Coronavirus News Digest

"See you when the pandemic's over!"
"See you when the pandemic's over!" / Blue Planet Studio/iStock via Getty Images

The constant stream of information about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 can cause a lot of anxiety. Mental Floss created this weekly digest so you can peruse the news at your own pace—without feeling overwhelmed.

February 23, 2021

There’s just no way to put a positive spin on this. More than 500,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus in just one year. The New York Times marked the devastating milestone with a front-page graphic: one tiny black dot for each person who has passed away. Dr. Anthony Fauci called the toll “stunning”—and avoidable. “This is the worst thing that’s happened to this country with regard to the health of the nation in over 100 years,” he told Reuters.

We’re still processing the momentous changes to our lives from the past year, but The Washington Post reports on some of the habits and situations we acquired following the start of the pandemic in the U.S. Most people were suddenly spending many more waking hours at home, the Post says. One thing we’re doing a lot more of: Watching television. When people didn’t have to spend time commuting to work, non-parents spent 24 percent of that time (and parents 14 percent) zoning out in front of the TV. Here are more stats.

While we’re on the subject, you may have noticed other changes during the pandemic. Like your hair falling out. Or that you’ve been grinding your teeth in your sleep. Both of these conditions can be traced back to stress, but the good news is, they’re often temporary and/or treatable. 

The Musée du Louvre at its emptiest.
The Musée du Louvre at its emptiest. / Chesnot/Getty Images

While some museums and other public venues are slowly reopening, the Louvre—the world’s most visited museum—remains closed. But its curators aren’t idle; they're using the visitor-free time in lockdown to reevaluate the museum's paintings and artifacts. Some pieces are getting a touch-up, while others are being moved or reframed. “All of a sudden a painting seems too big (or) too small, or the frame doesn't fit with the ones nearby," project manager Gautier Moysset told CNN. "You have to listen to what the works have to say. Sometimes they don't like each other and you have to separate them."

February 17, 2021

Coronavirus infection and death rates are dropping across the country. Though 27 million people have been infected and 470,000 have died in the pandemic just in the U.S., the CDC reports that the daily infection rate has decreased significantly. Since the record high of 314,093 cases on January 8, 2021, the daily case count has dropped by 69 percent. A total of 97,309 cases were tallied on February 11. Some experts attribute the decline to continued mask-wearing, vaccinations, the virus’s seasonal highs and lows, and—potentially—more cases going undiagnosed, The Washington Post reports

A study published in JAMA Network Open found that Vitamin C and zinc have zero effect on COVID-19 symptoms, according to CNN. The randomized controlled study compared how well three groups of recovering COVID-19 patients, who received one or both of the supplements, fared against a control group that received no supplements. “There was no significant difference in the duration of symptoms among the four groups,” researchers wrote.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will begin paying for funerals for people who have passed away from COVID-19, CNET reports. The Stafford Act [PDF] allows FEMA to pay for funeral services, burials, and cremation for people who have died during national disasters or emergencies. Families can apply to receive up to $7000 to cover funeral expenses for deaths that occurred between January 20 and December 31, 2020, but many of the eligibility and application details are yet to be worked out. Here’s more.

On a lighter note, an app called I Miss My Bar allows users to replicate the ambience of their favorite watering holes while they remain safely at home. The sounds of clinking ice cubes, conversations, and bartenders chopping limes might keep you company on this otherwise quiet Mardi Gras week.

February 9, 2021

Last fall’s predictions of a “twindemic” are apparently coming to naught, according to The Atlantic. Back then, public health officials feared a second or third wave of coronavirus infections would be exacerbated by the typical flu season, pushing hospitals and healthcare workers to the brink. But that hasn’t happened. One virologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told reporter Katherine J. Wu that he had run 20,000 flu tests and not one had been positive. Travel bans, local and state lockdowns, and mask-wearing are probably the reason. Here’s more.

Once your parents and older relatives get vaccinated, is it safe to visit them? NPR’s Jane Greenhalgh asked several infectious disease specialists for their take. The answer seems to be “not yet.” One reason is because, while the vaccines are highly effective against serious COVID-19, people over the age of 65 or with weakened immune systems may not take to them as well. There are other factors, too. Bottom line: They recommend waiting until we reach herd immunitywhenever that will be—for normal family visits to resume.

A new paper suggests a solution for keeping some of the 130 billion disposable masks used each month out of landfills. Engineers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, ran a series of experiments that showed shredded surgical masks could be used as an additive material in roadways. According to The New York Times, the experiments indicated that about 3 million shredded masks could be mixed into materials for laying a half-mile of two-lane road, and could even make the road more durable and flexible.

Finally, if you’re like me, it’s hard to imagine being too worried about the coronavirus. But those who may be feeling unnecessarily anxious about their true risk of infection could be experiencing symptoms of “coronaphobia.” During the pandemic, “people with high health anxiety may misinterpret post-exercise muscle aches or a bout of coughing as telltale signs that they’re infected, which in turn increases anxiety and can bring on stress-related symptoms,” The Washington Post reports. Ways to cope with coronaphobia include maintaining a healthy diet and sleep schedule, refraining from checking your temperature or pulse too much, and calming your nervous system with deep breathing or meditation. Here are some more tips.

February 2, 2021

The CDC has updated its guidelines about requiring masks on public transportation—not because the evidence for masks slowing the spread of the coronavirus has changed, but because the new Biden administration has reversed the previous administration’s stance. Pursuant to a new executive order, the agency will now require “all travelers into, within, or out of the United States, e.g., on airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares” to wear masks for the duration of their travel. The new mandate also includes airports, bus terminals, train stations, and other transportation hubs. People over the age of 2 who refuse to wear a mask over their nose and mouth will not be allowed to enter travel areas or vehicles, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Johnson & Johnson announced that its coronavirus vaccine was up to 72 percent effective against COVID-19 and, notably, prevented severe disease requiring hospitalization and fatal disease 28 days after study participants were inoculated, NPR reports. The vaccine was most effective in the U.S. It was less effective in South Africa, perhaps due to the SARS-CoV-2 variant circulating there. Johnson & Johnson’s formula requires only one shot and doesn’t need to be kept ultra-cold. Public health experts say that if you get the chance to be jabbed with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, don’t wait for Moderna's or Pfizer's versions, which have slightly higher effectiveness.

Just because more vaccines are becoming available doesn’t mean normal life is going to resume immediately. Folks who attended a cat birthday party in Chile found that out the hard way. According to People magazine, all 10 of the attendees were later diagnosed with the coronavirus, and they infected another five people for a total of 15 cases. The cat, however, was fine.

January 26, 2021

The coronavirus vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been, in a word, chaotic. The shortage of vaccine in most states has led to long waits, canceled appointments, and a vaccine-rationing system that prioritizes people who are most at risk from severe disease. But if you’re offered a vaccine, take it—even if you think others are more deserving. Writing in The New York Times, Melinda Wenner Moyer says that people underestimate their own risks in all kinds of situations. And getting a vaccine will not just help you; it will also lower the rate of transmission in your community. So when the grocery store pharmacy is handing out doses that would otherwise spoil, jump on it.

More on the double-mask debate: Dr. Anthony Fauci told TODAY that two masks are probably better than one at blocking the transmission of fine respiratory droplets. Though the CDC has not changed its mask-wearing recommendations, Fauci said, “if you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective.”

Engineers at University of California San Diego are in the early stages of developing a wearable test for detecting COVID-19 infection, according to a news release. Since somewhere between 20 and 60 percent of people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms, the experimental test could quickly show when viral particles are present in a person’s breath. A user would place a test strip on their face mask and breathe normally, and then once they remove the mask, squirt an indicator fluid on the test strip—kind of like a litmus test. Research continues.

Finally, the airline industry has found a solution for all the excess wine it has on its hands. In normal times, passengers would have drunk it on flights, but those flights were canceled because of the pandemic. So American Airlines launched Flagship Cellars, an at-home wine distributor and subscription service, so consumers can have that first-class cabin experience without squeezing into a seat with their tray table in the upright position. That’s probably more relaxing than a flight to nowhere.

January 19, 2021

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus. On January 21, 2020, the CDC announced that a traveler from Wuhan, China, to Washington State had tested positive. By the time you read this, 400,000 Americans will have died of the virus and more than 24 million Americans will have been infected. Here’s a refresher of ways to stay safe. 

In the interest of public health, are two masks better than one? The New York Times looks into whether doubling up on facial coverings offers substantially more protection. The takeaway: Wearing two masks can inhibit the spread of infection, but “wearing more than two masks, or layering up on masks that are already very good at filtering, will quickly bring diminishing returns and make it much harder to breathe normally.”

Now that vaccines for the coronavirus are here, are people going to get them? A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that 40 percent of Americans will get vaccinated when they can, and another 23 percent are leaning toward it. But that leaves more than 30 percent of Americans unsure or opposed, which could impede the development of herd immunity. Writing in The Atlantic, Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan looks at ways of building trust around vaccines. 

Some folks will go to extreme lengths to get vaccinated, as Jacob Stern discovered. Also writing for The Atlantic, Stern heard that grocery-store pharmacies in Washington, D.C. were giving out extra coronavirus vaccine doses at the end of the business day because they would otherwise spoil and go to waste. He visited the pharmacies and found epic queues with an ad-hoc numbering system, not unlike that of a deli counter, for those waiting in line.

January 12, 2021

Students, teachers, and parents have had to grapple with learning from home over the past year, and while it hasn’t been easy for anyone, families that lack internet access or suitable devices have had an especially hard time. Local television stations across the country have found a solution by teaming up with teachers to offer lessons on TV. According to The New York Times, thousands of students lack Wi-Fi or laptops, but 96 percent of American homes have a TV. Local teachers film the DIY lessons at their homes with their iPhones and tripods, and kids enjoy learning without technical glitches or disruptions. Here’s more.

It’s a new year, so it’s a good time for a face mask refresher. The CDC’s guide to using face masks includes advice for properly choosing, wearing, taking off, washing, and reusing cloth masks. Pro tip for winter: Wear a mask under your scarf or ski mask, since those cold-weather accessories aren’t substitutes for masks.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park reported that at least two of its gorillas have tested positive for the coronavirus. Though the zoo closed December 6 to comply with California's stay-at-home order, officials believe that the primates caught the virus from an asymptomatic zookeeper who was wearing PPE. “Aside from some congestion and coughing, the gorillas are doing well,” Lisa Peterson, the zoo’s executive director, told KSWB. Last year several zoos reported that their tigers and lions had tested positive.

Quebec has implemented a strict curfew between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. to curb the spread of the coronavirus—and it’s led some residents of the Canadian province to take creative measures when breaking it. The BBC reports that police fined a woman for walking her husband on a leash outside their home at around 9 p.m. last weekend. She told officers that she was just out “walking her dog,” since walking dogs close to home is one of the few legal ways to be outside past curfew.

