Tag Archives: quarantine

Third Chinese city goes back into quarantine to control local COVID-19 flare-ups

Chinese authorities have placed a third city under lockdown as part of efforts to control flare-ups of COVID-19. Around six million people in the country are now living in quarantine.

Image via Pixabay.

This year’s Winter Olympics games are scheduled to take place in China’s capital city of Beijing. Due to this, local authorities are keen to stamp out any COVID-19 cases in their country, both to protect the athletes and, likely, in hopes of getting praised at home and abroad.

As part of this effort, several Chinese cities are observing partial or full lockdowns. On Tuesday, the city of Lanzhou in the Gansu province was placed under complete quarantine. Today, the third city — Heihe — has been placed under the same restrictions.

Locked down again

China has had a hardline stance on the spread of the virus ever since it first emerged in 2019. The country was quick to institute targeted lockdowns, quarantine whole cities, and enact border closures to stop the spread of the virus. In broad lines, all these measures did pay off, and China grappled with the first wave of the pandemic quite effectively.

But they didn’t stop the coronavirus entirely. Several new flare-ups have been recorded in at least eleven of the country’s provinces, sparking a whole new round of lockdowns and quarantines.

Together with the four-million-citizen-strong Lanzhou, the city of Ejin (home to around 35,000 people) in Inner Mongolia has also been placed under lockdown three days ago. This decision follows a period of several days during which locals were ordered not to leave the city until further notice. Throughout China, an estimated six million people are now under quarantine. A few more tens of thousands are under orders to stay at home and limit their outside interactions to those that are strictly essential.

This Thursday, the city of Heihe in Heilongjiang province has also issued orders for its citizens to stay at home and forbidding travel outside of the city except in emergencies. Local authorities have also begun performing a testing campaign for its 1.6 million residents, and contact-tracing efforts for those identified as infected.

According to state media, public transportation and taxi services inside the city have been suspended, and vehicles were not allowed to go outside its bounds.

Residents in Beijing have also been ordered not to leave the capital since Monday, and quarantines have been imposed in certain residential areas.

Sydney extends lockdown for another month as coronavirus cases keep mounting

Australia’s largest city was meant to exit its five-week lockdown on July 30, but it seems it wasn’t meant to be. Citing a growing number of cases and still-low vaccination rates, local authorities have announced this Wednesday that the lockdown will be extended for one more month.

Image credits Robert Dychto.

This June, a driver for an international flight crew in Sydney contracted the coronavirus — thus plunging the city again into quarantine. After announcing 177 new cases, local authorities have announced an extension of lockdown measures. They urged those living in infection hotspots to not leave their neighborhoods, although those living alone will be allowed a “singles bubble” with another person, a move that I’m sure many interaction-starved Sydneyites will be very thankful for.

The lockdown will remain in effect until August 28, according to French news outlet AFP.

Locked Down Under — the extended cut

“I appreciate personally what we’re asking people do for the next four weeks but it is because we want to keep our community safe and want to make sure we can bounce back as quickly as possible,” New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

While lockdown measures remain in effect, Sydney residents can leave their homes only for exercise, essential work, to shop for necessities such as food, and for medical reasons. Local police have been issuing fines to those violating the restrictions, and Berejiklian said compliance efforts will be increased moving forward. He also asked residents to report those breaking the rules.

While Sydney is still grappling with the virus, Melbourne has just finished its fifth lockdown after beating the Delta variant of the coronavirus for the second time. Roughly eight million people in Victoria and South Australia states have also exited lockdown measures after outbreaks of the virus were deemed contained.

While Australia did move quickly against the virus in the early stages of the pandemic, it has struggled with the follow-through. It maintains a high percentage of unvaccinated citizens (roughly 76%), which left it vulnerable to the newer Delta variant. Its cities have been repeatedly going in and out of lockdown, and while Australians have been dutifully respecting these, in general, the frequent shutdowns are starting to take a toll on businesses and the general public.

