FRESNO, Calif. -- The fires sweeping across millions of acres in California aren't just incinerating trees and houses. They're also filling the lungs of California's children with smoke, with potentially grave effects over the course of their lives.The effect is not evenly felt. While California as a whole has seen a steady uptick in smoke days in recent years, counties in the state's Central Valley, which is already cursed with some of the most polluted air, were particularly hard-hit by wildfire smoke this year.So for a child, it matters where you live. It matters how much foul air you breathe in on days when there are no fires at all. It matters whether your family can afford an air purifier at home or whether they can whisk you away when ash rains down from the sky.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesDr. Kari Nadeau, a professor of medicine at Stanford who specializes in pediatric allergies and asthma, said she worried that the damage to children might last a very long time. It is well-established that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter pollution, the kind that comes out of the tailpipes of cars and trucks, increases the risk of asthma in children and compromises their immune systems.Her latest research suggests that exposure to wildfire smoke, which contains the same particulate pollution and more, is associated with genetic changes in children's immune cells. "It could," she said, "have irreversible consequences."Already, an estimated 7.6 million children are exposed to wildfire smoke every year in the United States, and with climate change making the American West hotter and drier, many more children stand to be at risk."This is a problem that's not going to go away," Nadeau said. "We are going to see these very extreme weather conditions, and we should be prepared."Fresno, Central Valley 'An impending sense of doom.' -- Patricio Gonzalez, 12Patricio, a seventh grader, lives with his parents and his two younger siblings in a neighborhood flanked by several busy roads, an airport and agricultural fields that fill the air with dust.Patricio has asthma. Even when there are no fires, there have been times when the air in California's Central Valley is so thick with pollutants that he wheezes and struggles for air or suffers from a rash of respiratory infections. The fires are an additional assault."Everything about this area screams bad air quality," Patricio said. "If you had a child with asthma or any person in your household with asthma and you wanted to move into this area, it's not a good idea. I don't recommend it."It's been a rough year. First, remote schooling because of the pandemic. Then a heat wave, with temperatures peaking past 100 degrees. Then, in mid-August, fires burning to the north and east, pouring smoke into the valley.Ash settled over every tree. The air smelled like charcoal. Patricio looked outside and told his mother, Gilda Zarate-Gonzalez, that he felt an "impending sense of doom."Even by mid-October, when the smoke had subsided enough for Zarate-Gonzalez to propose a family bike ride, it looked as if someone had taken a giant gray crayon and smeared it across the horizon.Fresno and its neighboring counties in the Central Valley rank first in the country for particulate matter pollution, according to the American Lung Association. Its childhood asthma rates are far higher than the statewide average. Several busy highways pass through Fresno. Dust and chemicals swirl up from the fields. Smoke gets stuck for long stretches of time until the winds can blow it westward to the Pacific.Fresno County has had more smoke days than any other county in the state this year, the culmination of a steady rise over the past 10 years, according to data collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and analyzed by Stanford researchers. Through mid-November, there were 152 days when at least some part of the county was blanketed in smoke. Bay Area counties had about half the number of smoke days.Fresno is 55% Latino; 18% of its population lives below the poverty line. San Francisco, by contrast, is largely white and Asian, with 10% of its population living below the poverty line.Zarate-Gonzalez's sister, Gabriela Zarate, who has had asthma since childhood, suffered much more this year. She fell ill with a respiratory infection in October, went in and out of emergency rooms when she had trouble breathing, and got tested twice for the coronavirus. (She tested negative both times.)Zarate, a waitress, cannot stay home. This month, she got called to work at a large banquet. "I couldn't believe it," Zarate-Gonzalez said. "Essential workers doing the only thing they can do to pay their bills, while risking their lives."Zarate-Gonzalez, who has a master's in public health and is now earning a doctorate, wants local officials to do more to cut the risks: reduce traffic, for instance, when wildfire smoke worsens air pollution, and improve the ventilation system in public school buildings.For now, it falls to her to adapt. She closes the windows of their two-bedroom house so