January 5, 2021

Happy new year, we hope! There are a few worrisome developments in the pandemic to note: England is under a national lockdown again, the coronavirus variant first spotted in the UK has made it to New York and three other states, and the vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been much slower than anticipated. 

The Washington Post polled eight epidemiologists and public health officials for their take on when things will get back to normal. The takeaway: At the current rate of vaccinations, it will take a very long time to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus. Emory University professor Carlos Del Rio said that if the U.S. can increase the vaccination rate to 1 million people a day, we’re looking at “late August or early September” before normality returns. Here’s more

Speaking of predictions, have you made your new year’s resolutions yet? It might feel like too much pressure to set goals and change things in your life while a pandemic rages—so The New York Times recommends being gentle on yourself. Write down small, simple new year’s resolutions that are realistic for the world we’re living in now, and you’ll feel better when you achieve them. Here are some tips for sticking to your goals.

Maybe you’ve been feeling your Zoom-optimized bookshelf needs an upgrade, or you’re just in the market for random reading material. In Politico, Ashley Fetters uncovers a D.C.-area secret for erudite video backgrounds—a service that sells books by the foot, literally called Books by the Foot. Customers can choose “styles” like vintage, modern, books by color, books by subject, “bulk and shelf fillers,” and much more to give the impression that they’re exceedingly well-read.

Finally, check out Mental Floss’s most popular stories of 2020, where there’s something for everyone—including the history of Juneteenth, facts about John Candy, and the reason why dogs twitch in their sleep.

December 29, 2020

This hellish year is almost over, and it’s time to reflect on the events and experiences that made living through a pandemic unforgettable. Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler runs down the list of technology we couldn’t live without in 2020. The Zoom app is at the top for making working from home a reality, while telemedicine allowed people to see doctors without needing to go to a clinic full of COVID. But Fowler notes that pandemic tech has its flaws—online schooling was a frustrating experience for students, and convenience apps like Instacart and DoorDash put workers in harm’s way while paying low wages.

“You’re on mute” was a phrase uttered in approximately 1000 percent more business meetings this year compared to last year, according to a survey in The New York Times. Other popular corporate jargon for the pandemic era included “unprecedented times,” “new normal,” and “technical difficulties.”

In a purposefully coronavirus-free list, NPR collects its favorite global stories that you might have missed this year. From the wisdom of Inuit parenting styles to the story behind three Nigerian-Irish girls who created an award-winning app for dementia patients, the list offers some welcome perspective to the onslaught of domestic news in 2020.

Speaking of perspective, The Guardian reports on the Writing From Life Experience writers' group in New York City, which encourages seniors, some in their upper 90s, to reflect on the tumultuous events of their lives. They’ve written about escaping Stalinist Russia to surviving the Liverpool Blitz during World War II, and at the same time, have been able to put the changes of this year in context—though the workshops are now through Zoom.

Finally, 2020 has made us value things that we previously took for granted. Like toilet paper. And bucatini. To end our last digest of 2020 on a lighter, starchier note, Rachel Handler investigates a suspicious shortage of her favorite pasta shape for Grub Street and takes a deep dive into the machinations of Big Pasta.

December 22, 2020

News emerged this week of a new variant of the coronavirus in the UK. Many outlets reported that the variant could be more easily transmitted than the coronavirus variant we’ve all been dealing with for months. But health experts say much more research is needed to understand if the new variant is more transmissable and to what extent. For now, they say there is no strong evidence it causes deadlier COVID-19 symptoms.

Because the variant was discovered in Britain, numerous countries have enacted travel bans against the UK. Public health officials told The Washington Post that they may be pretty ineffective, since it’s not clear whether the variant originated in the UK—it may have just been discovered there, thanks to the UK’s world-class monitoring and virus DNA sequencing program. And it may have already spread to other countries. The New York Times has a quick explainer about what we know right now.

Workers at a Chilean research base recently came down with Antarctica’s first cases of COVID-19. Twenty-six army members and 10 maintenance staff tested positive for the coronavirus and were evacuted to Punta Arenas in Chile for treatment. All scientific research in Antarctica has been postponed during the pandemic, The Guardian reports.

Traditional Christmas festivities have been put on hold for most of Great Britain. Patients at a children’s hospital in Leeds couldn’t enjoy in-person visits from Santa Claus this year, but they got perhaps the next best thing. Santa visited the kids outside their windows, and even rode a cherry-picker to the hospital’s upper floors. “Having Santa visit from the outside really is the icing on the cake and will bring lots of smiles to these brave little faces,” Lauren Whelan, the hospital’s deputy head of nursing, told the BBC.

Finally, in a decision that should surprise no one, the American Dialect Society has chosen COVID as its word of the year. “A year ago, the word Covid didn’t even exist, and now it has come to define our lives in 2020,” Ben Zimmer, the society’s new words committee chair and language columnist at The Wall Street Journal, said. “The selection recognizes how ubiquitous the term has become, from the time that the name for the disease caused by novel coronavirus was dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization back in February. That was quickly clipped to COVID, which then appeared in phrases like COVID crisis, COVID relief, and COVID vaccine—and even COVID baking, COVID hair, and covidiot.” It has become a stand-in for the entire pandemic and the societal impacts that we’ll be experiencing for years to come.”

December 16, 2020

Doses of the coronavirus vaccine began rolling out across the U.S. after the FDA gave emergency use authorization to the Pfizer/BioNTech drug last weekend. The first recipients in this country will be healthcare workers and high-risk residents of nursing homes. When the vaccine is distributed to a wider swath of the public, states will decide who gets it when. Wondering where you are in line? The New York Times put together a quick interactive tool that lets you input factors like your age and whether you have underlying health risks to figure out when you might be eligible for the shot.

The Moderna-developed vaccine is likely to get emergency authorization from the FDA this week as well, increasing the number of options for people seeking inoculation.

With cases of the virus surging in Europe, North America, and Asia, many millions of people are contending with new, restrictive lockdowns. But one man in Scotland wasn’t going to let quarantine rules stop him from seeing his girlfriend. She lives on the Isle of Man, and ferries from Scotland are not running. So he bought a Jet Ski, drove for four and a half hours over the choppy Irish Sea, and then walked 15 miles to her house. He was later arrested and sentenced to four weeks in jail for breaking the island’s quarantine restrictions.

A recent survey found that Black Americans are among the groups most reluctant to be vaccinated—distrust that is likely related to the legacy of medical exploitation of African Americans, from the Tuskegee syphilis study to the unauthorized appropriation of Henrietta Lacks’s immortal cells. Now, The Washington Post’s Retropolis column looks at how the concept of inoculation came to America from Africa, specifically by an enslaved man named Onesimus. Read the intriguing history here.

December 8, 2020

It’s V-Day in the UK. The National Health Service is rolling out the world’s first fully tested and approved vaccine for the novel coronavirus to people deemed most at risk from COVID-19. Healthcare workers and the elderly are set to receive the first round of “jabs.” Coventry resident Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first recipient—and in an extremely British turn of events, the second recipient was an 81-year-old man literally named William Shakespeare.

Apparently it’s pretty easy to call up your local hospital and be inoculated if you fall into one of the first groups receiving the vaccine. Charming 91-year-old Martin Kenyon phoned St. Thomas’ Hospital in London and got the shot so he can visit his granddaughters soon and, just as important, not get the “bloody bug,” he told CNN:

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the FDA confirmed that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine—the one being administered in the UK now—“provides strong protection against COVID-19 within about 10 days of the first dose,” The New York Times reports. The vaccine advisory panel at the agency will vote on Thursday whether to approve it for authorization.

Four lions at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain have tested posited for COVID-19, Reuters reports. Two staffers there have also tested positive, and it’s likely that the humans passed the virus to at least one of the big cats. Earlier this year, tigers at the Bronx Zoo also caught the virus and had respiratory symptoms, but recovered.

December 1, 2020

A new study suggests that the coronavirus was circulating in the U.S. in mid-December 2019, several weeks before public health officials realized it was here. Researchers at the CDC and Red Cross analyzed more than 7000 blood samples collected in multiple states between December 13 and January 17, the Wall Street Journal reports. Coronavirus antibodies were present in 39 of the samples from Washington, Oregon, and California, and in 67 samples from northeastern and midwestern states. The info could shed new light on when the virus emerged as a global problem and the dynamics of its spread across the world.

To avoid the virus, many Americans have set up pods with family members or friends and limited their close interaction to only those folks. But how do pods (or bubbles) work, exactly? Rachel Gutman at The Atlantic tried to figure out the best number of people and the right rules for establishing a pod, but found that there’s little conformity between the pods of those she interviewed—and no real guidance from health officials on what to do. Here’s more.

The New York Times unveiled a personalized COVID-19 tracker tool for monitoring the incidence of the coronavirus in localities that are important to you. Users can enter a county, state, or metro area and see the daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people, the percent difference over a 14-day period, and other visuals for tracking the pandemic over time. 

Finally, a COVID-19 testing company backpedaled on its decision to close a busy testing site in Los Angeles’s Union Station so movie producers could use the site to shoot the remake of 1999 teen rom-com She’s All That, titled He’s All That. Deadline reports that Mayor Eric Garcetti intervened so more than 500 people could keep their scheduled testing appointments. The shoot will go on as planned.

November 24, 2020

Another week, another round of promising vaccine news: On Monday, AstraZeneca announced that its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, was up to 90 percent effective in a dosing regimen they discovered by accident. Some participants in the study received a half-dose of the vaccine instead of a full dose, followed by a full dose a month later. Others correctly received the two full doses a month apart. Researchers were surprised to find that the patients who received the incorrect half-dose were actually better protected; the two full doses resulted in only 65 percent effectiveness, according to the preliminary data. The New York Times examines this vaccine’s pros and cons.

AstraZeneca's experimental vaccine, like those being developed by Pfizer and Moderna, works by telling the body to make a SARS-CoV-2 protein to trigger an immune response. But unlike the latter two, which use messenger RNA to tell the body what to do, AstraZeneca’s vaccine uses a snippet of DNA delivered by a virus. NBC News looks at how both methods work.

One of COVID-19’s most noticeable yet mysterious symptoms is the loss of smell and taste. Now, scientists are beginning to understand how the virus makes smell and taste temporarily disappear, as well as how patients regain them after recovery. Here’s more from Scientific American.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and public health officials are urging people to stay home and avoid holiday get-togethers. But if you don’t heed what Dr. Fauci says, just look at Canada’s example. Their Thanksgiving occurred on October 12, and the country saw a jump in cases two weeks later, likely resulting from travel and large holiday gatherings. Unfortunately, Americans don’t seem to be getting the message. Last Sunday, the TSA screened more than a million air passengers at U.S. airports, the highest number since the pandemic began.

