable upslope and once the peak is reached, the back slope can also be predicted. We have robust data from the outbreaks in China and Italy, that shows the backside of the mortality curve declines slowly, with deaths persisting for months. Assuming we have just crested in deaths at 70k, it is possible that we lose another 70,000 people over the next 6 weeks as we come off that peak. That’s what’s going to happen with a lockdown.

As states reopen, and we give the virus more fuel, all bets are off. I understand the reasons for reopening the economy, but I’ve said before, if you don’t solve the biology, the economy won’t recover.

There are very few states that have demonstrated a sustained decline in numbers of new infections. Indeed, the majority are still increasing and reopening. As a simple example of the USA trend, when you take out the data from New York and just look at the rest of the USA, daily case numbers are increasing. Bottom line: the only reason the total USA new case numbers look flat right now is because the New York City epidemic was so large and now it is being contained.

So throughout most of the country we are going to add fuel to the viral fire by reopening. It’s going to happen if I like it or not, so my goal here is to try to guide you away from situations of high risk.

Where are people getting sick?

We know most people get infected in their own home. A household member contracts the virus in the community and brings it into the house where sustained contact between household members leads to infection.

But where are people contracting the infection in the community? I regularly hear people worrying about grocery stores, bike rides, inconsiderate runners who are not wearing masks…. are these places of concern? Well, not really. Let me explain.

In order to get infected you need to get exposed to an infectious dose of the virus; based on infectious dose studies with MERS and SARS, some estimate that as few as 1000 SARS-CoV2 viral particles are needed for an infection to take hold. Please note, this still needs to be determined experimentally, but we can use that number to demonstrate how infection can occur. Infection could occur, through 1000 viral particles you receive in one breath or from one eye-rub, or 100 viral particles inhaled with each breath over 10 breaths, or 10 viral particles with 100 breaths. Each of these situations can lead to an infection.

How much Virus is released into the environment?

A Bathroom: Bathrooms have a lot of high touch surfaces, door handles, faucets, stall doors. So fomite transfer risk in this environment can be high. We still do not know whether a person releases infectious material in feces or just fragmented virus, but we do know that toilet flushing does aerosolize many droplets. Treat public bathrooms with extra caution (surface and air), until we know more about the risk.

A Cough: A single cough releases about 3,000 droplets and droplets travels at 50 miles per hour. Most droplets are large, and fall quickly (gravity), but many do stay in the air and can travel across a room in a few seconds.

A Sneeze: A single sneeze releases about 30,000 droplets, with droplets traveling at up to 200 miles per hour. Most droplets are small and travel great distances (easily across a room).

If a person is infected, the droplets in a single cough or sneeze may contain as many as 200,000,000 (two hundred million) virus particles which can all be dispersed into the environment around them.

A breath: A single breath releases 50 – 5000 droplets. Most of these droplets are low velocity and fall to the ground quickly. There are even fewer droplets released through nose-breathing. Importantly, due to the lack of exhalation force with a breath, viral particles from the lower respiratory areas are not expelled.

Unlike sneezing and coughing which release huge amounts of viral material, the respiratory droplets released from breathing only contain low levels of virus. We don’t have a number for SARS-CoV2 yet, but we can use influenza as a guide. We know that a person infected with influenza releases about 3 – 20 virus RNA copies per minute of breathing.

Remember the formulae: Successful Infection = Exposure to Virus x Time

If a person coughs or sneezes, those 200,000,000 viral particles go everywhere. Some virus hangs in the air, some falls into surfaces, most falls to the ground. So if you are face-to-face with a person, having a conversation, and that person sneezes or coughs straight at you, it’s pretty easy to see how it is possible to inhale 1,000 virus particles and become infected.

But even if that cough or sneeze was not directed at you, some infected droplets–the smallest of small–can hang in the air for a few minutes, filling every corner of a modest sized room with infectious viral particles. All you have to do is enter that room within a few minutes of the cough/sneeze and take a few breaths and you have potentially received enough virus to establish an infection.

But with general breathing, 20 copies per minute into the environment, even if every virus ended up in your lungs, you would need 1000 copies divided by 20 copies per minute = 50 minutes.

Speaking increases the release of respiratory droplets about 10 fold; ~200 copies of virus per minute. Again, assuming every virus is inhaled, it would take ~5 minutes of speaking face-to-face to receive the required dose.