outdoor air doesn't get in. She changes the air conditioner filter often. She has an air purifier that travels from room to room with Patricio. She would like to buy two more, but that will have to wait until they go on sale.It upsets her that, through no fault of his own, Patricio can't play outdoors when his siblings can. "We just show him we adore him and love him and that's the reason he can't go outside," she said. "When the air is that bad and we are adding the fires to it, it's not a good idea."San Francisco 'I got hives from nowhere. It started to get hard to breathe.' -- Robin Fletcher, 16One afternoon in August, a few days after a ring of lightning fires had turned the skies around San Francisco orange, Robin Fletcher, 16, took her dog for a walk.Within 10 minutes, her face turned red. Her arms broke out in hives, then her stomach. Her chest tightened. "It was stressful and scary, so I started crying," Robin said. "Not hyperventilating, but freaking out, kind of."Robin has had allergies since she was little, which also makes her prone to asthma. That afternoon, her inhaler didn't help, nor her EpiPen. Only steroids, administered in an emergency room, could temper her severe anaphylactic reaction.To this day, neither her family nor her doctors know what brought it on. Resin from a burning tree? Cars that had gone up in flames? Other chemicals? Wildfire pollution can contain toxic metals, petroleum products, plastics and carcinogens."That's what's so terrifying," her father, Arthur Fletcher, said. "It looked beautiful. But there's stuff out there, floating."Unlike the Central Valley, the air in the San Francisco Bay Area is gloriously clean for much of the year, and Robin can usually keep her asthma in check. She plays lacrosse and soccer. Her private school shuts down for a few days at a time when wildfire smoke is bad. She is in a clinical trial, supervised by Nadeau, to overcome her allergies.At home, too, she is well protected. Her mother is a doctor. Her father has installed an electrostatic air filter in the ventilation system, which cleans and humidifies the air as it circulates through the house. There's a stash of N-95 masks in the basement.And since the day of the anaphylactic attack, Robin has acquired two new tools: an air quality app on her phone and a tube-shaped device to check her lung capacity. She uses them both to assess whether it's safe to go outside."I know I can keep myself safe," Robin said, "but it's something on my mind."On Nadeau's mind is what happens next. Even after the smoke clears, she wants to know, how long might the damage last in children exposed to these sharp spikes in pollution?There are clues in a robust body of research on the health effects of conventional particulate matter pollution. Exposure to that kind of air pollution is associated with a greater risk of preterm births among pregnant women, more severe asthma symptoms among children and, as Nadeau concluded in an earlier study, changes in children's immune system cells.Her more recent research, with her Stanford colleague, Dr. Mary Prunicki, suggests that children like Robin, exposed to even short bursts of wildfire smoke, show changes in their immune system genes -- in particular those genes that can help the body respond to allergens further down the road.What is not yet known, and what Nadeau seeks to examine in the months ahead, is how children exposed to chronic air pollution and then to acute episodes of wildfire smoke, like Patricio in Fresno, might be affected differently. "Most likely, the wildfires are another hammer on their systems," Nadeau said. "That hammer is a dangerous hammer."In the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada 'He feels like he's being punished, being kept indoors all the time.' -- Natalie Blake, mother of Benjamin Tate, 8 There were so many good reasons for Natalie Blake to bring her son, Benjamin, up to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada.Blake wanted to leave the San Francisco Bay Area. Her parents had bought a house on a large plot of land near a gateway to Yosemite National Park. Benjamin could stay with them while she worked at a supermarket in town. He could run around in the hills.What she hadn't quite accounted for, though, is how the hills are becoming hotter, drier and more dangerous.A year after they moved came the first of an annual series of wildfires and an asthma diagnosis for Benjamin. One year, they had to evacuate from their home for a few days. Another year, they bought air conditioners so they could keep the windows shut when the air got thick and smoky. This year, just as it seemed like Benjamin's asthma was subsiding, came the Creek fire in the hills nearby. The air turned white with smoke. The boy had what appeared to be a mild asthma attack.Blake struggles to explain to Benjamin why he can't be outside exploring. She worries when he goes to school. She wonders how much longer the family will be able to insure their home if rates climb higher -- and what they'll do if insurance becomes unavailable at any price."It seems every year there's