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Sunday, February 28, 2021



New study identifies bird species that could spread ticks and Lyme disease

Global synthesis reveals bird traits that promote Lyme and flags high-risk species

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Birds play an underrecognized role in spreading tickborne disease due to their capacity for long-distance travel and tendency to split their time in different parts of the world -- patterns that are shifting due to climate change. 

Knowing which bird species are able to infect ticks with pathogens can help scientists predict where tickborne diseases might emerge and pose a health risk to people.

A new study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography used machine learning to identify bird species with the potential to transmit the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) to feeding ticks. 

The team developed a model that identified birds known to spread Lyme disease with 80% accuracy and flagged 21 new species that should be prioritized for surveillance.

Can cream stop skin cancer?

Clinical trial to evaluate whether topical medication can prevent common skin cancer

Brown University

Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, a professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Brown University, will lead a six-year clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of a topical medication as a way to prevent the most common type of cancer in the United States.

Backed by a $34 million award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program, the study will investigate the potential of imiquimod, a topical medication with minimal side effects, as a preventive measure against basal cell carcinoma.

Weinstock — who is the chief of dermatology research for the V.A. Providence Healthcare System — will lead the trial with co-chair Dr. Robert Dellavalle, chief of dermatology for the V.A. Eastern Colorado Health Care System and a University of Colorado School of Medicine professor.

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on the face and requires surgery to avoid serious complications. 

An effective preventive medication could help many patients avoid or at least postpone the risks of surgery, and decrease the need for medical visits and their resulting costs, Weinstock said.

Vaccinating children: Is COVID-19 herd immunity possible without them?

The researchers aren't sure 

Rodney E. RohdeTexas State University

Most children don’t get severely ill from COVID-19, but they
can still spread the virus. AP Photo/John Minchillo
It may be summer before children under 16 can be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the United States. That’s a problem for reaching herd immunity quickly.

Children are a significant portion of the population – roughly 65 million are under the age of 16, making up 20% of people in the U.S. 

While children appear to face less danger of severe illness or death, they can still spread the virus, though how much young children contribute to transmission is still unclear.

Some simple math shows why America has an immunization numbers problem.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Trumpedemic: The Coronavirus Death Toll Reached 500,000 Because Trump Sabotaged the Covid Response

Donald Trump Placed His Perceived Political Interests Over Stopping a Pandemic

By Mitchell Zimmerman

An economy devastated. One in twelve Americans sickened. Millions hospitalized. One half million dead.

As we mourn 500,000 Americans who have died of Covid-19, we should remember that their deaths were not the inevitable results of a pandemic, not unavoidable acts of God. Most of the dead would likely be alive today – most of the suffering America has endured could have been avoided – but for Donald Trump.

In our year of the plague, Trump went from neglect and incompetence to sabotaging the national response, causing massive death.

A cynical and self-absorbed man, Trump saw a lethal contagion only an opportunity for political gain. He calculated that his prospects for reelection would be advanced if he generated political warfare over the difficult steps public health authorities knew were needed. So he called coronavirus a “hoax,” mobilized his credulous base to go to war against public health officials, and systematically undermined efforts to confront the challenge.

Trump understood coronavirus was no hoax. “This is deadly stuff,” he told journalist Bob Woodward in interviews early on. “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

But Trump opposed actions “disruptive” of life as usual because he saw a rising stock market as key to reelection and feared that recognizing the crisis would “spook the market.” So he laid his political bets on opposing serious efforts to contain coronavirus and mobilized Republicans to resist precautions.

Trump’s resistance derailed efforts at the outset to limit the exponential spread of the disease. Epidemiology researchers from Columbia University concluded in May 2020:

“If the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than most people started staying home, the vast majority of the nation’s deaths – about 83 percent – would have been avoided.”

In a mere two-and-a-half weeks, from March 18 to the beginning of April, identified Covid-19 cases would leap from 8,500 to 240,000 and deaths from 145 to over 7,000. Tragically, this was only the beginning. Once the disease had spread so widely, reining it in became exponentially more difficult.

Slowing Covid-19’s spread was hindered by longstanding weaknesses in our health care system and our threadbare social safety net.