Low supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech doses of the vaccine, and a wide distrust of the AstraZeneca shots are frustrating vaccination efforts. So far, Australia has officially recorded 33,000 infections and 921 COVID-related deaths.

Anti-COVID-19 measures could lead to large, delayed outbreaks of other diseases if we don’t prepare

The COVID-19 pandemic is understandably the focus of medical personnel and institutions, but all other infectious diseases haven’t left. However, the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) imposed against the former have also greatly reduced the cases of the latter.

Image via Pixabay.

New research from Princeton University showcases how measures such as compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing have “greatly” reduced the incidence of all infectious diseases such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). However, the authors argue that we should avoid letting this decrease lull us into a false sense of security, as we may simply be seeing a postponement of future outbreaks.

Temporary protection

“Declines in case numbers of several respiratory pathogens have been observed recently in many global locations,” said first author Rachel Baker, an associate research scholar at the High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI) at Princeton University.

“While this reduction in cases could be interpreted as a positive side effect of COVID-19 prevention, the reality is much more complex. Our results suggest that susceptibility to these other diseases, such as RSV and flu, could increase while NPIs are in place, resulting in large outbreaks when they begin circulating again.”

The NPIs applied against the pandemic could lead to an increase in respiratory syncytial virus infections in the future, the team explains. RSV is a virus endemic to the United States and a leading cause of lower respiratory tract infections in infants. The same is true for influenza, they add, albeit to a lower extent.

The team used an epidemiological model based on historic RSV data, factoring in recent downward trends in RSV cases. They then used this model to assess the possible impact of COVID-19 NPIs on RSV outbreaks in the United States and Mexico in the future. All in all, they found that even relatively short periods of NPI measures such as mask use could promote large RSV outbreaks in the future.

Such outbreaks were typically delayed a bit after the end of the NPI use phase; according to the model, we should expect cases to peak around the winter of 2021-2022.

“It is very important to prepare for this possible future outbreak risk and to pay attention to the full gamut of infections impacted by COVID-19 NPIs,” Baker said.

Seasonal influenza would follow the same pattern in the future, but the authors caution that it is much harder to project its behavior in the future due to its habit of evolving rapidly. Here, the availability of vaccines would make “a big difference” says Baker.

Bryan Grenfell, the Kathryn Briger and Sarah Fenton Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs at HEMI and co-author of the paper calls the drop in influenza and RSV cases “arguably the broadest global impact of NPIs across a variety of human diseases that we’ve seen”. Other diseases could be impacted by these measures as well over the long term, and better understanding these mechanisms can help us stay safe after the pandemic.

Exactly how NPIs influence outbreaks of infectious diseases depends on how they’re implemented and lifted, but also on biological factors — most notably the public “landscape of immunity and susceptibility”. After the 1918 influenza pandemic, the team explains, measles in London shifted from annual cycles to biennial outbreaks after NPI measures were lifted. The authors recommend the use of tools such as serology to better map this susceptibility in order to prevent such life-threatening changes in the future.

The paper “The impact of COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical interventions on the future dynamics of endemic infections” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The coronavirus infects our environments even before the onset of symptoms

Coronavirus carriers can infect their environment with the pathogen even before showing symptoms, according to a new study from the Cleveland Clinic.

The findings are based on an analysis of several surfaces in the hotel rooms of two presymptomatic Chinese students who were quarantined before being diagnosed with the disease. This study highlights the role and importance of quarantine in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and why it’s essential that we stick to isolation measures even if we’re ‘feeling fine’.

Hiding in plain sight

“The detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the surface samples of the sheet, duvet cover, and pillow cover highlights the importance of proper handling procedures when changing or laundering used linens of SARS-CoV-2 patients,” the authors explain.

“In summary, our study demonstrates that presymptomatic patients have high viral load shedding and can easily contaminate environments.”