If you are traveling for the holiday, don’t forget your masks. Here’s a refresher on how masks protect you and others.

November 17, 2020

More good news on the vaccine development front: On Monday, pharmaceutical company Moderna revealed in a press release that its experimental coronavirus vaccine is 94.5 percent effective, according to early data from its Phase 3 trial. Like the one being developed by Pfizer, Moderna’s vaccine uses messenger RNA to tell the body to start making a coronavirus protein, which triggers an immune response. The data have not been peer-reviewed or published yet, but Moderna plans to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA to begin inoculating high-risk people as soon as possible. Fun fact: the work is supported by the Dolly Parton COVID-19 Research Fund. 

That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over, though. You should still wear face coverings to keep your droplets to yourself. If you find yourself wearing them inconsistently because they fall down your nose or fog up your glasses, neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel M. Heiferman has a solution: a Band-Aid. On Twitter, he posted a selfie with a Band-Aid stuck over the top of his surgical mask, solving both annoying problems at once.

Is getting together with relatives and friends for Thanksgiving safe? Buzzfeed asked seven infectious disease experts about what they are planning for next week’s holiday and advice for celebrating safely. The semi-short answer: The less you travel and the fewer people you see, the better. 

Ah, yes, a “mouthwash kills coronavirus” study is trending on social media again. But don’t get too excited. A Cardiff University study [PDF] found that an ingredient in mouthwash kills the coronavirus in human saliva—in test tubes—within 30 seconds. But the results have not been peer-reviewed, and the lab conditions aren’t the same as a human being swishing some Listerine. Even if real-world tests show that the ingredient does wipe out the virus in people’s saliva, mouthwash isn’t going to be a viable treatment for coronavirus infection because it never reaches other parts of the body. A better idea? Wash your hands often and don’t touch your face.

November 10, 2020

Some good coronavirus news for once! Pfizer and BioNTech announced that early results of the phase three trial for their coronavirus vaccine showed 90 percent efficacy against infection. The study will continue for another few weeks at least. If all goes according to plan, the company will seek emergency use authorization from the FDA and potentially manufacture 50 million doses of the vaccine by the end of the year. Here’s more.

While Pfizer’s news is promising, Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik explains why you shouldn’t throw away your mask just yet.

Coincidentally, Eli Lilly received emergency use authorization for its monoclonal antibody treatment for mild or moderate COVID-19 on Monday. The drug, called bamlanivimab, was approved for patients at high risk of developing severe symptoms. But there is currently a shortage of the drug, blunting its impact for slowing the pandemic, at least for now. 

As coronavirus cases continue to spike across the U.S., people are facing the prospect of extended time at home—or even another series of lockdowns. And, apparently, a lot of them buying puzzles. NPR reports a worldwide run on anxiety-soothing puzzles, leaving many companies with mountains of back orders. “There's not a factory on the planet that is not months behind on production," Puzzle Warehouse co-owner Brian Way said. Here are a few more options for whiling away the hours.

November 3, 2020

It’s Election Day! And the CDC has good news for voters who have recently tested positive for the coronavirus: You can still vote in person, even if you’re in isolation. This seemingly counterintuitive advice was published on the agency’s website Sunday. People who have been exposed to a person with the coronavirus, or who have tested positive for it, can still show up to polling places as long as they wear masks, stay 6 feet away from other people, and wash their hands before and after voting, The Washington Post reports.  

Citizens are heading to the polls amid the worst outbreak of coronavirus cases thus far. NPR has an at-a-glance rundown of where cases are spiking fastest. The acceleration of infections has led national treasure Dr. Anthony Fauci to suggest we may not be back to pre-pandemic normality until 2022, according to CNN. If an effective vaccine is approved in the next several months, it could take six to eight months for a significant number of Americans to be vaccinated, Fauci said.

A Gallup poll in October 2020 found that the coronavirus is the most important non-economic issue facing the United States today. Of those surveyed, 30 percent cited the coronavirus, compared to 23 percent choosing “the government/poor leadership” as the next most pressing non-economic problem. A recent Pew Research poll showed the sharp divide in concern about the coronavirus pandemic among voters for each presidential candidate.  

The International Coastal Cleanup, an annual volunteer effort to tidy up the world’s beaches, released it preliminary data from this year’s event—and it turns out that a lot of disposable masks, gloves, gowns, and other PPE are ending up in the ocean. According to CNN Business, people in 76 countries collected more than 1.6 million pounds of garbage, including thousands of pounds of PPE. 

October 27, 2020

Last week, the CDC updated its definition of “close contact” when it comes to coronavirus contact tracing. Now, anyone who spent a total of 15 minutes within 6 feet of an infected person in a 24-hour period is considered a close contact. Previously, anyone who spent 15 consecutive minutes within 6 feet of a person who tests positive would be a close contact. The updated guidelines will most likely have an impact in places where people spend longer stretches of time indoors, such as schools, stores, restaurants, and offices.

A recent study found that over-the-counter mouthwash can “inactivate” a type of human coronavirus that causes colds—and set off an online debate about its ability to kill SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Katherine J. Wu at The New York Times debunks the idea that mouthwash could prevent COVID-19 with the facts.

Small businesses continue to feel the economic impact of the pandemic. But when New York City’s beloved Strand bookstore asked customers to help it survive the financial crisis, readers placed so many online orders that its website crashed.

After months cooped up at home, perhaps you’re ready for a working vacation. The Washington Post looks at eight countries that currently allow American travelers to visit for remote working. Most of the countries are in the Caribbean region, but digital nomads could also check out Estonia or Georgia for a change of scenery.

October 20, 2020

The British government is about to start the world’s first coronavirus vaccine human challenge trials—a type of clinical trial in which participants are purposely exposed to the virus in a controlled setting. This method differs from a usual Phase 3 trial in that all participants receive one of several vaccines, and none receives a placebo as part of a control group. According to The New York Times, “In the first stage of the study, scientists will try to determine the smallest doses of the virus required to infect people. The scientists will test gradually increasing doses of virus on up to 90 healthy volunteers from 18 to 30 years old until they reach a level that reliably infects them. Once they have decided on a dose—potentially by late spring, the government said—researchers will begin to compare a set of coronavirus vaccine candidates by immunizing people and then deliberately infecting them.” Human challenge trials save time over the usual Phase 3 method, but some bioethicists argue that it’s not ethical to expose people to incurable illnesses.

It was really only a matter of time. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota likely seeded the current coronavirus outbreak across the Upper Midwest, The Washington Post reports. At the August event attended by 500,000 motorcycle buffs, few wore masks or practiced social distancing. This month, North and South Dakota, Montana, and Minnesota led the U.S. in new infections per capita. Read the full story here.

Certain uninformed politicians have claimed that coronavirus deaths are vastly overcounted, and that they actually total far less than the current number in the U.S. (which is 221,000 as of today). An analysis in Scientific American debunks the coronavirus death overcount myth and explains how deaths are recorded and factored into the total. The final result is a number that places the coronavirus as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer.

Finally, 14-year-old Anika Chebrolu, a middle school student from Frisco, Texas, won the prestigious 3M Young Scientists Challenge for her project exploring a weakness of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Chebrolu designed a computer model that identified a molecule that can bind to the spike protein on the virus, which could lead to new drugs that can bind to and destroy it. “How I develop this molecule further with the help of virologists and drug development specialists will determine the success” of her efforts to combat the pandemic, she told CNN.

October 13, 2020

Johnson & Johnson put a temporary “pause” on its coronavirus vaccine trial after one of thousands of participants reported an unexplained illness, STAT reveals. The company didn’t offer any details about the nature of the illness. Adverse events are a normal part of human clinical trials, STAT notes, and it is not known whether the patient received a dose of the experimental vaccine or the placebo.

The Lancet Infectious Diseases reported the first case of coronavirus reinfection in the U.S. A 25-year-old Nevada man tested positive for the coronavirus in April and recovered. He tested negative at two consecutive points in time after his recovery. But about two months later, he again tested positive, and genetic analyses showed that the SARS-CoV-2 strains for the two infections were different. The journal said the man’s second bout was worse than the first, requiring supplemental oxygen and hospitalization.

Multisymptom inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) has now appeared in adults. The Kawasaki disease-like syndrome associated with active or past coronavirus infection has been documented in a small number of adult COVID-19 patients. The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report announced 16 cases in which adult COVID-19 patients, ranging in age from 21 to 50, had symptoms including fever, cardiac irregularities, gastrointestinal effects, and rash. Ten of the 16 patients exhibited “pulmonary ground glass opacities” indicating possible lung injury, though they reported minimal respiratory symptoms.

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? The Washington Post tells the story of Jesse Katayama, a Japanese boxing trainer whose life goal was to visit Machu Picchu in Peru. But he arrived in the South American country just as the government closed the site due to the pandemic. Instead of flying back to Japan, he waited, renting a room and teaching local kids boxing to pass the time. The locals implored the government to reopen Machu Picchu for Katayama—and only for Katayama—so he could visit before returning to Japan. This week, he got his wish.

September 29, 2020

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that simply speaking can release “vortical puffs” of air capable of shooting droplets up to 3 feet per puff. The paper suggested that certain sounds, such as the “p” in “puff,” spoken in a 30-second stream of speech, could carry respiratory droplets 6 feet from speaker’s mouth. The findings point to the importance of wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

What does “clean” really mean these days? We’ve seen businesses, restaurants, and airlines wiping down surfaces to disinfect high-traffic areas (efforts which some have called comforting but not really worth it). Public health campaigns have implored people to wash their hands (and that really does help slow the spread of germs). NPR spoke with James Hamblin, author of Clean: The New Science of Skin, about what it means to be hygienic now.

About 9 percent of Americans have antibodies against the coronavirus in their blood, according to a new paper in The Lancet. Researchers sampled blood from more than 28,000 patients at 1300 dialysis centers across the U.S. Seroprevalence for the antibodies was highest in the Northeast, where the majority of coronavirus cases emerged early in the pandemic, and higher among Black and Hispanic patients, who are at greater risk of infection than whites.

And finally, we hate to end on a low note, but the global number of deaths from the coronavirus has passed 1 million. The Washington Post has a multimedia examination of this terrible and unnecessary milestone.

September 22, 2020

Once an impeccable source for evidence-based health information, the CDC is now facing criticism over two incidents involving its guidance for containing the coronavirus. The New York Times reported that information calling aerosols the primary mode of transmission (which most public health officials believe is true) was posted to the website, then removed without an official explanation. The key updates: The CDC said that the coronavirus may be able to spread in the air farther than six feet from an infected person and that proper indoor ventilation is essential to eliminate airborne particles. The mystery echoes the previous week’s scandal in which political appointees bypassed CDC officials in issuing new coronavirus testing guidelines and meddled in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the agency’s public health bulletin. Confused? Wear a mask, avoid people, and hope for the best.