some major fire," Blake said. "We're smoked out. It's hard to breathe. It's always a worry that you're going to have to flee or you're going to lose your home."Rural counties like this one, pressed against the Sierra Nevada, are especially vulnerable as heat waves and droughts leave hillsides littered with dry brush and dead trees that act as kindling. High winds carry flames across vast expanses, producing monstrous clouds of smoke and uprooting ancient trees.The Creek fire has incinerated nearly 380,000 acres since early September. It is part of an unmistakable trend: Of the state's 20 largest fires, 18 have come since 2000.Marshall Burke, an economist at Stanford, has found that, across California, as the number of smoke days has risen over the past 15 years, it has begun to reverse some of the gains that the state had made in cleaning up its air from conventional sources of pollution.As the father of an 8-year-old girl with asthma, Burke has an intimate understanding of what that means. He has spent in the neighborhood of $1,000 this year to equip his suburban Bay Area home with sensors that measure air quality indoors and out, and air purifiers that hum quietly inside. When the smoke was getting really bad this summer, he took his family out of the state for three weeks."To protect my children, of course I'm going to do that," he said. "But it's fundamentally unfair."Clovis, Fresno County 'This is insane. It smells like there's a thousand barbecues going on.' -- Katie Wells, 15 The Wells family lives in a suburb between Fresno and the Sierra Nevada. Katie, 15, and Ryan, 12, both have asthma. Every year, when the fires kick up, their eyes itch and water, and their chests feel congested. Ryan said he sometimes feels wiped out. Katie said she sometimes tastes smoke in her mouth.This year, with the Creek fire burning in the hills, smoke seeped into the house. They had to clean off the ash that coated their rooftop solar panels so they could draw energy from what little sun came through the smoke clouds. The kids' swim practice was suspended for days at a time, the air was so foul.Courtney, their mother, said the family has discussed moving, mainly for the health of the children -- maybe to Idaho or Washington, anyplace where the sky is what Courtney called "true blue," at least most of the time, when there are no fires.But moving isn't easy. Wells, a surgical assistant, grew up here. Her parents live down the road. Her husband is a math teacher, and California teachers' salaries are better than in many places. "We would love to leave, but it's just not an option," she said. "We're just kind of stuck for now. We say, 'A few more years, just a few more years.'"The other day, the children went outside briefly when their remote classes broke for lunch. They looked up at the sky and discussed going for a bike ride. The air quality index had been unhealthy that morning. Now it was only unhealthy for those with health conditions like asthma.Reedley, Fresno County 'When it was really bad with fires, they would not even go outside.' -- Martha Calleres, grandmother of two asthmatic childrenMartha Calleres lives in a house of inhalers. She has asthma. Her adult son has asthma. Her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 2 1/2, have asthma. They share a rented two-bedroom house on a busy corner. When the fires burn, smoke finds its way into the house. She can smell it.Calleres blames that smoke for the asthma attack she had one evening in September. Her inhaler offered no relief, nor the nebulizer. Nothing helped -- only a strong shot of steroids when her husband, Victor Calleres, brought her to a doctor's office the next morning.This year, the whole family has been focused on keeping the grandchildren safe. Every week, Victor Calleres washes the cloth filters that sit inside the window air conditioners. They wipe the dust from the ceiling fans. They let the kids run in the backyard when the air quality is tolerable. Otherwise, for days at a time, they stay indoors. "I worry about them a lot," Martha Calleres said.Like many children in the valley, they have been remote schooling at home. Several doctors in the area said that had protected them from exposure to smoky air and more severe respiratory ailments. Hospitalizations and doctor visits are lower this year than they had feared.Martha Calleres had been eyeing the air purifiers that she sees in her doctor's office. But they are out of financial reach. She and her husband are retired; her son has been unemployed since the pandemic hit. In November, she finally found a model she could afford: one of the least expensive available, at around $80. She bought two."I know we need them desperately right now," she said.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
United Airlines have chartered flights to deliver Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to distribution hubs, in anticipation of an FDA approval
Taranto, Italy, lies in the shadow of the largest steelworks in Europe, an environmental blight. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse.