The study looked at the hotel rooms of two students who returned to China from studying abroad on March 19 and March 20. They did not show any symptoms of viral infection initially, but were moved to the hotel for quarantine as a precautionary measure.

On the second day in quarantine, they both tested positive for COVID-19 — they were still asymptomatic at this time — and were hospitalized for monitoring and treatment.

Their rooms were closed off after they tested positive, and various surfaces throughout were sampled about three hours after the tests. The team took swabs from door handles, light switches, faucet handles, thermometers, television remotes, pillow covers, duvet covers, sheets, towels, bathroom door handles, toilet seats, and toilet flushing buttons, among other frequently-touched areas.

A total of 22 samples were collected from the two rooms. Eight of them tested positive for COVID-19. Six were from the same patient, identified as Patient A, and were harvested from the light switch, bathroom door handle, sheet, duvet cover, pillow cover, and towel. In Patient B’s room, positive samples were detected on a faucet and pillowcase.

The team notes that they saw larger viral loads after prolonged contact with sheets and pillow covers, suggesting that the pathogens found this environment particularly cozy. However, overall, the main take-away from this study is how carriers, even presymptomatic ones, can cause “extensive environmental contamination of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in a relatively short time.”

Such findings come to fill in the puzzle of how the coronavirus behaves in the environment. Previous studies have recorded its ability to survive on various surfaces, which varied between three hours and seven days, depending on the material. The present study comes to show how it can get there in the first place, and at which parts of its life cycle.

All in all, the coronavirus seems to easily spread to our environments, even before we know we have it. It’s also content to survive there for quite a long time, too, ready to hitch a ride on our hands towards our face. These two factors contribute to making it such a contagious virus, and they’re why the 14-day quarantine measures were instituted in the first place.

It’s also why such measures are still one of our most effective ways in curbing its spread.

The paper “Detection of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 RNA on Surfaces in Quarantine Rooms” has been published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Wisconsin stay-at-home order gets tossed by the state’s Supreme Court

While it can be frustrating, staying at home is actually one of the best ways to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further. That’s why many states across the US have imposed stay-at-home orders, which have been in place for quite a while now.

Credit Flickr

Following the evolution of the epidemic, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had decided to extend the lockdown until May 26. Nevertheless, the state’s Supreme Court overturned the governor’s decision, claiming it was “unlawful” and “unenforceable.”

The court’s 4-3 ruling essentially reopened the state, lifting caps on the size of gatherings, allowing people to travel as they please, and allowing shuttered businesses to reopen, including bars and restaurants. Nevertheless, local governments can still impose their own health restrictions.

Governor Evers reacted angrily in a conference call, saying the state has been doing well in the fight against the coronavirus. He predicted the court ruling will lead more counties to impose their own restrictions, leading to a confusing patchwork of ordinances that will allow the infection to spread.

“Today, Republican legislators convinced four members of the state Supreme Court to throw the state into chaos,” Evers said. “They have provided no plan. There’s no question among anybody that people are going to get sick. Republicans own that chaos.”

The ruling comes after the legislature’s Republican leaders filed a lawsuit last month arguing the order would cost Wisconsin residents their jobs and hurt many companies and asserting that if it was left in place, “our State will be in shambles.” The suit was filed specifically against Department of Health officials.

Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote on behalf of the majority that health secretary Andrea Palm’s order amounted to an emergency rule that she doesn’t have the power to create on her own. “Rule-making exists precisely to ensure that kind of controlling, subjective judgment asserted by one unelected official, Palm, is not imposed in Wisconsin,” Roggensack wrote.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Dallet, one of the court’s liberal justices, dissented, saying the decision will “undoubtedly go down as one of the most blatant examples of judicial activism in this court’s history. And it will be Wisconsinites who pay the price.” Dallet also took aim at the potential delay of a rule-making process.

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, both Republicans, said they’re confident businesses can safely reopen by following guidelines calling for workers to be allowed to stay home if they’re sick, making workers wash their hands, and implementing telework and social distancing.