The number of people without health insurance grew in the Trump years, particularly among people of color and vulnerable groups. And with no national requirements for sick leave – seven in 10 of the lowest paid workers have zero paid sick leave – millions who contracted Covid-19 were reluctant to quarantine and slow to seek medical care they couldn’t afford and risk their jobs.

Trump’s attacks on documented immigrants, threatening their status if they used public services, also made many reluctant to resort to medical resources specifically intended to safeguard health.  The crowded housing where the less-well-off reside, with health-impairing conditions such as pests, mold, chronic dampness, lead exposure and inadequate heating, also exacerbated health risks. And people of color and the poor suffer disproportionately from asthma and other respiratory conditions that make them sitting ducks for Covid-19.

All of these preexisting social and health conditions made tens of millions more vulnerable to coronavirus and accelerated its spread.

Against this backdrop, Donald Trump turned to sabotage. He campaigned against social distancing, mask use and closures. He convinced Republicans they were defending “liberty” when they behaved in a manner likely to spread infections, threatened public health officers, and defied public health requirements.

Inevitably, thwarting the recommendations of doctors, scientists and public health leaders led to a massive loss of life. No other country on Earth has had as many coronavirus cases or deaths as the U.S. Germany’s Covid-19 death rate is about half of ours. Canada, one third.  

Combatting a pandemic requires that the people of a country accept the need for sacrifice, that they act together and that they have the support of their government to endure the death of loved ones, serious illness, loss of income, school closures, and limitations on contact with friends, family and colleagues. It also requires government to recognize that the pandemic cannot be stopped unless the authorities remedy the vulnerability of those most afflicted.

When instead a president mobilizes as many as quarter or a third of the population to rebel against the discipline needed to contain the pandemic, it becomes nearly impossible to control the outbreak.

President Biden is providing a reality-based, science-respecting and honest response to the pandemic. But to be effective, Democrats’ coronavirus plan must also confront the “underlying conditions” that have facilitated mass illness and death.

Coronavirus may not be the last epidemic to strike the world and America. We must attack the roots as well as the symptoms when contagion strikes.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning.

VIDEO: Drug of choice

 To watch this video on YouTube:

March 9: Free on-line program on preparing for the coming major floods

Coastal State Discussion Webinar: The Future of Coastal Megaprojects

Monica Allard Cox

Rhode Island is long overdue for a major hurricane. Even a brush with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, which caused $11.2 million in damages and left 122,000 Rhode Islanders without power, was not a worst-case scenario, but a reminder of the state’s exposure and vulnerability. 

And a record-setting hurricane season in 2020 with 30 named storms, 12 of which made landfall in the U.S., was another reminder of how a changing climate makes rising seas and storm flooding more devastating.

Storm surge barriers, levees, and other coastal flood protection megaprojects are being investigated as strategies to protect U.S. cities against devastating coastal storms and rising sea levels. But these projects are large scale and complex, often taking years to decades to complete and costing billions of dollars with long-lasting impacts on the economy, environment, and society. 

Additional layers of social conflict and other political factors also cast doubt on their ability to serve as practical climate adaptation options.

On March 9 from 3 to 5 p.m., Paul Kirshen, professor of climate adaptation at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and D.J. Rasmussen, an engineer and climate scientist who recently graduated from Princeton University’s School of Public Policy & International Affairs, will discuss the technical, environmental, economic, and political factors of why some coastal flood protection megastructures break ground in the U.S. while others do not, using Boston Harbor and Rhode Island’s Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence–the first gated hurricane-protection structure in the U.S.– as case studies.

Salt battery design overcomes bump in the road to help electric cars go the extra mile

Building a better battery

University of Nottingham

Using salt as a key ingredient, Chinese and British researchers have designed a new type of rechargeable battery that could accelerate the shift to greener, electric transport on our roads.

Many electric vehicles (EV) are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, but they can lose energy and power over time. Under certain conditions, such batteries can also overheat while working or charging, which can also degrade battery life and reduce miles per charge.