The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. Among 225,556 Canadians who were tested for the virus, the risk for a COVID-19 diagnosis was 12% lower and the risk for severe COVID-19 or death was 13% lower in people with blood group O versus those with A, AB, or B, researchers reported on Tuesday in Annals of Internal Medicine. People in any blood group who were Rh-negative were also somewhat protected, especially if they had O-negative blood.
A report from Pantheon Macroeconomics estimated that the US could see 1 million daily coronavirus cases by the end of the year.
"As a physician, I have to say it's one of those things that just finds a different way to get infiltrated into the community," Dr. Tim Mahoney said.
Skywatchers across North America can watch our planet eclipse 83% of the full moon overnight on Sunday.
The frontrunners in the COVID-19 vaccine race have emerged with different success rates for their shots in clinical trials, but what does that mean for the global fight against the pandemic? U.S. drugmakers Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna have each said their coronavirus vaccines have an efficacy rate of around 95% and a Russian project touted 92% efficacy for its Sputnik V vaccine. Britain's AstraZeneca announced an average efficacy rate of 70%, still well above the 50% rate that U.S. regulators have said they want to see before approving a COVID-19 vaccine for use.
Even if countries see a fall in coronavirus cases, they need to stay vigilant, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization's technical lead for COVID-19, said on Friday. "What we don't want to see is situations where you are moving from lockdown to bringing (the virus) under control to another lockdown," she told a virtual briefing in Geneva.
Saqqara, an ancient Egyptian city of the dead, has yielded countless mummies. The walls of some tombs have threatening curses inscribed on them.
In a 1988 essay on pandemics, Joshua Lederberg, Nobel laureate and president of The Rockefeller University, reminded the medical community that when it comes to infectious disease, the laws of Darwin are as important as the vaccines of Pasteur.As medicine battles bacteria and viruses, those organisms continue to undergo mutations and evolve new characteristics.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesLederberg advised vigilance: "We have no guarantee that the natural evolutionary competition of viruses with the human species will always find ourselves the winner."With the emergence of what seem so far to be safe and effective vaccine candidates, it appears that humanity may be the winner again this time around, albeit with a dreadful loss of life.But vaccines will not put an end to the evolution of this coronavirus, as David A. Kennedy and Andrew F. Read of Penn State, specialists in viral resistance to vaccines, wrote in PLoS Biology recently. Instead, they could even drive new evolutionary change.There is always the chance, though small, the authors write, that the virus could evolve resistance to a vaccine, what researchers call "viral escape." They urge monitoring of vaccine effects and viral response, just in case."Nothing that we're saying is suggesting that we slow down development of vaccines," Kennedy said. An effective vaccine is of utmost importance, he said, "But let's make sure that it stays efficacious."Vaccine-makers could use the results of nasal swabs taken from volunteers during trials to look for any genetic changes in the virus. Test results need not stop or slow down vaccine rollout, but if recipients of the vaccine had changes in the virus that those who received the placebo did not, that would indicate "the potential for resistance to evolve," something researchers ought to keep monitoring.There are some reasons to be optimistic that the coronavirus will not become resistant to vaccines. Several years ago, Kennedy and Read presented an analysis of the difference between resistance to drugs and vaccines. Neither bacteria nor viruses evolve resistance to vaccines as easily as they do to drugs, they wrote. Smallpox vaccine never lost its effectiveness, nor did the vaccines for measles or polio, despite years of use.Antibiotics, on the other hand, can quickly become useless as bacteria and other pathogens like viruses and fungi evolve defenses. And resistance builds to other drugs as well.The reasons have to do with the very basic principles of evolution and immunity. The two key differences are that vaccines generally act earlier than drugs, and that the natural immune response they promote is usually more varied, with more lines of attack. A drug may be narrowly targeted, sometimes attacking one metabolic pathway or biochemical process.With most drugs, the virus or bacteria has already been reproducing in the patient's body and if one variant is better at surviving the drug's attack, it will continue to grow and perhaps be transmitted to another person. A combination of drugs, as with HIV treatment, can be more effective because it unleashes a multipronged attackVaccines, on the other hand, act early, before the virus begins to proliferate and perhaps change within a patient's body. So there are no new variants, like those forged in the heat of a drug attack to grow and spread from the infected person.Vaccines offer the body's immune system a glimpse of the virus, and then the immune system builds a broad attack. For example, after a tetanus shot, a person's immune system may produce 100 different antibodies.Some vaccines, however, do drive viruses to evolve resistance, Kennedy and Read noted in their 2015 article. A vaccine stopped Marek's disease, an illness in chickens that is important commercially. But the virus could still infect the chickens. It replicated and spread without causing disease and quickly became resistant.In