Experts widely agree that states and localities will need robust testing and contact tracing programs in order to control the pandemic without strict social distancing measures, but many states — including Wisconsin — have reported shortages of critical supplies needed to run coronavirus tests.

Governor Evers encouraged people in his state to continue “to stay safer at home, practice social distancing, and limit travel, because folks, deadly viruses don’t wait around for politicians and bureaucrats to settle their differences or promulgate rules.” Nearly seven of 10 Wisconsin residents back the “safer at home” order, a survey this week showed.

How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health During Quarantine

Now is the time more than ever to practice self-care.
Credit: Pixabay.

Over the past few months, physical health has been at the forefront of our consciousness as everything seems to have been revolving around the pandemic. As time has passed, we have seen clearly that putting other concerns at the forefront – whether economic, social, or psychological – only exacerbates the extent of the crisis.

The problem is that with all the focus on physical health, mental health has had to be put on the backburner. Many people suffering from mental illness have to avoid therapy in order to keep themselves safe from the virus. Unfortunately, mental health emergencies do not cease to exist just because physical health is at risk, and people have been forced to think outside the box to get help.

Ideally, we should try to keep our mental health stable during this time so that we do not find ourselves in urgent distress. Since this crisis may go on for quite a while, it is imperative we all take measures to stay mentally healthy.

Here are some ideas to consider for taking care of your mental health in quarantine.

Boundaries are crucial

Because our normal lives are on hold, the boundaries that give us a sense of stability have blurred. We don’t need to get up for work at a specific time. We don’t need to get dressed or eat meals at regular hours. The weekend can feel just like weekdays. The living room becomes the office at some moments and an ad hoc bedroom at others.

Our boundaries take even more of a hit when we are in quarantine with others. The concept of personal space is paramount in this context. If personal space isn’t respect, this can lead to more than just frustration — you can begin to feel a disconnection from your sense of self.

Implementing boundaries is crucial during this time. They don’t need to be strict boundaries, but they need to be explicitly put in place. Tell your partner, roommate, or family that you need space at certain hours. Make a schedule for yourself to follow, even if you don’t have work to do. Keep the kitchen off-limits except at meal and snack times.

These boundaries will help you keep your sense of self-stable and provide you with stability and a sense of safety. It is one of the most important steps for taking care of your mental health during this time — not just in the pandemic, but also in general.

Find something easy but productive to do

Birding or nature spotting in general is a great hobby to pick up. Image credits: Diane Helentjaris.

I get really annoyed by online influencers calling people lazy for not doing that project they never have time for. We are going through a global crisis. It is not easy to motivate yourself to commit to the project of your dreams.

Nonetheless, having nothing to do can lead anyone to spiral into an existential crisis. If you have been let go from your job or are simply on indefinite leave, finding something productive to do will help you keep your mental health in check.

While this should be something productive, it should also be relatively easy and enjoyable. Start a blog if you enjoy writing. It does not need to be perfect, but it will give you an outlet to express yourself.

If you do start a blog, get the technical stuff out of the way first. You can find out what you need from good web hosting in these Cloudways reviews. Use WordPress or Wix to set up your blog in an hour or two.

Alternatively, commit to learning something you have always wanted to do. But make sure you set easy and specific goals. For example, learn to play a few chords rather than trying to learn to play guitar.

Use online resources

Online therapy is more helpful than ever during these times. A therapy session can help you get everything off your chest, whether fear about the virus and work or frustration with your partner. This is one case where boundaries become particularly important. Knowing you have the space for a therapy session is crucial to being able to share.

Other online resources include mindfulness websites and apps, CBT apps, and meditation videos. If you need important information but are scared to go to a psychiatrist’s office, you can also try contacting them online.

Mental health is incredibly important during this crisis, but it is hard to get treatment. Try and keep your mind as healthy as possible, and be sure to get treatment when necessary.