The exposure to virus x time formulae is the basis of contact tracing. Anyone you spend greater than 10 minutes with in a face-to-face situation is potentially infected. Anyone who shares a space with you (say an office) for an extended period is potentially infected. This is also why it is critical for people who are symptomatic to stay home. Your sneezes and your coughs expel so much virus that you can infect a whole room of people.

What is the role of asymptomatic people in spreading the virus?

Symptomatic people are not the only way the virus is shed. We know that at least 44% of all infections–and the majority of community-acquired transmissions–occur from people without any symptoms (asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic people). You can be shedding the virus into the environment for up to 5 days before symptoms begin.

Infectious people come in all ages, and they all shed different amounts of virus. The figure below shows that no matter your age (x-axis), you can have a little bit of virus or a lot of virus (y-axis). (ref)

The amount of virus released from an infected person changes over the course of infection and it is also different from person-to-person. Viral load generally builds up to the point where the person becomes symptomatic. So just prior to symptoms showing, you are releasing the most virus into the environment. Interestingly, the data shows that just 20% of infected people are responsible for 99% of viral load that could potentially be released into the environment (ref)

So now let’s get to the crux of it. Where are the personal dangers from reopening?

When you think of outbreak clusters, what are the big ones that come to mind? Most people would go to the cruise ships. But you would be wrong. Ship outbreaks don’t even land in the top 50 outbreaks to date.

Ignoring the terrible outbreaks in nursing homes, we find that the biggest outbreaks are in prisons, religious ceremonies, and workplaces, such a meat packing facilities and call centers. Any environment that is enclosed, with poor air circulation and high density of people, spells trouble.

Some of the biggest super-spreading events are:

  • Meat packing: In meat processing plants, densely packed workers must communicate to one another amidst the deafening drum of industrial machinery and a cold-room virus-preserving environment. There are now outbreaks in 115 facilities across 23 states, 5000+ workers infected, with 20 dead. (ref)

  • Weddings, funerals, birthdays: 10% of early spreading events

  • Business networking: Face-to-face business networking like the Biogen Conference in Boston in March.

As we move back to work, or go to a restaurant, let’s look at what can happen in those environments.

Restaurants: Some really great shoe-leather epidemiology demonstrated clearly the effect of a single asymptomatic carrier in a restaurant environment (see below). The infected person (A1) sat at a table and had dinner with 9 friends. Dinner took about 1 to 1.5 hours. During this meal, the asymptomatic carrier released low-levels of virus into the air from their breathing. Airflow (from the restaurant’s various airflow vents) was from right to left. Approximately 50% of the people at the infected person’s table became sick over the next 7 days. 75% of the people on the adjacent downwind table became infected. And even 2 of the 7 people on the upwind table were infected (believed to happen by turbulent airflow). No one at tables E or F became infected, they were out of the main airflow from the air conditioner on the right to the exhaust fan on the left of the room. (Ref)

Workplaces: Another great example is the outbreak in a call center (see below). A single infected employee came to work on the 11th floor of a building. That floor had 216 employees. Over the period of a week, 94 of those people become infected (43.5%: the blue chairs). 92 of those 94 people became sick (only 2 remained asymptomatic). Notice how one side of the office is primarily infected, while there are very few people infected on the other side. While exact number of people infected by respiratory droplets / respiratory exposure versus fomite transmission (door handles, shared water coolers, elevator buttons etc) is unknown. It serves to highlight that being in an enclosed space, sharing the same air for a prolonged period increases your chances of exposure and infection. Another 3 people on other floors of the building were infected, but the authors were not able to trace the infection to the primary cluster on the 11th floor. Interestingly, even though there were considerable interaction between workers on different floors of the building in elevators and the lobby, the outbreak was mostly limited to a single floor (ref). This highlights the importance of exposure and time in the spreading of SARS-CoV2.

Choir: The church choir in Washington State. Even though people were aware of the virus and took steps to minimize transfer; e.g. they avoided the usual handshakes and hugs hello, people also brought their own music to avoid sharing, and socially distanced themselves during practice. A single asymptomatic carrier infected most of the people in attendance. The choir sang for 2 1/2 hours, inside an enclosed church which was roughly the size of a volleyball court.