To solve these issues, the University of Nottingham is collaborating with six scientific research institutes across China to develop an innovative and affordable energy store with the combined performance merits of a solid-oxide fuel cell and a metal-air battery. The new battery could significantly extend the range of electric vehicles, while being fully recyclable, environmentally-friendly, low-cost and safe.

Researchers propose that humidity from masks may lessen severity of COVID-19

Study compares how different face masks affect humidity inside the mask

NIH/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

NIDDK’s Dr. Joseph Courtney breathes into sealed box while wearing
a mask
Masks help protect the people wearing them from getting or spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but now researchers from the National Institutes of Health have added evidence for yet another potential benefit for wearers: The humidity created inside the mask may help combat respiratory diseases such as COVID-19.

The study, led by researchers in the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), found that face masks substantially increase the humidity in the air that the mask-wearer breathes in. 

This higher level of humidity in inhaled air, the researchers suggest, could help explain why wearing masks has been linked to lower disease severity in people infected with SARS-CoV-2, because hydration of the respiratory tract is known to benefit the immune system. The study published in the Biophysical Journal.

How to spot a liar

This new method is effective and ethical

Cody PorterUniversity of Portsmouth

Guilty? The length of your answer may give it away. 
Motortion Films/Shutterstock
Most people lie occasionally. The lies are often trivial and essentially inconsequential – such as pretending to like a tasteless gift. 

But in other contexts, deception is more serious and can have harmful effects on criminal justice. From a societal perspective, such lying is better detected than ignored and tolerated.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect lies accurately. Lie detectors, such as polygraphs, which work by measuring the level of anxiety in a subject while they answer questions, are considered “theoretically weak” and of dubious reliability. 

This is because, as any traveler who has been questioned by customs officials knows, it’s possible to be anxious without being guilty.

We have developed a new approach to spot liars based on interviewing technique and psychological manipulation, with results just published in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

Our technique is part of a new generation of cognitive-based lie-detection methods that are being increasingly researched and developed. These approaches postulate that the mental and strategic processes adopted by truth-tellers during interviews differ significantly from those of liars. By using specific techniques, these differences can be amplified and detected.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Trump Intelligence Chiefs Hid Evidence Of Russian Election Interference

 Internal Intelligence Community Report Names Grenell and Ratcliffe for ‘Politicalization’ of Analysts’ Findings

By Alison Greene

Even in his re-election campaign, Trump's ties to Russia
stood out
Lost in the news on the day of Trump’s Insurrection was a devastating new watchdog report to Congress on the politicizing and distorting of intelligence during Donald Trump’s time in office.

The analytic ombudsman, career intelligence community veteran Barry A. Zulauf, determined that under Trump national intelligence reports had become highly politicized. 

Important findings were suppressed to appease Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in American elections.

Zulauf’s unclassified report paints a frightening picture of just how much the Trump administration skewed intelligence to suppress knowledge of interference by Russia in our 2020 elections.

From March 2020, in the critical months leading up to the elections, Zulauf “identified a long story arc of—at the very least—perceived politicization of intelligence.”

Bow all ye Trumpnuts and worship the Golden Jackass

This is a screenshot from a video posted by Bloomberg News showing a golden statue of Donald Trump being wheeled into the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) convention. It's in Orlando, Florida (of course). Trump is scheduled to speak this weekend. 

You just can't make this stuff up.

Trump will probably insist on taking the statue home to Mar-A-Lago since it certainly matches his style and taste. This is also another clear sign of the rapid movement of the Trumplican Party into becoming a religious cult.

Who could tell?


Tomaquag Museum gears up to build new site near URI

18 acre site on Ministerial Road will cost $4 million

By Will Collette

G. Wayne Miller recently wrote an interesting piece in the Providence Journal that announced major progress in finding a new home for the Tomaquag Museum.

The Museum is a local treasure of Native American history and culture despite its cramped quarters and out of the way site in Exeter. 

Executive Director Loren Spears, a Narragansett-Ninigret, has been working on a new and improved museum for a long time.

Progressive Charlestown first reported on the effort in January 2015 when Westerly was considered the prime site. Charlestown architectural design firm Oyster Works drew up the master plan for that site.