If you think the coronavirus crisis will be over by summertime, you’re wrong

After weeks and weeks of heavy lockdown, European countries are working to relax the quarantine. New York seems to have passed the worst hump, and some areas have not been heavily hit by a coronavirus outbreak.

But this is just the first step, and we have a marathon ahead of us.

The world has been turned upside down. It will stay that way for a while. Image credits: Malcolm Lightbody.

Second wave of infections

When Japan and Singapore were reacting to the coronavirus outbreak in January and February, the world showered them with praise — and rightfully so. But after a remarkable initial stage, they let their guard down and are now suffering a second wave of severe intentions.

If countries that got everything right in the first place and then relaxed too quickly are suffering greatly, what does this mean for places that never got it right in the first place?

Dozens of US states have announced plans to relax social distancing restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus. The state of Georgia has set in motion aggressive plans to ease stay-at-home restrictions, despite protests from scientists and even some local officials. Relaxing the lockdown without having access to robust and reliable mass testing, and without a transmission monitoring program set in place sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Wishful thinking

We all want restaurants to open and be full. We all want to carry on with our city breaks, our projects, our work, our partiers — our normal lives, in a nutshell. But this kind of wishful thinking will get us nowhere.

The scenario that President Trump, for instance, has been pushing at his daily press briefings have constantly been overly optimistic, downplaying the real risks. The “we have it all under control” from January, the “infections are going down not up” from March, and the recent touting of unproven (and potentially dangerous treatments) all go to show that if we ignore the evidence and project too optimistic of a scenario, it will come back to bite us.

There is strong scientific evidence that a lockdown works to reduce the spread of infection and that if social distancing measures are not taken the number of cases will spike and hospitals will almost certainly be overrun, leading to a devastating loss of lives. A lockdown, however, is only meant as a temporary measure. The idea is to control the spread of the virus and prepare a return to society with social distancing measures and with a reliable system in place to test and detect the spread of infections.

Image credits: Jordan Hopkins.

Lessons from Europe: a lockdown works, but it’s slow

However, a lockdown takes at least 2-3 weeks just for the first effects to be seen. Essentially, whenever a lockdown is imposed, you still expect the number of detected cases to rise because more people already have the virus without knowing it yet, and it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Then, as we’ve seen in Europe, the number of cases is quick to rise and slow to drop. For instance, Italy’s new cases peaked on 22 March at 6,500, and have slowly been dropping since. But now, over a month later, they’re still at 2,300 new cases every day.

The bottom line: it’s a slow and tedious process. Staying at home for 2 weeks won’t cause everything to go away.

Summer won’t kill the virus — autumn will make it worse

This idea has been floating around since January, but there is simply no reason to believe the virus will go away in the summertime. We’ve seen in places like Singapore that it can spread at temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

It is possible that heat slightly slows down the virus, but we don’t know if this is the case and to what extent this might happen. Simply put, it’s unrealistic to expect summer to save us. “[W]e will have coronavirus in the fall,” Anthony Fauci (and many other experts) warned.

This means that the virus will almost certainly be around in autumn and winter when the health burden of other respiratory diseases is expected to increase. This means that there will be even more pressure on the health system, and even more health threats to go alongside the coronavirus.

Changes will last many months

Bars will take a long time to resume their normal activity. Image credits: Victor He.

As much as we’d like to see restaurants buzzing and tourism booming once again, doing this prematurely will only spell more problems in the long-run. Even as some businesses resume activity, social distancing will still need to be enforced if we want to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Even under the best scenarios, if restaurants do open up, they will need to reduce the number of tables and ensure some distancing between patrons — and since most restaurants operate at razor-thin profit margins, it’s unclear how this can work out.

Sports will also not be the same for the rest of the year, and maybe even beyond that. Anthony Fauci sketched for Snapchat a best-case vision of stadiums without spectators. Whole teams would be quarantined in hotels, undergoing frequent testing throughout the season. Full stadiums, bars, and concert gigs will probably be the last signs of our return to the previous normal — but we’re a long way from being able to safely do that.