With many of their travel plans still stalled, tourists are snapping up tickets for “flights to nowhere,” The Washington Post says. Some major airlines are offering trips that depart and arrive at the same airport, just to give folks the opportunity to squish into a seat, gaze out the window, and enjoy a Bloody Mary. Australian airline Qantas told Reuters that its seven-hour flight from and to Sydney flies over the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru with no layovers. “It’s probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history,” a spokesperson said.

Quick reminder: Get your flu shot! Public health officials have been warning about potentially battling a “twindemic” this fall of COVID-19 and the flu. A wave of flu cases would put more pressure on our already maxed-out healthcare system, so it’s important to get your flu vaccine ASAP. Here are a few up-to-date facts about the flu shot.

September 15, 2020

Young children are spreading the new coronavirus to adults. In a new Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC says that 12 children under the age of 10 at two Utah day care facilities acquired COVID-19 and transmitted the virus to at least 12 people who were not associated with the day care. Some of the children were asymptomatic. The agency said that “testing of contacts of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases in child care settings, including children who might not have symptoms, could improve control of transmission from child care attendees to family members." 

Two Ph.D. candidates in Poland put together an online calculator to determine how many lives you could save by wearing a face mask, Popular Mechanics reports. In an effort to combat misinformation about mask efficacy, Joanna Michałowska and Dominik Czernia designed the free tool to consider your hypothetical mask material as well as the number of people around you who are wearing masks correctly. Try it out here

People who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have visited an indoor restaurant or bar in the previous two weeks compared to those who tested negative. NPR finds that the CDC analyzed 314 symptomatic adults who sought testing; 154 tested positive and 160 tested negative. After questioning each participant about his or her activities, researchers concluded the main factor associated with higher incidence of COVID-19 was dining out, possibly because masks can’t be worn while eating and drinking. 

Speaking of dining out, a lot of us have been ordering takeout instead of going to our favorite restaurants. Have you ever wondered about all the extra trash generated by our national takeout trend? The Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema did, and gathered all the containers, lids, and utensils—down to the tiny condiment cups—from three weeks’ worth of his carry-out meals. Though the mountain of disposables was alarming, he discovered that restaurants are beginning to find ways of reducing takeout’s environmental impact.

Finally, we know wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is annoying. But please, don’t use live reptiles as face coverings when you ride the bus, like one bloke did in Manchester, England.

September 8, 2020

With the number of deaths from COVID-19 nearing 190,000 in the U.S. alone, some have remarked on the surprising absence of public memorials and collective mourning. But at least one project is addressing the need for remembrance. In Uruguay, the architecture firm Gómez Platero recently unveiled its design for the world’s first large-scale memorial to pandemic victims and survivors. Looking a little like a flying saucer touching down on Earth, the structure is meant to remind people that “human beings are subordinate to nature, and not the other way around,” the architects said in a statement reported by Arch Daily.

Oh deer: scientists have discovered that the deer mouse, an abundant North American rodent, can catch and spread the coronavirus (at least in a lab setting). Pre-peer-reviewed research demonstrated that one group of mice contracted the virus after being exposed and then passed it on to a second group. Whether deer mice will end up being a major vector for coronavirus—as they are for hantavirus—or whether they can spread it to humans remains to be seen. In semi-related news, the virus has also been documented in minks, but there’s no evidence to suggest minks can pass the virus to humans (it’s more likely the animals at an affected farm contracted it from humans).

North America's cutest coronavirus carrier.
North America's cutest coronavirus carrier. / Phil Myers, Animal Diversity Web // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Researchers in Hong Kong note that poop may be a more important factor in the spread of the coronavirus than previously known. An earlier study found that flushing toilets can produce plumes of vaporized fecal matter that can carry the virus, and that testing wastewater at sewage treatment plants can predict which communities may experience outbreaks. Bloomberg reports that the current study examined poop samples from 15 patients who had tested negative after a COVID-19 infection. In seven of the patients, the virus remained active in the gut (with or without gastrointestinal symptoms), indicating that infection continued even after clearing other systems in the body.

Last week we mentioned a superspreader event in rural Maine. Now, NPR reports that yet another mass gathering—the annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota—is the source of outbreaks in at least 12 states. A team of German economists analyzed anonymous cellphone “pings” from rallygoers along with public health data during and after the 10-day event. They estimate more than 266,000 cases, or 19 percent of the 1.4 million new cases in the U.S. between August 2 and September 2, may be linked to the rally [PDF].

September 1, 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. entering its seventh month, The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull reveals why she seems to have become markedly clumsier since the crisis began. She looks at how stress and anxiety make us drop things, bump into stuff, and trip over ourselves, and finds that the decreased spatial awareness—not impaired motor skills—that accompanies stress is making us more cloddish.

Hurricane Laura's devastation is being compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hurricane Laura's devastation is being compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. / NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You know what’s also pretty stressful? Trying to survive a hurricane, derecho, or wildfire during a pandemic. But that’s exactly what residents in Louisiana, Iowa, and California are faced with right now. WABC offers tips for preparing to evacuate and hunker down at a shelter during a natural disaster: For example, along with the usual emergency supplies in your go-bag, you’ll need hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and face masks. Here’s more about what to expect according to the Red Cross.

A recent wedding in rural Maine has become the latest superspreader event, The Washington Post reports. The event in early August, held in a lakeside cabin in Millinocket, featured about 65 guests and few masks, and has resulted in 87 cases of COVID-19. The wedding echoes another superspreader event early in the pandemic, a biotech conference held in Boston in February. According to WBUR, a new genetic analysis revealed that infections from that conference spread far and wide, eventually accounting for 40 percent of all coronavirus cases in the Boston area as of July 1.

Finally, last week we mentioned the first known case of coronavirus reinfection. Now, STAT looks at what immunologists say it means for understanding post-infection immunity.

August 25, 2020

The first confirmed case of coronavirus reinfection was documented by researchers in Hong Kong, The New York Times reports. In April, the patient tested positive for the novel coronavirus and had mild symptoms. This month, the patient tested positive again and had no symptoms. The researchers confirmed that it was a reinfection, and not just prolonged shedding of viral particles, because the genomes of the viruses causing the two infections were different. The finding suggests that for some people, immunity may last only a few months following infection—but more research is needed.

A team of researchers in the Netherlands has found antibodies in the breast milk of women who recovered from COVID-19. But they didn’t stop there. In a press release, chemist Albert Heck said that the next step to discovering whether such antibodies might prevent infection in others is to freeze breast milk into ice cubes. By licking the cubes, test subjects will theoretically place the antibodies in prolonged contact with their mouth and nasal passages, the area where infection is thought to occur. 

A coronavirus outbreak occurred at the world’s largest nudist resort last week. About 100 people have tested positive at Cap d’Agde on France’s Mediterranean coast, a locale The Guardian calls “hugely popular among naturists” and where vacationers can eat, shop, and sunbathe in the village sans vêtements. Ironically, masks are required.

Speaking of masks, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions around wearing them to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Business Insider debunks a few here. We have more tips about choosing the right type and making them as comfortable as possible.

August 18, 2020

A new study in the journal Nature Communications finds that influenza viruses can be spread by microscopic dust particles—raising questions about the ability of coronaviruses to do the same. In an experiment using guinea pigs, researchers from the University of California, Davis and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai painted live flu virus on the animals’ fur and then let them run around their cages. Particle counters revealed that the virus became airborne and was able to infect other guinea pigs. The results show that the viruses could be transmitted by particles other than respiratory droplets. Of course, more research into this mechanism is needed to understand its implications for the novel coronavirus.

Seven months after the first appearance of the novel coronavirus in humans, what have we learned so far? The infectious diseases reporting team at STATNews breaks down the hard-won lessons and the questions that still need answers.

One question on nearly everyone’s mind: How long does immunity last after you recover from COVID-19? Several new preliminary studies have found that “disease-fighting antibodies, as well as immune cells called B cells and T cells that are capable of recognizing the virus, appear to persist months after infections have resolved—an encouraging echo of the body’s enduring response to other viruses,” reports Katherine J. Wu at The New York Times. People who have had even mild cases of COVID-19 and recovered seem to show “strong, lasting immunity.” In addition, the CDC issued new guidance suggesting that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may have immunity for at least three months after recovery and do not need to be retested within that time period.

Finally, one way that it seems very unlikely that you will contract the coronavirus is from frozen food. Following reports of contaminated frozen chicken wings exported from Brazil to China, the World Health Organization said that food and food packaging are not likely conduits for the virus. Also, wash your hands.

August 11, 2020

Infectious disease reporter Helen Branswell published a sobering call to action in STATNews, telling readers that the window for getting a grip on the out-of-control pandemic is closing. Branswell notes that the social adaptations that have made life somewhat more normal despite the pandemic, such as outdoor dining and trips to the park or beach, will disappear with the coming of winter. And we are not prepared—especially when we add cold and flu season to the situation. “Unless Americans use the dwindling weeks between now and the onset of ‘indoor weather’ to tamp down transmission in the country, this winter could be Dickensianly bleak,” Branswell writes. Read more here.

On the research front, the focus has been on why some COVID-19 patients become sicker than others. But some scientists are beginning to look at the estimated 40 percent of COVID-19 patients who show no symptoms as a key to understanding how the virus operates. As Ariana Eunjung Cha writes in The Washington Post, “a segment of the world’s population may have partial protection thanks to ‘memory’ T cells, the part of our immune system trained to recognize specific invaders. This could originate from cross protection derived from standard childhood vaccinations.” Another source of protection could be previous exposure to similar coronaviruses, like the one that causes the common cold.

A recently published MIT study has quantified the misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic that is floating around the internet. Researchers found 2311 reports of misinformation (which, honestly, seems low) that fell into three primary categories: rumors; stigma, like blaming certain people for spreading the virus; and conspiracy theories. Yasmin Tayag has the story in the Medium Coronavirus Blog.

Speaking of misinformation, Russian authorities announced the approval of the world’s first vaccine against the coronavirus today—before human clinical trials were completed. The rush to create a vaccine has prompted concerns among U.S. researchers that Russian institutes are cutting corners when it comes to drug safety and efficacy. Vladimir Putin said it works “effectively enough,” according to The New York Times.

August 4, 2020

In last week’s Coronavirus Digest, we mentioned several potential vaccines against COVID-19 that were entering human trials as part of the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed. Now, MIT Technology Review has a story about a group of scientists developing DIY vaccines even faster than major pharma companies—and testing them on themselves. (Don’t try this at home.)