Singing, to a greater degree than talking, aerosolizes respiratory droplets extraordinarily well. Deep-breathing while singing facilitated those respiratory droplets getting deep into the lungs. Two and half hours of exposure ensured that people were exposed to enough virus over a long enough period of time for infection to take place. Over a period of 4 days, 45 of the 60 choir members developed symptoms, 2 died. The youngest infected was 31, but they averaged 67 years old. (corrected link)

Indoor sports: While this may be uniquely Canadian, a super spreading event occurred during a curling event in Canada. A curling event with 72 attendees became another hotspot for transmission. Curling brings contestants and teammates in close contact in a cool indoor environment, with heavy breathing for an extended period. This tournament resulted in 24 of the 72 people becoming infected. (ref)

Birthday parties / funerals: Just to see how simple infection-chains can be, this is a real story from Chicago. The name is fake. Bob was infected but didn’t know. Bob shared a takeout meal, served from common serving dishes, with 2 family members. The dinner lasted 3 hours. The next day, Bob attended a funeral, hugging family members and others in attendance to express condolences. Within 4 days, both family members who shared the meal are sick. A third family member, who hugged Bob at the funeral became sick. But Bob wasn’t done. Bob attended a birthday party with 9 other people. They hugged and shared food at the 3 hour party. Seven of those people became ill. Over the next few days Bob became sick, he was hospitalized, ventilated, and died.

But Bob’s legacy lived on. Three of the people Bob infected at the birthday went to church, where they sang, passed the tithing dish etc. Members of that church became sick. In all, Bob was directly responsible for infecting 16 people between the ages of 5 and 86. Three of those 16 died.

The spread of the virus within the household and back out into the community through funerals, birthdays, and church gatherings is believed to be responsible for the broader transmission of COVID-19 in Chicago. (ref)

Sobering right?

Commonality of outbreaks

The reason to highlight these different outbreaks is to show you the commonality of outbreaks of COVID-19. All these infection events were indoors, with people closely-spaced, with lots of talking, singing, or yelling. The main sources for infection are home, workplace, public transport, social gatherings, and restaurants. This accounts for 90% of all transmission events. In contrast, outbreaks spread from shopping appear to be responsible for a small percentage of traced infections. (Ref)

Importantly, of the countries performing contact tracing properly, only a single outbreak has been reported from an outdoor environment (less than 0.3% of traced infections). (ref)

So back to the original thought of my post.

Indoor spaces, with limited air exchange or recycled air and lots of people, are concerning from a transmission standpoint. We know that 60 people in a volleyball court-sized room (choir) results in massive infections. Same situation with the restaurant and the call center. Social distancing guidelines don’t hold in indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time, as people on the opposite side of the room were infected.

The principle is viral exposure over an extended period of time. In all these cases, people were exposed to the virus in the air for a prolonged period (hours). Even if they were 50 feet away (choir or call center), even a low dose of the virus in the air reaching them, over a sustained period, was enough to cause infection and in some cases, death.

Social distancing rules are really to protect you with brief exposures or outdoor exposures. In these situations there is not enough time to achieve the infectious viral load when you are standing 6 feet apart or where wind and the infinite outdoor space for viral dilution reduces viral load. The effects of sunlight, heat, and humidity on viral survival, all serve to minimize the risk to everyone when outside.

When assessing the risk of infection (via respiration) at the grocery store or mall, you need to consider the volume of the air space (very large), the number of people (restricted), how long people are spending in the store (workers – all day; customers – an hour). Taken together, for a person shopping: the low density, high air volume of the store, along with the restricted time you spend in the store, means that the opportunity to receive an infectious dose is low. But, for the store worker, the extended time they spend in the store provides a greater opportunity to receive the infectious dose and therefore the job becomes more risky.

Basically, as the work closures are loosened, and we start to venture out more, possibly even resuming in-office activities, you need to look at your environment and make judgments. How many people are here, how much airflow is there around me, and how long will I be in this environment. If you are in an open floorplan office, you really need critically assess the risk (volume, people, and airflow). If you are in a job that requires face-to-face talking or even worse, yelling, you need to assess the risk.

If you are sitting in a well ventilated space, with few people, the risk is low.

If I am outside, and I walk past someone, remember it is “dose and time” needed for infection. You would have to be in their airstream for 5+ minutes for a chance of infection. While joggers may be releasing more virus due to deep breathing, remember the exposure time is also less due to their speed.

While I have focused on respiratory exposure here, please don’t forget surfaces. Those infected respiratory droplets land somewhere. Wash your hands often and stop touching your face!

As we are allowed to move around our communities more freely and be in contact with more people in more places more regularly, the risks to ourselves and our family are significant. Even if you are gung-ho for reopening and resuming business as usual, do your part and wear a mask to reduce what you release into the environment. It will help everyone, including your own business.