Meanwhile, the prospect of long-term remote working (and even remote learning) is becoming more and more likely. Schools are pondering the risks of kids picking the virus in schools and passing it to their families at home, and whether publicly or privately, most schools are preparing some alternative to this. Companies are doing the same thing for their employees. Obviously, some jobs can’t be done remotely but for the others, working online is becoming an increasingly likely possibility.

A vaccine is at least a year away

When Anthony Fauci said a vaccine is “at least 12 or 18 months away”, many people got that as “we’ll have a vaccine within a year”.

That’s not true — things rarely go exactly as planned, and although we are seeing unprecedented efforts, most experts believe that Fauci’s timeline was optimistic. The mumps vaccine, the fastest ever approved vaccine, took four years from collecting samples to producing a vaccine.

Then, it’s not like once we have a vaccine everyone can take it at once. Producing hundreds of millions of doses and distributing them to the population will be a major challenge in itself. All in all, we’ll be in this bumpy ride for a long time

Museums are sharing their creepiest exhibits on Twitter to help pass the quarantine

After its closure to the public due to the current outbreak, the Yorkshire Museum in York has launched a marvelous social media challenge. Its curators have challenged museums and visitors to share the creepiest exhibits in the world under the weekly hashtag #curatorbattle.

Museums from Germany, France, Canada, and the USA responded and a zombie blowfish, a terrifying taxidermic mermaid, and creepy necklaces have so far been proposed. The Yorkshire Museum started the informal competition with a hair bun off a Roman woman from the 3rd or 4th century AD, with hair clips still in place. Here it is, alongside the tweet that started it all:

The first to respond to the call were the German History Museum and Norwich Castle, a museum, art gallery, and study centre. The first presented a plague mask — very fitting for the current times — while the latter a “pincushion! Complete with tiny children’s heads”.

The National Museums of Scotland presented a “mermaid”, presumably to ensure that everyone will be having nightmares for a time. It looks like the misguided work of a taxidermist, but I’m not sure — and I don’t really want to know, either. You’ll be delighted/terrified to hear that they have more than one such exhibit, noting that “many museums have one”.

Of course, how would any creepy contest be complete without a cursed toy? Luckily, Canada’s Prince Edward Island Museum swept in to save the day.

But toys aren’t the only thing people seem willing to creepify. What if you, for example, wanted to wear pants while also not technically wearing pants but in a very creepy and disturbing way? Maybe even ones that might even make you rich overnight? The Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft has just the thing for you — the Necropants (replica).

On the other side of the fence, if inviting magic is the exact opposite of what you want, then you might need to pop around Oxford, visit the Pitt Rivers Museum, and don their “sheep’s heart stuck with pins and nails, to be worn like a necklace for breaking evil spells”.

I wonder what happens if you wear both at the same time.

Among the more exotic entries I’ve seen is this — a whale’s eardrum, painted to look like a (misshapen) human face, currently in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.

There’s also this mask at Abingdon County Hall Museum, which brings a much subtler sense of uneasiness and haunting to this whole challenge.

Finally, as promised, there’s also this zombified blowfish at the Bexhill Museum

Maybe the quarantine does keep us safe… from whatever is lurking in the shadows of museum collections around the world!

While we quarantine, some animals take to the streets, some get lonely, and a panda may get pregnant

As we keep to our homes more and more, wildlife is coming into the city to explore. Luckily for us, there’s always a camera nearby to capture such moments for “d’awws” and “aawws” on social media.

But not all animals are enjoying themselves equally. With zoos shutting their gates to the public, and amid growing concern that staff could unwittingly infect them, some zoo animals are starting to miss getting attention — but they’re also getting busy.

The goats of Llandudno

Wild goats roaming through Llandudno in North Wales by Andrew Stuart, a video producer at Manchester Evening News.
Image via Medium.

