Friday, April 3, 2020

A puzzling surge in sales for jigsaws

With scores of major cities entering or under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, work and social habits are shifting. Podcast consumption, which has surged in recent years, has now plunged, a side effect of commute-free remote work. Meanwhile, the extra free time has led to a sales surge of jigsaw puzzles and a worldwide shortage among retailers. Jigsaw puzzle sales from the leading maker Ravensburger climbed by 370% year-over-year. (The Wall Street Journal)


NASA offers at-home STEM tutorials, activities

NASA is bringing the universe into living rooms to help families who are cooped up at home. The space agency’s website is offering dozens of science activities for children and adults. Astronaut Nick Hague, who spent 204 days on the International Space Station, said he’s using many of the techniques he learned in orbit to stay connected during social distancing. “When I was on orbit, I’d do crossword puzzles with my boys over a video chat, and just being able to connect that way was such a huge emotional boost,” Hague said. “It helped me prepare for the next day.” Tutorials, e-books, games and more can be found on the NASA at Home site. (NASA)


How Well Do You Score With Social Distancing?

The website unacast has created a “Social Distancing Scoreboard” which grades the states and their counties on how well they are doing at social distancing. The study is conducted using cellphone data which tracks the distances people are traveling during the outbreak. As a whole, though, the United States has earned an F for its social distancing practices. The states with the highest grades are:

  1. Michigan (A-)
  2. New York (A-)
  3. Minnesota (A-)
  4. New Jersey (A-)
  5. Washington D.C. (A-)

The states with the lowest grades are:

  1. Wyoming (F-)
  2. South Carolina (D-)
  3. North Carolina (D-)
  4. Mississippi (D-)
  5. Tennessee (D-)



Man ‘trying to teach his dog how to drive’ arrested after car chase in Washington

A man was arrested Sunday after leading troopers on a high-speed chase with his dog sitting in the driver’s seat, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Patrol said. The man from Lakewood, Washington, hit two cars on separate occasions and failed to stop both times, leading state troopers on a high-speed chase up Interstate 5, the spokeswoman said. No major injuries were reported in either crash. The suspect was driving “absolutely recklessly,” and a pursuit ensued at 109 miles an hour, a spokeswoman said. One of the troopers attempted to corner the suspect’s car, looked inside and realized a pit bull was sitting in the driver’s seat while the suspect steered. As he was trying to evade troopers, the suspect drove onto Centennial Trail, a trail for pedestrians and bicyclists in Snohomish County known for being busy. Eventually troopers were able to use spike strips to end the pursuit. During the arrest, the suspect gave them one explanation: He was “trying to teach his dog how to drive.” The Washington State Patrol charged the man with reckless endangerment, hit and run, driving under the influence and felony eluding. His bond was set at $8,500 and he is set to appear in court. As for the dog, the “very sweet girl” was taken to the animal shelter after her owner was arrested. (Yahoo News)


Isolation, social distancing and extreme changes in daily life are hard now, but the United States also needs to be prepared for what may be an epidemic of clinical depression because of COVID-19

A research team of clinical psychological scientists at the University of Washington’s Center for the Science of Social Connection have been studying human relationships, how to improve them, and how to help people with clinical depression, emphasizing evidence-based approaches for those who lack resources. They believe this crisis, and our response to it, will have psychological consequences. Individuals, families and communities need to do what they can to prepare for a depression epidemic. They recommend that policymakers need to consider and fund a large-scale response to this coming crisis. Most of people know the emotional components of depression: sadness, irritability, emptiness and exhaustion. Given certain conditions, these universal experiences take over the body and transform it, sapping motivation and disrupting sleep, appetite and attention. Depression lays waste to our capacity to problem-solve, set and achieve goals and function effectively. The general public understands depression as a brain disease. Our genes do influence how easily we may fall into clinical depression, but depression is also, for most of us, substantially influenced by environmental stress. The unique environmental stressors of the COVID-19 crisis suggest that an unusually large proportion of the population may develop depression. Our bodies are not designed to handle social deprivation for long. Past studies suggest that people forced to “shelter in place” will experience more depression. Those living alone and lacking social opportunities are at risk. Loneliness breeds depression. Families, who must navigate unusual amounts of time together in confined spaces, may experience more conflict, also increasing risk. China experienced an increase in divorce following their COVID-19 quarantine. Divorce predicts depression, especially for women, largely due to increased economic hardship over time. While the COVID-19 crisis increases risk for depression, depression will make recovery from the crisis harder across a spectrum of needs. Given depression’s impact on motivation and problem-solving, when our economy recovers, those who are depressed will have a harder time engaging in new goal pursuits and finding work. When the period of mandated social isolation ends, those who are depressed will have a harder time re-engaging in meaningful social activity and exercising. (The Conversation)


Here are some of the latest news updates on the pandemic:

  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order to all residents as the number of cases in the state approached rose up to over 7000. The governor said he made a determination to issue the order following President Trump’s extension of federal social distancing guidelines to the end of April. (NBC News) 
  • Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, may be a symptom of COVID-19 in rare cases. Between 1 and 3 percent of coronavirus patients worldwide also have pink eye, making the inflammatory illness among the most uncommon reported symptoms. Other symptoms appearing in fewer than 10 percent of reported cases from China include nausea, nasal congestion, and diarrhea. The most common symptoms are a high fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. (WHDH) 
  • Anonymous officials from the Department of Homeland Security say its stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) is nearly depleted. One official said the stockpile was “never built or designed to fight a 50-state pandemic,” and asserted that price gouging is rampant as hospitals scramble to provide surgical masks, respirators, and gloves to their staff. The comments come in contrast to President Trump’s assurances that manufacturers were directly sending PPE to hospitals. Those with large caches of PPE have been reportedly selling them to foreign buyers at high markups, leaving little available for domestic use by health care workers. (Washington Post) 
  • Jia County in China’s Henan province is on lockdown following a small number of new coronavirus cases. All residents must remain at home unless they have clearance to leave for work. Two doctors tested positive for coronavirus in the county despite being asymptomatic. Jia County is approximately 300 miles north of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic. (Reuters)