This article was inspired by a piece written by Jonathan Kay in Quillete:

COVID-19 Superspreader Events in 28 Countries: Critical Patterns and Lessons

About the author

Erin S. Bromage, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Dr. Bromage graduated from the School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences James Cook University, Australia where his research focused on the epidemiology of, and immunity to, infectious disease in animals. His Post-Doctoral training was at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science in the Comparative Immunology Laboratory of late Dr. Stephen Kaattari.

Dr. Bromage’s research focuses on the evolution of the immune system, the immunological mechanisms responsible for protection from infectious disease, and the design and use of vaccines to control infectious disease in animals. He also focuses on designing diagnostic tools to detect biological and chemical threats in the environment in real-time.

Dr. Bromage joined the Faculty of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2007 where he teaches courses in Immunology and Infectious disease, including a course this semester on the Ecology of Infectious Disease which focused on the emerging SARS-CoV2 outbreak in China.

Good News Monday: Full Speed Ahead

No time for an original post today, but want to share this encouraging article from my daily New York Times email briefing:

A running start for a vaccine at Oxford

Here’s promising news in the worldwide race to develop a vaccine to ward off the coronavirus. The Jenner Institute at Oxford University has one that seems to work in lab animals and is ready to test its effectiveness in humans, if regulators approve.

The institute had a big head start, our correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick reports. Its scientists had an approach that they already knew was safe: They had proved it in trials last year for a vaccine to fight MERS, a respiratory disease caused by a closely related virus.

That has enabled the institute to skip ahead and schedule tests of its new Covid-19 vaccine on more than 6,000 people by the end of May, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it works.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana got very good results when they tried out the Oxford vaccine last month on six rhesus macaque monkeys. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the coronavirus. After more than four weeks, all six were still healthy.

“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.

Immunity in monkeys doesn’t guarantee that a vaccine will protect people, but it’s an encouraging sign. If the May trials go well and regulators grant emergency approval, the Oxford scientists say they could have a few million doses of their vaccine available by September — months ahead of other vaccine projects.

“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” said Emilio Emini of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is helping to finance a number of competing efforts.

All in the genes: The Jenner Institute isn’t following the classic approach of using a weakened version of the disease pathogen. Instead, its approach starts with another familiar virus, neutralizes it and then genetically modifies it so that it will prompt the body to produce the right antibodies for Covid-19.

Researchers originally cooked up the technology in a quest to develop a vaccine for malaria, which is caused by a parasite. No luck there yet. But when the idea was borrowed to go after MERS, it worked well.

woman in blue tank top smiling

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Good News Monday/COVID-19: What NOT to Worry About

I found this reassuring.

[Reprinted from today’s New York Times] 

By 

When we asked readers to send their questions about coronavirus, a common theme emerged: Many people are fearful about tracking the virus into their homes on their clothes, their shoes, the mail and even the newspaper.

We reached out to infectious disease experts, aerosol scientists and microbiologists to answer reader questions about the risks of coming into contact with the virus during essential trips outside and from deliveries. While we still need to take precautions, their answers were reassuring.

For most of us who are practicing social distancing and making only occasional trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, experts agree that it’s not necessary to change clothes or take a shower when you return home. You should, however, always wash your hands. While it’s true that a sneeze or cough from an infected person can propel viral droplets and smaller particles through the air, most of them will drop to the ground.

Studies show that some small viral particles could float in the air for about half an hour, but they don’t swarm like gnats and are unlikely to collide with your clothes. “A droplet that is small enough to float in air for a while also is unlikely to deposit on clothing because of aerodynamics,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “The droplets are small enough that they’ll move in the air around your body and clothing.”

I asked Dr. Marr to explain further, since we’re all getting a mini lesson in aerodynamics.

“The best way to describe it is that they follow the streamlines, or air flow, around a person, because we move relatively slowly. It’s kind of like small insects and dust particles flowing in the streamlines around a car at slow speed but potentially slamming into the windshield if the car is going fast enough,” said Dr. Marr.

“Humans don’t usually move fast enough for this to happen,” Dr. Marr continued. “As we move, we push air out of the way, and most of the droplets and particles get pushed out of the way, too. Someone would have to spray large droplets through talking — a spit talker — coughing or sneezing for them to land on our clothes. The droplets have to be large enough that they don’t follow the streamlines.”

So, if you’re out shopping and somebody sneezes on you, you probably do want to go home, change and shower. But the rest of the time, take comfort that your slow-moving body is pushing air and viral particles away from your clothes, a result of simple physics.