humans, a type of bacteria that causes pneumonia bacteria evolved resistance to a vaccine when the bacteria recombined in nature with existing strains that were naturally resistant. A vaccine for hepatitis B created antibodies targeting only one small part of one protein -- a loop made by nine amino acids, which is tiny in protein terms. It did not create a broad attack. A pertussis vaccine also appeared to drive resistance. It worked to fend off the disease, but targeted only a few proteins and was not effective at stopping infection and transmission of the virus.The coronavirus vaccines now in development use different ways to get the immune system to respond. Some coronavirus vaccines under development or in use in Russia and China use whole virus particles, inactivated or attenuated, to spark an immune system response.Many other vaccine candidates, like the ones from Pfizer and Moderna, now nearing review by the Food and Drug Administration for first use as early as December, are meant to get the immune system to react to only a portion of the coronavirus, the so-called spike protein, which would seem to offer fewer targets.But Kennedy said that was not necessarily a problem."A vaccine based on just the spike protein has the potential to generate a broad immune response," he said, "because there are multiple sites on the spike protein where potent neutralizing antibodies can bind."Although these are the first vaccines that use RNA particles to instruct the cells to make a viral protein, other vaccines use parts of the virus, rather than the whole. So far, Kennedy said, there was no evidence to show one type of vaccine would be more likely to drive resistance."We have seen vaccine resistance evolve against many different kinds of vaccines," he said, "but there are also plenty of examples for each of these where resistance has never emerged."Resistance can also evolve in ways that aren't driven by how a vaccine acts. There may already be variants of the coronavirus that are less susceptible to the actions of vaccines. This concern prompted Denmark to announce that it would cull all of its mink because a variant of the virus had appeared in mink which showed in very preliminary lab tests that some antibodies were less effective against it.The worry has lessened since the Danes announced the problem, with scientists and the World Health Organization saying they saw no evidence yet that the variant would interfere with any vaccines in development.But Denmark, after the resignation of a minister, who announced the cull too soon, and a legislative debate that appears to be leading to approval of the cull, still plans to kill all the mink in the country.And scientists say that caution in this kind of situation makes sense. As a virus jumps from people to animals and back again, as it has with mink, there are more opportunities for changes in the virus RNA, changes that could lead to resistance.Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered a kind of mutation that hadn't been seen in coronaviruses before and raises fresh concerns about the evolution of vaccine resistance.In their search for mutations, researchers have mostly focused on flips of one genetic letter to another -- a kind of mutation known as a substitution. But Paul Duprex and his colleagues discovered that the viruses mutating in a chronically infected patient were changing differently: They were losing sets of genetic letters.Typically, a mutation that deletes a genetic letter is catastrophic to a virus. Our cells read genetic letters three at a time to choose a new building block to add to a growing protein. A deletion of one genetic letter can entirely scramble the instructions for a viral protein, so that it cannot form a functional shape.But Duprex and his colleagues found that the coronaviruses in the patient could lose genetic letters and yet stay viable. The secret: The viruses lost genetic letters in sets of three. Instead of destroying the genetic recipe for a viral protein, the mutations snipped out one or more amino acids.As much as Duprex despises the pandemic, he finds it hard not to admire the elegance of these mutations."It's so cool, it's brilliant," he said.Having found these deletion mutations in viruses from one person, Duprex and his colleagues wondered how common they were.Searching public databases of coronavirus genomes, they discovered that deletions were surprisingly widespread."It's happening independently in different parts of the world," Duprex said.All the deletions, it turns out, only arise in one region, the spike protein. Duprex and his colleagues found that deletions in the spike gene didn't prevent the coronavirus from infecting cells.Duprex and his colleagues posted their study online Nov. 19. It has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. The researchers are now infecting animals with deletion-mutant viruses to better understand the risk they may pose to vaccines."Well, this paper does nothing to reduce the anxiety!" Read said in an email. "This is early data strongly suggesting the virus has the potential to escape human immunity."But Read and Kennedy argue that viral evolution will not necessarily doom vaccines. Vaccine-makers just need to stay aware of it and devise new vaccines if necessary.And there are numerous varieties of vaccines in development. The first two approaching approval in the United States both use a significant chunk of viral RNA to train the immune system. Other vaccines that are in development use the whole virus. And different vaccines deliver the virus or part of it in different ways, all of which could prompt a different immune response.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
More than 1 million people passed through TSA checkpoints on Wednesday, even as health authorities urged Americans not to travel for the holiday.