Miller’s article notes that Tomaquag has now finalized the agreement with URI to use the new 18-acre rural site on Ministerial Road south of Route 138 in South Kingstown.

They are getting design help from RISD and Frank Karpowicz Architects of Wakefield have drawn up the landscaping plan and design of the four new buildings.

According to Miller’s article, the $4 million capital campaign will kick off in the fall (though you can CLICK HERE to give now).

They hope to break ground next year and open in 2023.

I’ve been to the Tomaquag Museum half a dozen times and enjoyed every visit, knowing that I would learn something new every time.

Rhode Island School of Design and the Wakefield firm of Frank Karpowicz Architects on landscaping and design of the four buildings that will comprise the new museum campus. A capital campaign for the $4-million project will begin this fall, with groundbreaking expected in 2022 and opening in 2023.

Cathy and I have also met some great artists during our visits – potters, wood-workers and the amazing Allen Hazard who created museum-quality jewelry from quahog shells.

Here's Loren (center) out on the line along Route 2
Loren is also active in education and public affairs. She has given talks and led workshops for many groups in the area, several of which we have publicized in Progressive Charlestown.

In Fall 2017, Loren was one of the organizers of the first protests in Charlestown against the Invenergy power plant’s now defunct scheme to truck out Charlestown water to supply the plant. She and many other Narragansett Tribe members started Charlestown’s resistance to the broadly reviled plan that was later joined by the rest of Charlestown.

I plan to contribute to the building fund to build a new Tomaquag Museum and I hope you will, too.

If it fits, you won't emit

Proper fit of face masks is more important than material, study suggests

Fitting the face perfectly is a difficult technical challenge and small differences, such as a centimetre wider nose or slightly fuller cheeks, can make or break the fit of a mask

Eugenia O'Kelly

N95 and KN95 respirators tested. Top row, from left to right: 3M 8511, 3M 8200, Aero Pro AP0028. Bottom row, from left to right: Makrite 9500, Xiantao Zong ZYB-11, Zhong Jian Le KN95.

A team of researchers studying the effectiveness of different types of face masks has found that in order to provide the best protection against COVID-19, the fit of a mask is as important, or more important, than the material it is made of.

The results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, also suggest that the fit-check routine used in many healthcare settings has high failure rates, as minor leaks may be difficult or impossible to detect by the wearer. 

While the sample size was small, the researchers hope their findings will help develop new fit tests that are quick and reliable, in the case of future public health emergencies. The current study only evaluated the impact of fit on the wearer of the mask – the team will evaluate how fit impacts the protection of others in future research.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, carried out a series of different fit tests, and found that when a high-performance mask – such as an N95, KN95 or FFP2 mask – is not properly fitted, it performs no better than a cloth mask. Minor differences in facial features, such as the amount of fat under the skin, make significant differences in how well a mask fits.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made well-fitting face masks a vital piece of protective equipment for healthcare workers and civilians. While the importance of wearing face masks in slowing the spread of the virus has been demonstrated, there remains a lack of understanding about the role that good fit plays in ensuring their effectiveness.

“We know that unless there is a good seal between the mask and the wearer’s face, many aerosols and droplets will leak through the top and sides of the mask, as many people who wear glasses will be well aware of,” said Eugenia O’Kelly from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s first author. 

“We wanted to quantitatively evaluate the level of fit offered by various types of masks, and most importantly, assess the accuracy of implementing fit-checks by comparing fit-check results to quantitative fit testing results.”

For the study, seven participants first evaluated N95 and KN95 masks by performing a fit check, according to NHS guidelines. Participants then underwent quantitative fit testing – which uses a particle counter to measure the concentration of particles inside and outside the mask – while wearing N95 and KN95 masks, surgical masks, and fabric masks. The results assessed the protection to the mask wearer, which is important in clinical settings.

N95 masks – which are a similar standard to the FFP3 masks available in the UK and the rest of Europe – offered higher degrees of protection than the other categories of masks tested; however, most N95 masks failed to fit the participants adequately.

In their study, the researchers found that when fitted properly, N95 masks filtered more than 95% of airborne particles, offering superior protection. However, in some cases, poorly-fitted N95 masks were only comparable with surgical or cloth masks.