“Llandudno has a herd of wild goats, which date back to the 1800s. They do like to come down the hillside, as seen many, many times previously — and documented extensively by my colleagues at North Wales Live and the Daily Post,” Stuart explained for Medium.

“They are still wary of people and human life. Normally, they are put off going much further than the bottom of the Great Orme because of how busy it is (in relative terms — this is still Llandudno after all, and not inner-city Manchester). However, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown, the goats didn’t have any traffic, people or noise stopping them — so they ventured out.”

The goats do seem to enjoy themselves, as they chew through local shrubbery and gardens, sunbathe in a churchyard, and even “blocked traffic”. However, they are still wary of coming close to humans.

This sleepy fox somewhere in Canada

Image credits SaraReneeRyan / Twitter.

Sara, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Texas Tech, Tweeted that her dad who lives somewhere in Canada “had been sending me and my sister updates [on the fox] all day” and has even named it Nezuko.

It’s not hard to see why.

Foxes are one of the more often-spotted animals in this period, from what I’ve seen so far. There’s a lot of fox photos to enjoy in the replies to Sara’s tweet if that’s your thing (it definitely is mine).

A chill coyote

A coyote spotted in San Francisco.
Image credits beccatravels / Reddit (Becca Cook).

San Francisco is no stranger to coyotes. They live in the woods near the Bay Area and are generally content to stay away from people or ignore them if they meet. This one, however, looks very pleased that the normal hustle and bustle of the city has been curtailed in order do get some peace and quiet with a view.

But while this coyote is enjoying itself, others are hard at work resolving local politics.

“We had coup d’etat if you will,” Presidio Wildlife Ecologist Jonathan Young told ABC News about a fight that broke out in between the animals a few days ago. “A new alpha pair came and took over and kicked out the old alpha pair.”

“Since the COVID shelter-in-place, the winding trails and idle golf course [around the city’s Presidio] have become a go-to refuge for neighbors and more importantly their dogs. For the next few weeks or months, that’s potential trouble.”

The Presidio Trust cautions people that coyotes aren’t typically aggressive, but will regularly be on the hunt or defend themselves from domestic pets. It’s also a pupping season currently, so people would best try to avoid these animals. Sections of the Park Trail and the Bay Area Ridge Trail will be closed to hounds starting April 6 for the next few weeks or months over concerns about safety.

What’s happening in the zoos

We’ve just had our first confirmed case of the coronavirus jumping from a human to a tiger, and zoo staff are understandably worried that they may unwittingly infect their charges. As such, zoos around the world are implementing measures to limit the risk by reducing the animal’s exposure with their handlers and the public.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since reiterated that there is no evidence yet that pets can spread COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the US, but zoos and conservation centers are still being especially careful. For example, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, a rehabilitation center for orangutans in Borneo, closed its doors to all visitors and asked the caretakers to wear masks and protective gloves when working with the primates, which are burned after the working day is over.

Grosser Panda.JPG
A giant panda at Ocean Park, Hongkong.
Image credits J. Patrick Fischer,

Nathan Hawke from Orana wildlife park in New Zealand told The Guardian that although visitors are no longer permitted, many of the park’s animals continue to come for their daily ‘meet the public’ appointments. Other groups of animals that are accustomed to human presence also seem to miss us, too, although the feeling may be forming through their stomach more than through their hearts.

Privacy, perhaps, was just what some of these species had been missing, however. Staff at the Ocean Park in Hong Kong reported that the 14-year-old resident female and male giant pandas Ying Ying and Le Le have “succeeded in natural mating” two days ago — because there aren’t any rules on panda social distancing.

This is the first success since attempts at natural mating began a decade ago, and the staff is excited for the birth, as the species is currently considered vulnerable in the wild but attempts to breed more giant pandas in captivity have been remarkably frustrating.