Another one bites the dust: the parent company of the country’s oldest department store, Lord & Taylor, has filed for bankruptcy. It joins a growing list of other iconic brands like Brooks Brothers, J.C. Penney, and Neiman Marcus that have filed for Chapter 11 following pandemic-related losses.

"I thought you brought the hand sanitizer!"
"I thought you brought the hand sanitizer!" / Dino Reichmuth/Unsplash

If you’re planning a coronavirus-friendly vacation this year, a road trip may be your best bet for a socially distanced getaway. Here are some expert tips for protecting yourself and your family while traveling and sightseeing. We don’t need to remind you to wear a mask and wash your hands, right?

Speaking of masks, demand for masks with clear panels is increasing. For the more than 10,000 people in the U.S. who are hearing-impaired or deaf, opaque cloth masks create a barrier to communication—and the same goes for children or the elderly, NPR reports. Clear-panel masks allow people to see a speaker’s facial expressions or read their lips, making it easier to communicate while preventing the spread of the virus.

July 28, 2020

The potential coronavirus vaccine being developed by the pharmaceutical company Moderna and NIH entered a Phase 3 trial yesterday. In this phase, researchers will test the vaccine’s effectiveness against coronavirus infection—previous phases tested its safety—in 30,000 healthy volunteers. Some participants will receive two doses of the vaccine and others a placebo. Results of the three-month study may be available before the end of the year. If you would like to volunteer, click here for info.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech SE announced that the U.S. will buy 100 million doses of their potential vaccine for about $2 billion. It’s set to enter a Phase 2b/3 trial to test safety and efficacy soon, and may be available by the end of the year if it’s shown to be effective and gets approved by the FDA.

Everyone should be wearing face coverings in indoor spaces (and anywhere in public, frankly) to protect others from your potentially infectious droplets. Now, new research is showing that face masks do offer some protection for the wearer after all, reports The New York Times. People who wear masks may inhale fewer viral particles from the air, thereby lessening the severity of any resulting coronavirus infection.

Until we have a vaccine to keep us safe from the coronavirus, we have Swedish knights. A group of medieval reenactors from Torneamentum, a knights’ association, will enforce social distancing among tourists on the Swedish island of Gotland. “For us knights, it is a matter of course to stand up when duty calls, and we really look forward against taking on the task,” said Lennart Borg, one of the knights. 

Finally, what exactly is a COVID surcharge? As restaurants and other businesses reopen in some states, consumers are seeing more “COVID fees” added to their bills. NBC News looks into the practice.

July 21, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a noted Washington Nationals superfan, has shown his love for the D.C. baseball team by wearing face masks emblazoned with the Nats logo to his hearings on Capitol Hill. Now, the infectious disease specialist will throw out the first pitch at the Nats’ home opener against the New York Yankees on Thursday night. While no fans will be there to cheer him on, the team’s official statement says it all: “Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title.” We know Dr. Fauci was a high school basketball star, but how’s his throwing arm?

CDC data released today show that vast numbers of coronavirus cases are still going unreported, The New York Times reports. The infection rate is believed to be two to 13 times higher than the official count in different parts of the country, driven mainly by pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers. 

With the U.S. still struggling to control the virus’s spread, the Bahamas has joined dozens of other countries in banning American tourists. The country’s prime minister said that COVID-19 cases have spiked since the Bahamas reopened to international travelers on July 1. The Miami Herald has details.

Public health experts are warning people against wearing “valve masks”—those face masks with little valves in front to let the wearer exhale more comfortably. The valve defeats the whole purpose of wearing a mask in the current pandemic: it may filter some of the air you inhale, but doesn’t filter any air that’s exhaled—including infectious droplets—so it won’t protect those around you. A cloth mask is better at keeping your droplets to yourself. Here are some fancy ones you’ll actually enjoy wearing.

July 14, 2020

Governor Gavin Newsom ordered all 58 of California’s counties to close indoor bars and restaurants to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In the most populous counties, gyms, salons, barbershops, malls, houses of worship, and offices are also being told to close. The number of COVID-19 cases in California has risen since Memorial Day and the state has averaged 8000 new cases per day over the last week. Florida and Texas, where the number of new cases is skyrocketing, are finally considering reinstating lockdown measures as well.

Meanwhile, New York—once the center of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic—reported no COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, July 11. It marked the first 24-hour period since March 11 with no coronavirus-related fatalities. In exactly four months, New York City claimed 23,323 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. Washington, D.C. also celebrated four consecutive days with no coronavirus deaths, the longest span of time since the city’s first death occurred on March 20.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to keep the state’s curve flattened and instituted quarantine requirements for travelers coming from more states where the pandemic is growing. Now, visitors from 19 states need to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arriving in New York. Cuomo also issued an order allowing officials to obtain traveler’s addresses and personal information at airports. 

Finally, forgoing vacations hasn’t been easy during the pandemic, but the books on the Washington Post’s list of travel-disaster narratives will go a long way towards curbing your enthusiasm for adventure. We highly recommend The Worst Journey in the World, one of the included books, for its unparalleled descriptions of self-induced misery

July 10, 2020

About those aerosols … the World Health Organization updated its guidance on Thursday in response to an open letter from 239 researchers, announcing that coronavirus can be spread via very tiny, airborne droplets. The WHO maintains that the primary mode of transmission is through larger respiratory droplets, which can be partially corralled by face coverings. NPR has more on the report.

Speaking of face coverings, Starbucks announced that it will require all customers to wear masks in stores beginning July 15. The company is the first U.S. restaurant chain to do so, but with daily case counts setting records in several states, more may follow. Wearing a mask is so important, in fact, that Bill Nye the Science Guy came out of retirement to record a TikTok about it.

A Starbucks barista in the Before Times
A Starbucks barista in the Before Times / Hao Xing, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

One of the biggest questions about the coronavirus is what its long-term effects will be in people who have recovered from COVID-19. A small study from University College London researchers, published in the journal Brain and reported by Reuters, adds to the growing body of evidence that COVID-19 can cause “temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, or other serious brain effects.” The New York Times recently reported on COVID-19 patients experiencing terrifying hallucinations and delirium while in the ICU.

On that note, some radio stations are trying to cheer up listeners by playing Christmas music in July—as if the concept of time in 2020 couldn’t get any weirder.

July 7, 2020

A team of researchers in Germany has found that we inherited genes associated with higher susceptibility to COVID-19 from Neanderthals. Modern humans and Neanderthals interbred at least 60,000 years ago, and today, Neanderthal genes make up about 2 percent of European and Asian people’s DNA. Precisely why this segment of genetic material seem to increase the risk of severe coronavirus-related illness is still a mystery.

In the market for masks? Pay attention to the fine print. The CDC is reporting that some online retailers are falsely advertising face masks as being approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH issues approval numbers to manufacturers who must follow strict guidelines when making masks to ensure their protective integrity. Most of the fraudulent face masks are manufactured in China and are printed with fake NIOSH approval numbers. Here are some tips to consider before you buy.

More than 200 scientists signed a letter to the World Health Organization presenting evidence that the coronavirus virus can be transmitted by tiny airborne droplets. The WHO has maintained that large respiratory droplets are the main mode of transmission, but the signatories argue that the aerosols can not only carry the virus but linger in the air, especially indoors. The New York Times has the bad news.

Atlantic horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) get busy on a sandy Delaware beach.
Atlantic horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) get busy on a sandy Delaware beach. / Asturnut, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

One crucial ingredient in a potential coronavirus vaccine comes from an unlikely source: horseshoe crabs. The ancient marine invertebrate’s copper-rich blood is the only natural source of limulus amebocyte lysate, a substance that can indicate if vaccines, drugs, or other sterile medical materials are contaminated with a dangerous bacterial toxin. National Geographic looks into what the current pandemic means for the species.

July 3, 2020

Testing is one of the most important tools public health officials have to beat back the pandemic. NPR looks into how much testing is needed to get a handle on the record outbreaks in numerous U.S. states and finds efforts are falling alarmingly short. At the same time, the supply chain for testing is already struggling to fill orders, which may reduce the number of tests that are available and extend the wait time between having the test and receiving results. The Atlantic has more.

Spanish newspaper El País breaks down three cases studies analyzing superspreader events. In each case, a single person with the coronavirus infected multiple people in an enclosed environment. Researchers who compiled the data pointed to prolonged exposure to infected persons as the main driver of contagion, along with recirculated air from air conditioning systems. 

Drive-in movie theaters are coming to a Walmart near you.
Drive-in movie theaters are coming to a Walmart near you. / Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

With many traditional movie theaters closed, drive-ins are making a comeback across the country. Walmart announced that it’s turning 160 of its Supercenter parking lots into pop-up drive-ins this summer, the Verge reports. From August to October, audience members can remain in their cars while enjoying a series of films chosen by Tribeca Enterprises, the group behind the Tribeca Film Festival. Here are some traditional drive-ins to check out too.

Finally, it’s almost the Fourth of July. Backyard cookouts and fireworks will feel a lot different this year (if the celebrations are happening at all). The New York Times has a few suggestions for spending the July 4th holiday in a masked and socially-distanced manner, while the Red Cross offers reminders about more typical safety concerns, such as don’t barbecue inside and don’t swim in beach areas without lifeguards.

June 30, 2020

The CDC updated its list of conditions that may increase your risk for severe COVID-19 if you become infected with the coronavirus. Previously identified comorbidities included cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Now, the list of illnesses with the potential to intensify COVID-19 symptoms include those three, plus chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), any immunosuppressing condition, sickle cell disease, and a history of organ transplants. The agency announced the updates last Thursday, June 25.

Remdesivir is the only antiviral drug that has been shown to reduce COVID-19 patients’ time in the hospital, and now its manufacturer, Gilead, has set a price on it. STAT reports that the company will charge the U.S. government $390 per vial of remdesivir, totaling $2340 for a six-vial, five-day course of treatment. Private insurers will be charged $520 per vial, or $3120 for a five-day course. A recent study showed the drug may shorten the average time of some patients' hospital stays by four days. In contrast, four days in a U.S. hospital costs about $12,000, according to The New York Times.

With coronavirus cases reaching unprecedented daily highs in several states, The Atlantic explains why it’s happening with charts that show the awful toll. In an interview with CNN and reported by Politico, Dr. Anthony Fauci scolded Americans who have abandoned mask-wearing and social distancing, saying “it’s a recipe for disaster.” And NBC has a refresher on the proper way to wear a mask for actually protecting others from your droplets—and it's not the reverse Batman.