“It’s not enough to assume that any single N95 model will fit the majority of a population,” said O’Kelly. “The most widely-fitting mask we looked at, the 8511 N95, fit only three out of the seven participants in our study.”

One observation the researchers made during their study was the width of the flange of the mask - the area of the material which comes in contact with the skin – may be a critical feature to fit. Masks which fit the greatest number of participants tended to have wider, more flexible flanges around the border.

In addition, small facial differences were observed to have a significant impact on quantitative fit. “Fitting the face perfectly is a difficult technical challenge and, as our research showed, small differences such as a centimetre wider nose or slightly fuller cheeks can make or break the fit of a mask,” said O’Kelly.

Self-performed fit-checks are attractive because they save on time and resources, and are often the only method of fit testing available. However, this study, and studies of fit-check systems in other countries, indicate that such fit-check systems are not reliable.

The researchers hope that their results will be of use for those who are working on new technologies and programmes to assess fit, so that healthcare and other frontline workers are adequately protected in the case of any future pandemics. Additionally, they hope these results will bring attention to the importance of fit in clinical-grade masks, especially if such masks are to be widely used by the public.  This study did not evaluate the impact of fit on protecting others, which is a future area of research. 

Eugenia O’Kelly et al. ‘Comparing the fit of N95, KN95, surgical, and cloth face masks and assessing the accuracy of fit checking.’ PLoS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245688

Catching COVID from surfaces is very unlikely

Perhaps we can ease up on the disinfecting

A lot has happened over the past year, so you can be forgiven for not having a clear memory of what some of the major concerns were at the beginning of the pandemic.

However, if you think back to the beginning of the pandemic, one of the major concerns was the role that surfaces played in the transmission of the virus.

As an epidemiologist, I remember spending countless hours responding to media requests answering questions along the lines of whether we should be washing the outside of food cans or disinfecting our mail.

I also remember seeing teams of people walking the streets at all hours wiping down poles and cleaning public benches.

But what does the evidence actually say about surface transmission more than 12 months into this pandemic?

Before addressing this, we need to define the question we’re asking. The key question isn’t whether surface transmission is possible, or whether it can occur in the real world — it almost certainly can.

The real question is: what is the extent of the role of surface contact in the transmission of the virus? That is, what is the likelihood of catching COVID via a surface, as opposed to other methods of transmission?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Time to bring charges against Trump

 GOP senators said Trump was culpable, but he’s a “private citizen” now. Fine — indict him like one.

By Mitchell Zimmerman

In the wake of his second impeachment acquittal, Donald Trump proclaimed victory in what he called “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country.”

Trump was acquitted. But the Senate hardly absolved him: A 57-to-43 majority concluded he had incited a riot.

Few if any of those who voted to acquit did so because they considered Trump innocent of the charge. Rather, after refusing to hold the trial while he was still in office, they relied on the technicality that Donald Trump is now “a private citizen.”

All the more reason, then, to hold Citizen Trump responsible under criminal law for his effort to overthrow our democracy by force. Maybe it’s time for him to face 12 jurors.

Many Republicans agree Trump was responsible for the sacking of the Capitol.

“There is no question, none,” said GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, “that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day… A mob was assaulting the Capitol in his name. These criminals were carrying his banners, hanging his flags and screaming their loyalty to him.”

Similarly, GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy concluded, “The president bears responsibility” for the “attack by mob rioters.”

Donald Trump whipped up his supporters, including violent white supremacists he had previously instructed to “stand by,” and incited them to march to the Capitol, “never give up,” “fight much harder,” and “fight like hell” — as hard as it took to “stop the steal.”  That meant: Do whatever it takes to force Congress to set aside Joe Biden’s election victory.

A few political leaders have called for an indictment, but not many. Perhaps they don’t want to politicize criminal law enforcement.

But silence is still political. It reflects a presumption of impunity for presidents and other high officials. It’s the same impunity that protected Richard Nixon from being charged with conspiracy to commit burglary and Bush-era cabinet officials from being charged with conspiracy to commit torture following 9/11.