New Study Shows Economic Strain With COVID-19

The survey was conducted between March 12 and 16, which means many of the hypothetical questions the 492 respondents were answering may have already become a reality. Though few Americans are under any sort of mandatory quarantine, 94 percent of Americans (as of March 30) said they are practicing social distancing and 67 percent are spending every day at home, only leaving to pick up essential items. If their town or city were put under quarantine, 1 in 5 small businesses can only afford to pay employees for one week or less. (SHRM)


US Navy Evacuating Virus-Hit Aircraft Carrier Docked in Guam

The U.S. Navy is evacuating thousands of sailors from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in Guam after its captain warned a coronavirus outbreak was threatening the lives of the crew. With dozens of COVID-19 cases discovered, a senior official said the Navy was rapidly arranging hotel rooms on the Pacific island for many of the 4,000-plus crew, while organizing a skeleton team of uninfected sailors to keep the ship operational. Pentagon officials admitted the Roosevelt’s plight was a challenge for military readiness, noting that defense forces worldwide are equally confronted by the pandemic. (Military)


SpaceX bans employees from using Zoom after reports of privacy breaches

The space firm, which has contracts with NASA, asked employees to use email, text, or phone instead of the controversial video conferencing tool, citing “significant privacy and security concerns.” Use of Zoom and other digital communications has soared as many Americans have been ordered to stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus. SpaceX’s ban on Zoom Video Communications Inc illustrates the mounting challenges facing aerospace manufacturers as they develop technology deemed vital to national security while also trying to keep employees safe from the fast-spreading respiratory illness. In an email dated March 28th, SpaceX told employees that all access to Zoom had been disabled with immediate effect. (CNBC)


One of Daniel Pearl’s accused killers is set to walk free in Pakistan

British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who allegedly kidnapped the WSJ reporter in 2002, had a death sentence changed to a seven-year term. He’s already been in jail for 18 years. A two-member bench of the High Court of Sindh province issued the order in the city of Karachi along with three others, who had been serving life-sentences in connection with the case, had been acquitted. A Sindh prosecutor said he would consider appealing against the court decision. (Reuters)


28 University of Texas spring breakers test positive for coronavirus

About 70 students from the University of Texas at Austin, all in their 20s, chartered a plane to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in late March. They took the trip despite public health advice to avoid crowding as well as nonessential air travel. Earlier this week, Austin, Texas public health officials announced 28 students, more than a third of the young people who took the trip, had returned and tested positive for the coronavirus. Many of the remaining students are under public health monitoring, according to officials. For public officials who have repeatedly told people to stay home, the news was frustrating. Despite early reports the coronavirus would largely spare the young, dozens of spring breakers have returned to their college towns in places like Texas, Florida and Wisconsin and tested positive for it. But some of those young people have since expressed regret. (KXAN)


Cigarette manufacturers helping out to find a cure for COVID-19

The world’s 2 largest tobacco giants, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris, have begun developing coronavirus vaccines out of tobacco leaves. It may sound crazy because early studies link smoking and vaping with an increased risk of severe coronavirus infection. But units of BAT and Philip Morris actually have experience in biopharma tech. They’re working on:

  • Kentucky BioProcessing, owned by BAT, cloned part of COVID-19’s genetic sequence to create antigens (substances that jump-start the body’s immune response to the virus), and now it’s inserting them into tobacco plants so they can be used to create a vaccine.
  • Medicago, part-owned by Philip Morris, is growing virus-like particles in crops related to tobacco to create its own plant-based vaccine.

According to BAT, using tobacco could enable vaccine production in about 6 weeks, far less time than conventional methods, which take months. Tobacco Titans have been buying biopharma companies since the start of the vaping boom in the early 2010s. BAT bought Kentucky BioProcessing in 2014 not to develop drugs, but for smoking alternatives. Now Big Cig’s biopharma arms are taking a break to fight the pandemic. And it ain’t the first time they’ve swapped cigs for safety concerns. In 2014, Kentucky BioProcessing was involved in developing a drug called ZMapp that used tobacco leaves to fight the ebola virus. ZMapp never made it to the market. But this time, BAT hopes its COVID-19 cure will make more of an impact.  BAT is already running pre-clinical trials and says it could produce 1-3m doses per week by June (if it gets approval); Philip Morris hopes to begin human trials this summer. (CNBC)


Unemployment Claims Surge 6.6 Million as Business Shuts Down

Labor Department said in releasing the numbers marking the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the United States. The unprecedented surge follows a better than 3 million increase in claims the week before, which itself was an off-the-chart jump. The weekly claims figures aren’t broken down by sector, but surely many retail workers are among those turning to the government as everything but essential businesses in many parts of the country were shut down last month and employees were sent home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Labor Department said in its report on jobless claims, “Many states continued to cite the health care and social assistance, and manufacturing industries, while an increasing number of states identified the retail and wholesale trade and construction industries.” (U.S. Department of Labor)


Friday Slams Down Like A Rain Storm With:

  • Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day
  • Fan Dance Day
  • Hospital Admitting Clerks Day (First Friday)
  • International Kids Yoga Day (First Friday)
  • National Walk To Work Day
  • Find A Rainbow Day
  • National Film Score Day
  • National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day
  • Pony Express Day
  • Tweed Day
  • Weed Out Hate
  • World Party Day

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