Finally, United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and American Airlines announced they will start booking all seats on their planes July 1 and do away with any attempt at social distancing (which, let’s face it, isn’t easy when seats are less than 17 inches wide). The carriers had been keeping the middle seats empty to space passengers out as much as possible. American is allowing passengers to rebook without a fee if their flight is too full for comfort, but they will need to pay the difference in fare, and other restrictions apply. Here are some hacks for carefully planning your next trip.

June 26, 2020

The governor of Texas ordered all bars in the state to close to reduce the staggering rate of new coronavirus cases, especially among younger people. On Wednesday, Texas announced a new daily high in the number of new infections at 6584. Florida reported more 8933 new cases on Thursday [PDF].

The Justice Department issued a warning about fake permits that exempt the bearers from wearing face masks, which have been popping up on social media. One fake card suggests anyone who insists on the bearer wearing a face mask could be fined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, though the law’s name is misspelled on the card.

A Washington Post-Ipsos survey has found that 31 percent of Black Americans know someone who has died of the coronavirus, compared to 17 percent of Hispanic Americans and 9 percent of white Americans. Epidemiologists attribute the disparity to socioeconomic inequality: “This pandemic has really unearthed—shone a real bright light on—the ways these disparities should not be accepted and are not tolerable,” Joseph Betancourt, vice president and chief equity and inclusion officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Post.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of New York City’s first Pride march, but many Pride festivities around the world have been canceled because the pandemic. Much of the LGBTQ community will be celebrating indoors this year, so kick back with these essential LGBTQ movies available to stream now.

June 23, 2020

The U.S. now accounts for 20 percent of new coronavirus infections worldwide, The New York Times reports. New infections in states that reopened without meeting benchmarks for containing the pandemic are continuing to climb. One infectious disease specialist told The Times that the spread is “like a forest fire.” See the data here.

On the other hand, states that imposed strict lockdowns and saw the number of new cases drop are beginning to reopen with mask and social distancing rules in place. New York City, once the country’s COVID-19 hotspot, began phase 2 of its reopening process yesterday. Phase 2 allows city barbershops and hair salons to reopen with precautions, and many were booked solid.

The FDA issued a warning about hand sanitizers manufactured in Mexico. Some products may contain methanol, a potentially fatal substance that causes nausea, vomiting, headaches, vision problems, and nervous system damage, The Washington Post reports.

In coronavirus-adjacent news, 1993’s Jurassic Park topped the boxed office last weekend, 27 years after its debut. Its resurgence is due to many studios’ reluctance to release new films while most U.S. movie theaters remain closed. And another classic blockbuster is having a moment: 1975’s Jaws came in second behind the dinosaur thriller. Here are some more flicks that might reach No. 1 in your living room.

June 19, 2020

Antibodies may give you some immunity against a coronavirus reinfection—but it may only last for a few months, according to The New York Times. A small study of 37 people in Nature Medicine found that those infected with coronavirus but who showed no symptoms may be only temporarily protected from reinfection, but researchers are continuing to investigate.

Across the U.S., local and state lawmakers are fighting ordinances to require residents to wear face coverings in public, and individual resistance to wearing masks has grown—all at a time when coronaviruses cases are skyrocketing in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and other states. We shouldn’t have to say this now, but wear a mask, for crying out loud—it could save your life and the lives of people you love.

Finally: 7-11 canceled its annual 7-11 Day, a Slurpee giveaway that celebrates the chain’s birthday on July 11, due to the pandemic. If you’re craving a summer treat, try some uniquely flavored ice cream instead.

June 16, 2020

The FDA withdrew its emergency-use approval of the malaria drugs hydrochloroquine and chloroquine after studies showed it offered no benefit for COVID-19 patients. Though touted as a promising treatment by some uninformed persons in government, hydrochloroquine’s “potential benefits for such use do not outweigh its known and potential risks,” Denise Hinton, the FDA’s chief scientist, wrote in a letter [PDF] to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week.

While the search for COVID-19 treatments continues, the best ways to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus is still wearing masks and social distancing, according to public health officials. Many states that have begun phased reopenings, however, are seeing big spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Some officials are now threatening to lock down their cities and states again if people don’t follow the rules.   

Tonight, the PBS series Frontline will premiere The Virus, a new documentary examining how the new coronavirus emerged and spread rapidly across the world. The filmmakers also look at the inconsistent state and federal response to the pandemic in the U.S. Check your local listings for show times.

So long, spongy golden hotel waffles.
So long, spongy golden hotel waffles. / pawopa3336/iStock via Getty Images

Finally, make-your-own waffles and other self-serve treats at hotel breakfast buffets may become things of the past due to coronavirus-related health precautions, the Washington Post reports. Console yourself by reading up on the fascinating history of waffles.

June 12, 2020

Two new studies in the journal Nature estimate how lockdowns prevented millions of coronavirus infections and deaths. In one study, researchers analyzed 1717 quarantine policies in six countries—China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the U.S.—with models usually used to measure economic growth. They suggest the contagion-fighting measures prevented about 530 million infections. The second study looked at the number of COVID-19 deaths across 11 European countries and estimated an additional 3.1 million people would have died from the coronavirus if quarantine policies had not been implemented.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are increasing significantly in some U.S. states. The New York Times’s tracker shows upticks in 14 states as a result of more widespread testing, while The Washington Post reports increases in hospitalizations since Memorial Day, when some states began to loosen stay-at-home restrictions

All this means that face masks are here to stay. Recently, two Swiss research institutes developed a way to make surgical masks less obtrusive for all. Chemists created a transparent, biodegradable polymer for masks that allow patients to see healthcare workers’ facial expressions while preventing the transfer of infectious droplets. They may be on the market for medical professionals by next year.

Finally, Google Maps has introduced an update that shows coronavirus-related restrictions on public transportation and some destinations. Perhaps most helpful is the app’s ability to tell you in real time if trains or stations are too crowded to safely social-distance. Take a look here

June 9, 2020

The World Health Organization announced that transmission of the coronavirus by asymptomatic carriers may be “very rare.” Then, health journalists and scientists took to Twitter to temper expectations: it turns out that pre-symptomatic carriers, who may show symptoms at a later time, are still believed to transmit the virus in about half of COVID-19 cases. Researchers continue to investigate the size of the roles pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people play in the pandemic. Disease ecologist A. Marm Kilpatrick, biology professor Carl T. Bergstrom, and physician Eric Topol posted Twitter threads breaking down the latest info.

Here’s some good news: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand has no known coronavirus cases, Axios reports. The country went into strict lockdown since February 28, and eventually saw 1154 cases with 22 deaths. Nearly 300,000 tests were performed, and no new cases have been reported for the past 18 days.

For many, one of the toughest parts of the pandemic has been not being able to hug loved ones who aren’t members of your immediate household. The New York Times has an adorable illustrated guide for when we’re able to hug friends and family again.

Finally, you’ve heard of maskne—the unpleasant skin reaction to the moisture and heat generated by wearing face masks all day. But you may not realize that the backs of your ears might be suffering, too. The elastic bands on some face masks can cause chafing where they loop around your ears, so here are some easy tips for soothing back-of-ear-irritation.

June 5, 2020

A study that found COVID-19 patients who took hydrochloroquine had an increased risk of death has been retracted, NPR reports. Originally published in The Lancet, the study prompted the World Heath Organization to halt its own study of the malaria drug for treating COVID-19. But researchers raised questions about the accuracy of the study’s patient data, which came from a private company called Surgisphere and whose founder is listed as one of the study’s authors. More from NPR here.

Speaking of studies, science journalist Carl Zimmer dives into the history of scientific journals and how new research gets published—an important primer for the current flood of breaking coronavirus news. 

People in Zambia speak more than 70 languages, and most speak a Bantu dialect. But public health alerts about preventing the spread of coronavirus were delivered in English, the country’s official language, causing many to miss the message. Sister Astridah Banda, a Catholic nun, had a solution: she started a radio program to broadcast health advice in multiple languages, and it became a hit. NPR’s Goats and Soda has more.

Finally, summer is almost here, though that may be hard to believe. Here are a few practical tips for wearing masks—which can trap heat and sweat on your face—more comfortably in warm weather.

June 2, 2020

Researchers around the world are still trying to figure out what makes the new coronavirus so contagious and so lethal. Early on, physicians thought the virus was primarily a respiratory virus affecting the lungs. But with other symptoms beginning to emerge—blood clots, “Covid toes,” and a syndrome in children resembling Kawasaki disease—some researchers are beginning to think that COVID-19 is a disease of the blood vessels instead. Medium explains.

If you’ve had COVID-19 and present antibodies, does that mean you’re immune from another infection? How long does immunity last? What is immunity, exactly? Katherine J. Wu, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology and immunobiology from Harvard, breaks down the complicated ways our immune system protects us from pathogens.

Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly has started the first human trial of a COVID-19 treatment based on antibodies. According to CNN, the Phase 1 trial will test the safety of a lab-engineered monoclonal antibody therapy that was based on antibodies sampled from COVID-19 survivors. Results of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial will be known later this month.

Finally, Dr. Anthony Fauci talks with STAT's Helen Branswell about the state of “warp speed” coronavirus vaccine research and other hot topics in a characteristically forthright interview.

May 29, 2020

Japan declared a national emergency in early April to combat the spread of coronavirus. Now, a few days before the order was set to expire, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is lifting the state of emergency in all but eight of Japan’s 47 prefectures. See how public health efforts to root out “clusters” of COVID-19 contained the disease in this Science article.

Many Americans are still waiting to receive their stimulus payments from the government, and a few who have received the stimulus funds have mistaken the letters for scams or junk mail. The Washington Post describes the anonymous envelopes and debit cards linked to the “Money Network Cardholder Services of Omaha, Nebraska” arriving in mailboxes with little indication they’re actually from the U.S. Treasury. The IRS has posted a FAQ with info about the stimulus payment debit cards, and if you’ve received one, here are some answers about activating and using it.

Businesses and offices around the world are beginning to reopen, which necessitates creative solutions for maintaining social distancing among employees and customers. The CDC has just issued guidelines for redesigning office spaces in the pandemic, some of which seem doable (such as adding clear dividers between closely-spaced desks) and some that seem well-nigh impossible (keeping people six feet apart in elevators and getting rid of communal coffee makers). And in France, a designer has come up with a similar tool for restaurant patrons: these giant Plexiglass “lampshades” that shield wearers from other people’s droplets.

Finally, it’s Friday, and most of us are still stuck at home. Now would be a great time to adopt the Swedish tradition of Fredagsmys, loosely translated as “Taco Friday.” Swedes gather together on Friday nights to eat tacos and watch movies with their families, and really, is that so different from what we may already be doing? Here are a few recommendations for awesome heist flicks to start your own Taco Friday.