A Japanese spacecraft is nearing Earth after a yearlong journey home from a distant asteroid with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the origins of the solar system, a space agency official said Friday. The Hayabusa2 spacecraft left the asteroid Ryugu, about 300 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, a year ago and is expected to reach Earth and drop a capsule containing the precious samples in southern Australia on Dec. 6. Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency believe the samples, especially those taken from under the asteroid's surface, contain valuable data unaffected by space radiation and other environmental factors.
Asymptomatic COVID-19 patients are driving a surge in new cases in South Korea, frustrating efforts to control transmission by the Asian country which managed to keep infections under control in previous outbreaks. South Korea reported 569 new cases in the 24 hours ending Thursday midnight, a level unseen in nearly nine months, as it grapples with the third wave of the pandemic that appears to be worsening despite tough new social distancing measures. The rate is much lower in China where the state disease control centre said in February that around 1% of more than 70,000 cases it analysed were asymptomatic.
Sweden's Prince Carl Philip and Princess Sofia are isolating at home with flu-like symptoms. They were with the reigning king at a funeral on Friday.
Anyone else dreading winter?Cases of COVID-19 are climbing, and winter weather is going to cut off many of the lifelines -- picnics in the park, running outside, outdoor dining -- so many people have depended on for sanity this year. Vaccines are on the horizon, but even the most optimistic timelines put them months away. And time with family during the holidays, normally a bright spot in winter months, is all but canceled this year.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesBut there are ways to steel yourself for such a dark set of circumstances! In fact, some people have been through all of that and then some.Take, for instance, an astronaut who spent nearly a year in space. Or the station leader of a research outpost in Antarctica. Or one of the eight people sealed inside the artificial ecosystem Biosphere 2 for two years in the early 1990s.The New York Times spoke with these people to get advice on coping with life in extended isolation -- and how to deal with not quite being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.If there's one takeaway, it's this: Adaptation and expectation management are key.Just a Few Hundred Miles Away, but a World ApartFor 328 days between March 2019 and February 2020, NASA astronaut Christina Koch was floating 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station, setting the record for the longest continuous time spent in space by a woman. An astronaut since 2013, Koch, 41, was trained to deal with long-term isolation and constantly changing circumstances, but there isn't exactly training on what to do when the world you come back to is wholly different from the one you left.But that's not to say she wasn't equipped."One of the qualities that astronauts develop is adaptability and managing expectations," Koch said. "And I think that we really honed the skill of being able to be OK with whatever comes down the road and to just adapt our hopes and dreams to what that situation is and make the best of it."While aboard the ISS, Koch and her crew mates watched the early days of the pandemic unfold, but they didn't know how deeply things would change.She returned to Earth in February, but just as she was finishing physical rehabilitation and ready to embark on the many plans she had made, Koch had to trade one type of isolation for another. "Right when I was ready to go back out into the world, it got shut back down," she said.To be clear, being stuck at home inside with all of the comforts -- and Seamless deliveries -- we're used to isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison to spending nearly a year in space. But many of the emotions and psychological bruises we are dealing with right now are actually similar to what astronauts experience in space, Koch said. And the strategies and tactics of dealing with those experiences can be quite transferable.For instance, Koch said that learning to accept and be comfortable with unpredictability is something that is built into astronaut training. During her time on the ISS, Koch said, there were days she would go to sleep knowing her schedule for the next day, only to wake up and have it entirely rearranged. And even if a day's schedule didn't have any surprises, at any moment something could go wrong, and the entire crew would have to adapt -- a mindset she uses while quarantining at home."What