For all the reasons outlined above, you should not be worried about viral contamination of your hair or beard if you are practicing social distancing. Even if someone sneezed on the back of your head, any droplets that landed on your hair would be an unlikely source of infection.

“You have to think through the process of what would have to happen for someone to become infected,” said Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “You have someone who sneezes, and they have to have X amount of virus in the sneeze. Then there has to be so many drops that land on you.”

The answer depends on whether you’re doing routine laundry or cleaning up after a sick person.

Routine laundry should not cause worry. Wash it as you normally would. While some types of viruses, like the norovirus, can be tough to clean, the new coronavirus, like the flu virus, is surrounded by a fatty membrane that is vulnerable to soap. Washing your clothes in regular laundry detergent, following the fabric instructions, followed by a stint in the dryer is more than enough to remove the virus — if it was even there in the first place.

“We do know that viruses can deposit on clothing (from droplets) and then be shaken loose into the air with movement, but you would need a lot of viruses for this to be a concern, far more than a typical person would encounter while going for a walk outdoors or going to a grocery store,” Dr. Marr said.

The exception is if you are in close contact with a sick person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you wear gloves when cleaning up after someone who is sick, and take care not to shake laundry and bedding. Use the warmest water setting possible and dry completely. You can mix laundry from an ill person with the rest of the household load. But just leaving laundry to sit for a while also reduces risk, because the virus will dry out and decay. “We know these types of viruses tend to decay faster on fabric than on hard, solid surfaces like steel or plastic,” said Dr. Marr.

Most of what we know about how long this novel coronavirus lives on surfaces comes from an important study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in March. The study found that the virus can survive, under ideal conditions, up to three days on hard metal surfaces and plastic and up to 24 hours on cardboard.

But the study did not look at fabric. Still, most virus experts believe that the cardboard research offers clues about how the virus probably behaves on fabric. The absorbent, natural fibers in the cardboard appeared to cause the virus to dry up more quickly than it does on hard surfaces. The fibers in fabric would be likely to produce a similar effect.

A 2005 study of the virus that causes SARS, another form of coronavirus, provides further reassurance. In that study, researchers tested increasingly large amounts of viral samples on paper and on a cotton gown. Depending on the concentration of the virus, it took five minutes, three hours or 24 hours for it to become inactive. “Even with a relatively high virus load in the droplet, rapid loss of infectivity was observed for paper and cotton material,” the researchers concluded.

The risk of getting sick from handling mail or packages is extremely low and, at this point, only theoretical. There are no documented cases of someone getting sick from opening a package or reading a newspaper.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. After handling mail or packages or reading the newspaper, dispose of the packaging and wash your hands. If you still feel especially anxious about it, take guidance from the New England Journal study and just let mail and packages sit for 24 hours before handling them.

Your chances of catching the virus when you go outdoors is extremely low, provided you’re keeping a safe distance from others.

“Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around,” said Lidia Morawska, professor and director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

“Firstly, any infectious droplets exhaled outside would be quickly diluted in outdoor air, so their concentrations would quickly become insignificant,” Dr. Morawska said. “In addition, the stability of the virus outside is significantly shorter than inside. So outside is not really a problem, unless if we are in a very crowded place — which is not allowed now anyway. It is safe to go for a walk and jog and not to worry about the virus in the air, and there is no need for an immediate washing of the clothes.”

Shoes can harbor bacteria and viruses, but that doesn’t mean they are a common source of infection. A 2008 study commissioned by Rockport Shoes found a lot of gross stuff, including fecal bacteria, on the soles of our shoes. A recent study from China found that among health care workers, half had coronavirus detected on their shoes, which is not unexpected since they worked in hospitals with infected patients.

So what should we do about our shoes? If your shoes are washable, you can launder them. Some readers asked about cleaning the soles of their shoes with a wipe. That is not recommended. Not only does it waste a good wipe (they are still in short supply), but it brings germs that would stay on the sole of your shoe or on the ground directly to your hands.

You can try not to think about what’s lurking on your shoes — or you can have a conversation with your family about becoming a shoe-free household. We covered the pros and cons of shoeless living in our article, “Should You Take Your Shoes Off at Home?” If you have a child who crawls or plays on the floor, a family member with allergies, or someone with a compromised immune system, a shoe-free home might be a good idea for general hygiene.

Dr. Janowski said shoes are not a big worry for contracting coronavirus, but it might make you squeamish if you think about where your shoes have been. “If you want to talk about bacteria, we know bacteria love to live on shoes,” Dr. Janowski said. “You never know what you stepped in.”