May 26, 2020

Coronavirus travel restrictions have trapped a Bolivian orchestra at a German palace since mid-March, CNN reports. When the Orquesta Experimental de Instrumentos Nativos left South America, Bolivia had registered no cases of COVID-19 and Germany was still accepting international flights. But days after their arrival, the musicians failed to get on one of the last flights out of Germany before Bolivia closed its borders. Since then, they’ve been staying in the guesthouse at Rheinsberg Palace, a rococo-style castle surrounded by picturesque grounds in northeastern Germany. We can think of worse places to be quarantined.

More cities and states are allowing certain business to reopen during the continuing coronavirus pandemic. The New York Times has a frequently updated, state-by-state guide to the new rules.

Just FYI, rats are becoming more aggressive in their search for food. The Washington Post reports that the urban rodents are having a hard time with bars and restaurants closed, since they’re not producing the garbage and food scraps the rats would normally feast upon. In extreme cases, rats are even turning to cannibalism. Here are the CDC’s new guidelines for keeping them away from your trash cans.

Speaking of nature, a new article in Scientific American looks into how the environment will record the coronavirus pandemic. In a recent example, scientists examining Alpine ice cores discovered that the amount of lead pollution in the atmosphere decreased suddenly only once in 2000 years: between 1349 and 1353, when the Black Death engulfed Europe. In the future, tree rings and ice cores might show a remarkable decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in early 2020.

May 22, 2020

In two new studies published in the journal Science, researchers at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center report promising results in battling the new coronavirus. For the first experiment, nine rhesus macaques were exposed to the new coronavirus and came down with COVID-19. After they recovered, researchers again exposed them to the virus, and the monkeys did not get sick—suggesting that they developed antibodies that protected them from reinfection. In the second study, researchers gave six experimental vaccines to 25 monkeys, then exposed those animals and 10 control monkeys to the virus. The vaccinated subjects showed “a substantial degree of protection,” one of the researchers told Reuters. Larger studies and human subjects will be the likely next step.

“Oh sh*t,” tweeted one virologist when she saw this study confirming the presence of infectious coronavirus particles in human poop. It gets worse: The study authors suggest that more research into “fecal-oral or fecal-respiratory transmission” of the coronavirus is warranted. And in a possibly related development, fatbergs may present another problem for treating coronavirus-contaminated sewage.

Have mask, will travel.
Have mask, will travel. / Fabiomichelecapelli/iStock via Getty Images

Memorial Day Weekend is here, though it still seems like mid-March because time and space are meaningless now. If you happen to be planning a summer road trip for 2020, follow these tips from The Washington Post, which suggest that vacations will be masked and sanitized for the foreseeable future. Here are a few more ideas.

Finally, if your summer vacation is going to be spent at home, check out these goods for a fun backyard movie night.

May 19, 2020

Remember the plight of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the naval aircraft carrier whose captain pleaded with authorities to rescue his coronavirus-infected crew? (And then the captain was fired, and then the guy who fired him was fired, and then the captain was rehired in a different role?) It’s finally leaving port and heading back out to sea.

Speaking of aircraft, are planes safer than a car for travel these days? Medium talks to experts and finds that it really comes down to how tightly the vehicle is packed with non-related people.

And now that airlines and many other entities are requiring people to wear masks in public, you’ll need these tips for properly laundering your fabric face coverings.

Finally, a potential coronavirus vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Moderna has shown some positive results in a preliminary test. The Phase 1 trial in eight volunteers showed the vaccine at low doses was safe for use, but did not gauge its effectiveness or final dosage. The New York Times reports that the participants had a strong immune reaction to the vaccine and produced antibodies. Much larger Phase 2 and 3 trials scheduled to begin the summer will evaluate the vaccine’s efficacy.

May 15, 2020

A French dairy trade group is urging cheese lovers in France to fromagissons—basically, “let us act for cheese!”—to help farmers during the coronavirus pandemic. Citizens can do their part by scarfing down cheese from the regions of Saint-Nectaire, Reblochon, Cantal, and Camembert that would otherwise go to waste. BRB, moving to France …

Quarantine fatigue is sweeping the nation. Inverse talks to three experts about what this special type of fatigue looks like and offers some options for getting through it.

One way to battle quar exhaustion that seems to be working for us: Looking at these adorable baby animals born during the pandemic. CNN has the scoop on a newborn zebra at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida, two blue penguin chicks at the Bronx Zoo, and baby bison at Custer State Park in South Dakota. Personally, I’m in love with Sami the porcupette and her mom, Samantha, who were rescued by workers at Newhouse Wildlife Rescue in April.

Apparently, a segment of the male population is not OK with wearing face masks, despite numerous cities and states mandating masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19 and statistics showing men are more susceptible to the disease. According to a non-peer-reviewed paper on PsyArXiv, men more than women were likely to view wearing a mask as “shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma.” You know what’s also a sign of weakness? Not being able to breathe because your lungs are filled with fluid!

And one more cautionary tale to take you into the weekend: a woman in Italy found out the hard way that drinking hand sanitizer does not protect you from coronavirus infection. The unnamed woman sipped two teaspoons of alcohol-based sanitizer every day for more than three weeks, then had to go to the emergency room for extreme abdominal pain. Doctors found “corrosive injury” to her digestive system. A better idea: wash your hands.

May 12, 2020

A new, free online course from Johns Hopkins University teaches the basics of contact tracing—which involves interviewing COVID-19 patients and determining whom they’ve been around. It’s one of the most important tools for stopping the spread of the new coronavirus. Once they’ve earned their certificate of course completion, students will be primed to apply for one of the thousands of contact tracer jobs in U.S. cities. The Washington Post reports that up to 100,000 contact tracers will be required to fight the pandemic, with as many as 10,000 needed in New York City (and there, the gig pays $57,000 a year [PDF]).  

If you live in New York, Maryland, or another state that has required people to wear face coverings in public, perhaps you’ve noticed the extreme variety in mask styles—from surgical masks to bandanas to homemade masks to hazmat respirators. NBC has some tips for choosing and buying a face mask, but the main thing to remember is that they won’t keep you completely safe from the new coronavirus. You still have wash your hands and practice social distancing if you need to leave home.

Maksim Axelrod, The Sill

Last week, houseplant boutique The Sill teamed up with Frontline Strong Relief and the orchid brand Just Add Ice to donate 10,000 orchids to healthcare workers in New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital Network. Noting the mood-boosting power of plants, The Sill founder and CEO Eliza Blank said the gift is their way of thanking the city’s essential workers as well as celebrating Mother’s Day in the midst of a global crisis.

Certain segments of the internet have been swooning over Dr. Anthony Fauci’s no-nonsense handling of the coronavirus crisis, but a steamy 1991 romance novel called Happy Endings was there first. Famed D.C. hostess and author Sally Quinn based her handsome NIH scientist who has an affair with the widowed first lady on Fauci, just as Fauci was at the NIH developing treatments for AIDS. Washingtonian has the details.

Finally, as if it didn’t already feel like we’re living in a science fiction dystopia, check out the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

May 8, 2020

The FDA gave emergency-use approval to a new CRISPR-based test that can diagnose COVID-19 in one hour, much faster than the six to eight hours of some current tests, Emily Mullin reports in Medium. CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that uses a molecular “guide” to find and target DNA and remove it from its sequence. In the new test, developed by Sherlock Biosciences, the molecular guide is sent to find the novel coronavirus’s genetic signature in a nose or throat swab. If it locates the signature, the guide releases a signal indicating a positive result. Its developers say the test can be run using standard lab equipment. 

Last week, several news outlets reported some younger COVID-19 patients developing serious blood clots or even having strokes while being otherwise healthy. It turns out that blood clots may not be such an unusual symptom of infectious disease, Roxanne Khamsi writes in WIRED. As far back as 1903, physicians noted the presence of clogged blood vessels in people with typhoid fever or bacterial diseases. So why is it so surprising now in COVID-19 patients? “It may be on account of our success at treating such [bacterial] infections,” Khamsi says.   

The military is temporarily banning recruits who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 from joining any of the armed forces, according to a Pentagon memo reported by The New York Times. Military officials may reconsider the guidance in the future, once more facts are known about the virus’s long-term effects in patients.

Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? The World Naked Bike Ride will go on, despite the pandemic—at least in Portland, Oregon. While other cities have canceled the event, Portland’s organizers are encouraging nude cyclists to participate on June 27 while maintaining proper social distancing.

May 5, 2020

With so many families unable to visit loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes, some folks are getting creative with their means of connection. When his mother couldn’t visit her 95-year-old father in a Toronto hospital, Avi Minkowitz asked his friend to drive his cherry-picker truck to the facility. His mom got into the bucket and was hoisted up three stories so she could see her beloved dad outside his third-floor window. Read more in this heartwarming essay.

New York City officials began distributing 7.5 million free masks to residents last weekend after the mayor said hospitals and health care workers were adequately supplied with PPE. People can pick up the masks in parks, schools, and food distribution centers (check here for a map of giveaway points in parks). All New Yorkers are required to wear a face covering in public, especially in scenarios where social distancing is difficult.

Tracy Wilk wanted to help out on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, but she’s a chef, not a doctor. So she launched a campaign, Bake It Forward, while furloughed from her job as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Wilk creates batches of delicious cookies and gives them to nurses, physicians, and hospital staff who need a little pick-me-up. “A lot of those health care workers have been working overtime. I’ve done those days before in the kitchen,” Wilk told Good Morning America. “A cookie isn’t going to change it, but it’s going to help workers on the front lines, and those little bits of joy are what makes the day better.”

As we learn more about the novel coronavirus, “COVID toes” is emerging as a possible new symptom. Some people have exhibited reddish lesions on their toes and then tested positive for COVID-19 without showing the typical signs of infection, such as a fever or dry cough. According to the Cleveland Clinic, those with “COVID toes” or unexplained rashes should contact their doctor and seek a coronavirus test.

Finally, are you feeling cooped up? Commiserate with the casts of these single-location movies (like my favorite on the list, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope). 

May 1, 2020

People quarantining at home are feeding their sweet tooths (or is it teeth?). Sales of Kellogg’s breakfast cereals, which include Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Pop Tarts Cereal, and many more, increased 3 percent in its latest earnings report thanks to the pandemic, the company said. Frozen food sales jumped 9 percent.

Stressed-out, home-bound parents are turning to Zoom babysitters when they need a break from working, teaching, and childcare. One sitter told The Washington Post that the most difficult part of the job was getting kids back in front of the screen when they wander off.