you can control is how you react to that situation," she said. "What you can control is whether or not you let yourself go down a bad mental path or not."In fact, while on the ISS, Koch was surprised by an extension to her mission by about five months. So in one sense, she said, she has been here before."I had to shift my thinking from, 'It's a marathon, not a sprint,' to, 'It's an ultramarathon, not a marathon,'" she said. "In the pandemic, that's what I have reframed. When lockdown started, it was going to be a two-week pause, and now it's going to last through the spring."Koch said a key skill she uses from her time in space is learning how to stay connected to loved ones when we can't be physically present. While in space, for example, Koch "ran" a half-marathon in Glacier National Park with her friends; at the same time they were running on the course, Koch ran the 13.1 miles on her space treadmill."You have to be creative in how you stay relevant in the lives of your loved ones," she said. "Staying relevant means you don't just communicate occasionally by email; you do things that almost feel like you're close."As for all those plans she had in store? This time she is just going to wait and see."I'm a big fan of just setting expectations in my own mind to always err on the side of being pleasantly surprised," she said, "rather than being disappointed."'Not Every Day Can Be Sunshine and Penguins'Your average day this year probably looks a little bit like David Knoff's.He drags himself out of bed around 7 a.m., looks at the weather, then sips a latte while planning his day. He makes his morning commute -- a very short trip from where he sleeps to where he works -- and catches up on emails for a few hours before attending online meetings.Mealtimes are always the same, and the faces around the dinner table never change, except for the occasional extreme haircut or overgrown beard. To unwind, he might have some tea or a beer and reminisce about what life used to be like.But there's one key difference: Knoff lives in perhaps the most remote place on the planet -- and his most exciting evening lately involved penguins.Since November 2019, Knoff has led a team of 24 people at Davis Station, a permanent research outpost in Antarctica run by the Australian Antarctic Division. The yearly average high temperature there is around 19 degrees Fahrenheit, and during the darkest days of winter -- typically from May to July -- there are some weeks when there are zero hours of daylight."The darkness had more of an impact on mood and energy than many of us expected, for a few months during the depths of winter the sun barely made it above the horizon (or not at all)," Knoff, 35, wrote in an email.To get through a bleak winter, Knoff said, it's important to change with your surroundings and train yourself to learn to make the best of a tough situation. "It is surprising how well you adapt to your surroundings and conditions," he said.Not long ago, Knoff was unexpectedly marooned in a field hut for four nights with another expedition member after a blizzard got very bad, very fast, and their vehicle broke down. Stuck inside with nothing to do but wait out the storm, he caught up on a collection of 1970s literature left in the hut long ago. He also cooked and drank tea with his teammate."It was the longest I'd been without Wi-Fi in years," he said. However, "in the end, it will end up being one of my fondest memories of my time here due to the truly unique situation of being that cut off from the rest of civilization, yet strangely safe and warm, with little to worry about other than the weather."Still, even a place as isolated as Antarctica hasn't been entirely untouched by the pandemic. While the continent hasn't confirmed a single case of the virus, Knoff and his team were forced to extend their stay by four months, which, he said, "brought with it multiple challenges and an emotional roller coaster."It "feels like we have just endured the toughest game of life we could have ever imagined, and then the game has been sent into overtime," he said. The goal now is for everyone to "look inside themselves to dig out the motivation and resilience to make sure that as a team we make the most of the next few months and return safely to our friends and families back home," he said.And about that exciting recent evening: A huddle of emperor penguins waddled onto the station's beach while half the team happened to be outside -- a good reminder to take the good with the bad."Not every day can be sunshine and penguins," Knoff wrote in an email. "You will have bad days/weeks/months, and the highs and lows will oscillate faster and higher as the months roll on, but stay focused on the positive and have a goal in sight."He added, "Although not entirely