Quarantines need to last at least six weeks to really hurt COVID-19

How is everyone faring this lovely quarantine? All good? I have some good news and some bad news. The good part is that quarantines work for slowing down the spread of viruses and if we all keep up the good work, it will come to an end. The bad part is that we may have to keep at it for at least six weeks in total, according to a new study.

Image via Pixabay.

The paper looked at 36 countries and 50 U.S. states and reports that aggressive intervention to contain COVID-19 (read: mass quarantine) must be maintained for at least 44 days for optimal results.

Isolonger

“Counts of total or new cases can be misleading and difficult to compare across countries,” said Professor Gerard Tellis of USC Marshall School of Business, one of the study’s co-authors. “Growth rate and Time to double are critical metrics for an accurate understanding of how this disease is spreading.”

The authors used the daily growth rate of the virus and time-to-double for cumulative cases in order to study its transmission patterns in society. These two metrics are reliable and generally applicable to any other pathogen, they explain. Daily growth represents the increase in cases on a day by day basis (in percentages), while time-to-double represents the length of time a pathogen needs to double its number of infections.

By looking at these two metrics, the team established three benchmarks to serve as targets for healthcare specialists:

  • Moderation: when growth rate stays below 10% and doubling time stays above seven days.
  • Control: when growth rate stays below 1% and doubling time stays above 70 days.
  • Containment: when growth rate remains 0.1% and doubling time stays above 700 days.

The team’s preliminary results suggest that large countries take around three weeks to see a moderation of the infection, one month to get to the control phase, and 45 days to achieve containment, once aggressive intervention measures are in place. If less aggressive intervention methods are implemented, however, this process can take significantly longer, the team explains. They defined aggressive intervention as lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, mass testing, and quarantines.

A country’s size also factors in — larger countries, the authors note, take longer to reach the moderation phase than smaller ones.

“Singapore and South Korea adopted the path of massive test and quarantine, which seems to be the only successful alternative to costly lockdowns and stay-at-home orders,” says co-author Nitish Sood, a student at Augusta University studying Cellular & Molecular Biology.

“Even though huge differences exist among countries, it’s striking to see so many similarities from aggressive intervention to moderation, control, and containment of the spread of the disease.”

Other local factors such as the layout and security of borders, cultural customs around greetings (for example bowing versus handshaking and kissing), temperature, humidity, and geographical location explain the differences seen between individual countries.

The results point to the need for adopting aggressive measures against outbreaks no matter the country. The U.S. may have a unique challenge because of its federal constitution, they add, noting that only half of the states have so far implemented such measures, and they’ve all done so at varying times. Even if these states successfully control or contain the virus, they may be exposed from states that didn’t or were late to do so.

The paper “How Long Should Social Distancing Last? Predicting Time to Moderation, Control, and Containment of COVID-19” has been published in the SSRN Electronic Journal.

US Surgeon General advises all Americans to stay home — “this week, it’s gonna get bad”

Earlier today, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams gave a telling warning of how the coronavirus outbreak is going in the US: “I want America to understand — this week, it’s gonna get bad.”

“As the nation’s doctor, I’m here to help America understand where we need to respond to this,” Adams told the Today show, saying that “every single second counts, and right now there are not enough people out there who are taking this seriously,” he warned, pointing to people still getting together in parks and on beaches.

The ongoing situation in New York (more than 20,000 confirmed infected in a single day) highlights the dangers of reacting too late, he explains. “waiting to see spread before they decide to get serious.”

The most important thing to remember right now is that while we can all catch, get hospitalized, or even die from the virus, we act as carriers and can spread the virus to our loved ones.

“We don’t want Dallas or New Orleans or Chicago to turn into the next New York,” he said.

“It means everyone needs to be taking the right steps right now. And that means stay at home.”

We’ve learned in Europe that not respecting quarantine, and not asking the public to isolate itself fast, leads to disastrous consequences. I hope the US will listen to the warnings of its Surgeon General, and that we don’t have to update our charts with ever-more numbers of victims of this virus.