An NIH study of more than 1000 COVID-19 patients showed that the antiviral drug remdesivir reduced hospital stays to average of 11 days compared to 15 days for patients who received a placebo. The death rate was not reduced significantly. While the results of the study were modest, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that “it is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”

Coming soon: outdoor movie revival?
Coming soon: outdoor movie revival? / John Margolies, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Could drive-in movie theaters make a comeback? With traditional cinemas closed across the country, drive-ins offer the thrill of a summer blockbuster in the sanitized safety of your vehicle, with a dash of mid-century nostalgia thrown in. About 300 still exist, including the Family Drive-In Theatre near Winchester, Virginia, which has recently sold out its weekend shows of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Finally, if you’re bored with your cereal-based isolation diet, plug in your Instant Pot and try making these nine concoctions.

April 28, 2020

The CDC added six symptoms to its list of common signs of possible COVID-19 infection. Along with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the new list includes chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of smell or taste. NPR reports that the expanded list of symptoms might allow more people to qualify for coronavirus testing, since people generally need to show signs of infection to be tested. One scary potential symptom is not yet included: blood clots that are leading to strokes in younger, otherwise mildly symptomatic COVID-19 patients. The Washington Post has that story.

Preliminary results from an Oxford University-based effort to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus are promising, The New York Times reveals. Six rhesus macaque monkeys were given an experimental vaccine, exposed to copious amounts of the virus, and remained healthy. Human trials are next.

N95 masks have been in short supply since the pandemic began, so a group of Boston-based researchers set about finding a simple way to decontaminate masks for reuse. In a not-yet-peer-reviewed paper appearing on the preprint server medRxiv, they suggest that steaming a mask in the microwave over a dish of hydrogen peroxide effectively removed viral particles. While the method hasn’t been tested on a large scale, it could present a way for individual healthcare workers to reuse previously worn masks.

An n95 mask
An n95 mask / Famartin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

If your wedding has been scaled back or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic—and if you really, really love Miller High Life—have we got a contest for you. The beer brand is giving away “doorstep” weddings to three couples, which include the services of an officiant and photographer and $10,000 for a sometime-in-the-future honeymoon. See the company’s website for details about entering.

We’re still anticipating the return of toilet paper to store shelves. Now, Business Insider reports that the supply of disinfectant wipes and other cleaning products might not come back to pre-pandemic levels until late summer. Brush up on these tips for disinfecting your home while you wait.

Finally, if you’re running out of ways to entertain—I mean educate—your kids at home, try these fun and informative science experiments.

April 24, 2020

Doctors and nurses have self-isolated in RVs and hotel rooms to avoid bringing the new coronavirus into their own families. But one doctor in Texas may be having a slightly more fun time that most in quarantine: He’s camping out in his sons’ treehouse, conveniently located within shouting distance of his actual home. ER doctor Jason Barnes told the Corpus Christie Caller Times that his wife cooks meals for him and leaves them on a table outside, where he “[grabs] it before the dogs can get it.” 

You might be wearing your mask wrong. If your mask only covers your mouth or hangs around your neck while you talk on the phone, you’re not using it properly. The Huffington Post has some tips to get the most out of your cloth face covering—and also offers hints about the best fabrics for making your own. And, NPR reports on a not-yet-peer-reviewed study that suggests wearing a nylon stocking over your cloth mask keeps the mask tighter on your face and more effective at restraining your spittle.

Walmart and grocery stores are putting one-way traffic signs in their aisles to help shoppers move in a single direction throughout the stores, which is meant to encourage social distancing. At least two Mental Floss editors have recently witnessed very little adherence to the rules, though. Maybe the stores need to hire crossing guards.

A study highlighted last week in this digest found that cats were more susceptible to the virus than other mammals and birds. Now, the USDA is reporting that two pet kitties in different areas of New York State have tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting their vets with respiratory symptoms. There is still no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from their pets. Fortunately, the two cats are expected to make a full recovery.

Finally, you may be sitting on a hoard on quarantine-related nonperishables right now, but those canned goods won’t last forever. Just look at what happened to this one

April 21, 2020

You may be feeling stir-crazy after a few weeks of home quarantine, but you have probably had it easier than six tourists in India who were found self-isolating in a cave. The visitors—from France, Turkey, Nepal, Ukraine, and the U.S.—had run out of money for their hotel rooms. Officials took them to a nearby ashram and told them to quarantine for another two weeks. 

Schoolkids in Britain can take a virtual geography class with naturalist extraordinaire Sir David Attenborough. The dulcet-voiced narrator of Blue Planet II and Seven Worlds, One Planet will teach pupils about mapping, animal behavior, and oceanography on the BBC’s Bitesize Daily.

Should you disinfect your deliveries? The New York Times offers useful tips on when or if to treat common surfaces, like cardboard boxes, your shoes, and your hair, with antiviral solutions. Bonus: The Times’s how-to guide for washing your clothes at home.

There are many things we still don’t know about the novel coronavirus, including how well it is spread by different methods. Words like airborne and aerosol get thrown around a lot, but their meanings aren’t always clear. Check out this explainer on some coronavirus terminology you should know

Finally, a Colorado indie bookstore is helping readers discover new novels and authors during lockdown. For $50, Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder will deliver a mystery bag of four to six books (plus a packet of tea or coffee beans) based on the customer’s preferred literary genre. Here are some more ways to help local bookstores stay afloat.

April 17, 2020

A 99-year-old World War II veteran in Britain vowed to raise money for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) by walking 100 laps around his garden. On April 16, Captain Tom Moore completed his mission and raised a whopping £13 million ($16 million) for the public health service. Moore had started out on April 8 with a goal to raise £1000—but when supporters donated £70,000 in the first 24 hours, he upped his objective to £1 million. As The Guardian reports, Moore completed the last 25 laps on live television accompanied by a guard of honor from the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, Moore’s own regiment in the war. Now, his supporters are asking Queen Elizabeth II to give him a special commendation. And he turns 100 on April 30!

Another enterprising senior, quarantined 93-year-old Pennsylvania resident Olive Veronesi, put a plea in her window: “I need more beer!” Coors Light answered the call and promptly delivered 150 cans. “I was on my last 12 cans, I have a beer every night, you know what, beer has vitamins in it, it’s good for you, as long as you don’t overdo it,” Veronesi told KDKA. Similarly, 82-year-old Ontarian Annette Muller implored her daughter to run to the store with a sign in her window reading “need more wine.”

In more feel-good news, a Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant that usually features a $700 tasting menu is feeding the city’s homeless population instead.  

An anonymous donor bought each of the 549 households in Earlham, Iowa, $150 in gift cards to spend at local businesses—a present totaling more than $82,000. “I don’t believe ‘thank you’ is a big enough word,” Mayor Jeff Lillie told The Washington Post.

Finally, Facebook is directing users who have interacted with posts containing coronavirus misinformation to websites with facts from the World Health Organization. A Facebook official said in a blog post that 2 billion users have been directed and 350 million have clicked through to the factual sites. Here are some other companies doing their part during the crisis.

April 14, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. economy hard, but some small business owners are devising creative ways to help their staff. The owner of a Tybee Island, Georgia, bar spent three days un-stapling dollar bills—totaling more than $3000—from the walls and ceiling to give to her workers.

Speaking of workers: Some newly unemployed and furloughed folks are creating online communities to help their peers get through the labyrinth of state labor websites and unemployment benefits.

Precious, precious toilet paper
Precious, precious toilet paper / NataliaDeriabina/iStock via Getty Images

The Great Toilet Paper Shortage continues, but apparently some people are finding it at Walmart. The company’s CEO, Doug McMillon, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on April 10 that Walmart consumers bought enough toilet paper in five days to give every American a roll. (That’s about 328 million rolls, or 328 billion individual squares if every roll had 1000 sheets.)

Cats can catch coronavirus. A Chinese study in the journal Science found that the novel coronavirus replicates easily in cats and ferrets (which often stand in for humans in respiratory studies), but not as well in dogs, pigs, chickens, or ducks. More research is needed, though.

By now you’ve probably heard your city’s or state’s recommendations for using a face covering or mask when you’re outside—and glasses wearers have surely discovered their lenses fogging up while wearing one. Here are a few tips for wearing a mask and glasses at the same time.

April 10, 2020

The toilet paper shortage is real—but your credit card company might be able to help you squeeze the Charmin. reports that high-end credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the MasterCard Gold Card offer concierge services to help cardmembers make dinner reservations, travel arrangements, and other transactions. In a small experiment, three staffers asked their card company’s concierge to find the nearest store with toilet paper on the shelves. Two concierges were able to call around and unearth the white gold.

A Marine veteran didn’t let the coronavirus pandemic interrupt her 104th birthday celebration, according to WMC Action News 5 in Memphis, Tennessee. Ruth Gallivan, believed to be one of the oldest female Marines, served in World War II. The veterans’ organization Honor Flight surprised her by putting together a drive-by car parade and wished her many happy returns.

Wondering how you can help essential workers during the pandemic, besides just staying home? Buy a meal for a medical professional during the pandemic through Feed the Frontlines, founded by a New York City restaurateur to make and deliver meals to hard-working doctors, nurses, and hospital staff (and to keep restaurants in business). You can also donate directly to NYC Health + Hospitals, where so many COVID-19 patients receive treatment.

Finally, your pantry staples might be running a little low after a month on lockdown. If you’re planning a run to the grocery store, follow these simple precautions to reduce the chance of bringing home the coronavirus along with your bread and dry beans.

April 7, 2020

Almost 24 million people watched Queen Elizabeth II deliver a personal televised message about the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, April 5. The queen thanked healthcare workers and those staying at home for their continued efforts in battling the outbreak, and said this address reminded her of her very first TV broadcast in 1940, when she offered a message to children who had been sent overseas for their own safety at the beginning of World War II. "We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return," the queen said. "We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again." The queen rarely gives televised speeches apart from her annual Christmas message—this broadcast was only her fifth in her 68-year reign.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The zoo's chief vet Paul Calle tweeted that Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, had tests confirmed at the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory after showing respiratory symptoms. Three other tigers exhibited the same symptoms, and zoo officials believe the big cats were exposed to the virus by an asymptomatic zoo employee. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, expects all the cats to fully recover. In a press release, the USDA said it's unlikely that your pet cat could transmit the virus to you, but if you feel sick, it's best to stay away from Fluffy as long as you have symptoms.

Oscar-winning actor and University of Texas at Austin professor Matthew McConaughey hosted bingo night (via Zoom) for a group of residents at The Enclave at Round Rock, a senior living community in a suburb of Austin. Along with his wife, mom, and kids, McConaughey called out the numbers while the quarantined seniors played along at home.

Should you be wearing a mask when you go outside? The answer is complicated, but New York City's mayor has begun urging residents to wear a fabric face covering to reduce the chance the virus could spread through breathing or talking. Recent research suggests presymptomatic people could transmit the coronavirus more easily through aerosols than previously thought.

And finally, you may have a hard time finding hand sanitizer in stores these days, but if you do, check its expiration date.