accurate during an Antarctica winter, the sun will always come up tomorrow!"Life in a Bubble Turned Pressure CookerYou have probably had a fight or two with your family or roommates during quarantine. But at least the house didn't break out into warring factions.That's what happened in Biosphere 2, a fully enclosed, self-sustaining, 3-acre ecosystem in Arizona in which eight people lived sealed off for exactly two years from September 1991 to September 1993, conducting one of history's most ambitious -- and weirdest -- science experiments. (The first biosphere, in case you're wondering, is the one you currently live in.)Biosphere 2 had everything: pygmy goats, a fog desert, feral pigs, Japanese silky bantams, a tropical rainforest and ... a lot of conflict, according to Jane Poynter, one of the eight people sealed inside."I wish I could tell you it was a happy success story," said Poynter, laughing as she recalled those warring factions. Poynter, who designed and was responsible for Biosphere 2's farm system during the mission, is now the founder and co-chief executive of a space tourism company called the Space Perspective."We broke into two factions of four and four," she said. "It turns out eight is the worst number we could've chosen because you break into two factions of four that are very stable."Her theory of why tensions rose so high? "When you're enclosed for a long period of time, you come face to face with yourself."A shared sense of mission brought the factions together to complete work that needed to be done, despite the awful tension and awkwardness, Poynter said. None of the eight thought of abandoning Biosphere 2, whose chief financial backer was a Texas oil billionaire, because they could see the importance of the bigger picture.Fighting aside, Poynter noted another effect that affects anyone in long-term isolation, whether it's an astronaut, a researcher in Antarctica, a biospherian or just an average citizen wondering when this will be over: the third-quarter phenomenon.You've felt this before. You're past the halfway point of something but nowhere near the end, and you start to drag. It's the "decline in performance during the third quarter of missions in isolated, confined and extreme environments, regardless of actual mission duration," according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Human Performance in Extreme Environments.That's not to say we're necessarily in the third quarter of the pandemic, but the recent promising news of vaccines has given us hope that the end may be in sight."We are all going to feel like we've had it up to here with this, and that's normal," Poynter said. "The only thing I can say is, be patient."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
The rush to access coronavirus shots from Chinese vaccine frontrunner Sinopharm is spurring fears that a black market is forming and booming.
Seattle, Microsoft and the field of artificial intelligence come in for their share of the spotlight in “Superintelligence” — an HBO Max movie starring Melissa McCarthy as the rom-com heroine, and comedian James Corden as the world’s new disembodied AI overlord. But how much substance is there behind the spotlight? Although the action is set in Seattle, much of the principal filming was actually done in Georgia. And the scientific basis of the plot — which involves an AI trying to decide whether or not to destroy the planet — is, shall we say, debatable. Fortunately, we have the perfect… Read More
AstraZeneca said Monday that its vaccine was found to be up to 90% effective at preventing COVID-19. But an error in that trial may warrant a new one.
Buried under a Serbian cornfield close to a coalmine, the well-preserved remains of a Roman legion's headquarters are being excavated by archaeologists who say its rural location makes it unique. Covering an estimated 3,500 square meters, the headquarters - or principium - belonged to the VII Claudia Legion. There are over 100 recorded principiums across the territory of the Roman empire, but almost all are buried under modern cities, said Miomir Korac, lead archaeologist of digs there and at the Roman provincial capital Viminacium that the compound served.
“This metastasizing debt crisis has had tremendous social costs. An entire generation has been set back.”
“It is not the government’s job to step in and rescue those who took on more debt than their future incomes would support.”
“Many student-borrowers need relief, but well-off borrowers who are thriving — thanks to their college degrees — do not.”
“It will stimulate the lagging economy. And though not everyone will directly benefit, the country as a whole will improve.”
“Canceling student debt would cost billions of dollars each year and would exacerbate, not lessen, economic inequalities.”