The First Amendment protects offensive and controversial speech, even Trump’s “right” to utter the lie that the election was stolen. But it includes no right to incite mob violence.

Supreme Court decisions have long confirmed that you can be charged with a crime if your speech is (1) “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and (2) “likely to incite or produce such action.” The First Amendment does not protect “preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action.”

A Sixth Circuit case involving Trump himself explains: If a speech “explicitly or implicitly encourage[s] the use of violence or lawless action” and violent or lawless response is likely and imminent, you’ve gone beyond free speech.

That’s what we all saw Trump do on national television.

Over the last four years Trump has repeatedly been denounced for acting as though he were above the law. We can’t allow a supposed need for “unity” to confirm that he was right.

Editor's Note: I've read this book and
highly recommend it - Will Collette
Impunity is incredibly dangerous. In Central America, it means you never worry about being prosecuted if you’re a corrupt police chief. In Russia, it means you can poison your political enemies without punishment. In Saudi Arabia, it means you can literally dismember a critic in another country’s embassy and suffer no consequences.

And here in the United States, it may mean you can incite your supporters to sack the Capitol — and feel free to try again in the future.

Impunity is a disease that rots the rule of law. Left unchecked, it will rot American democracy. America must teach Donald Trump that he is not above the law — and that his impunity has finally come to an end.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning. This op-ed was distributed by

Give it to me now

By Matt WuerkerPolitico


RIP Fr. Frank Guidice

Former boss, mentor and friend

By Will Collette

Nancy-Burns-Fusaro wrote a fine remembrance in the Westerly Sun last Sunday, marking the recent death of Rev. Francis J. Giudice, known to his friends of which I was one, as Frank.

It’s a great article detailing his life as a favorite son of Westerly and his 60-year history as a Catholic priest.

One brief mention in the article is to Frank’s service as the first person in the Providence Catholic Diocese to be named as “Vicar for Community Affairs.”

That’s how I came to know Frank. The Diocesan Community Affairs office ran out of a ramshackle abandoned parochial school situated across Smith Street from the State House where I ended up working from 1974 till late 1979.

I was hired under the CETA program (Comprehensive Employment and Training Act), modelled on the Depression-era Works Project Administration (WPA) to use publicly funded employment to fight the effects of a deep recession.

Frank finagled as many job slots as he could from then Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. As I recall, roughly a dozen of us were hired all at once to some vaguely defined jobs that would supposedly teach us skills to land private sector employment. 

My job title was “researcher” and I was teamed up with prominent welfare rights advocate Ray Mitchell who had been working for Frank for several years prior.

It was great to work for Frank, starting with his insistence that we call him Frank. Ray and I could skip the prayer that opened each weekly staff meeting, smoke cigarettes and crack jokes - Frank was OK with that, though obviously not happy. 

He not only listened carefully to every hare-brained scheme we came up with, but usually let us do them – provided we did not cause him trouble with then Bishop Louie Gelineau.

Even if we did cause him trouble, we could always count on him to back us up and bail us out.

How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine compare to other coronavirus vaccines?

4 questions answered

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose. 
Phill Magoke/AFP via Getty Images
Editor’s note: On Tuesday, Feb. 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the results of its trial of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine

The FDA found the vaccine to be safe and effective and it is expected to grant emergency use authorization in the coming days. 

Maureen Ferran, a virologist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, explains how this new vaccine works and explores the differences between it and the already approved Moderna and Pfizer–BioNTech vaccines.

How does the Johnson & Johnson vaccine work?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is what’s called a viral vector vaccine.

To create this vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson team took a harmless adenovirus – the viral vector – and replaced a small piece of its genetic instructions with coronavirus genes for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

After this modified adenovirus is injected into someone’s arm, it enters the person’s cells. The cells then read the genetic instructions needed to make the spike protein and the vaccinated cells make and present the spike protein on their own surface. 

The person’s immune system then notices these foreign proteins and makes antibodies against them that will protect the person if they are ever exposed to SARS-CoV-2 in the future.

The adenovirus vector vaccine is safe because the adenovirus can’t replicate in human cells or cause disease, and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can’t cause COVID–19 without the rest of the coronavirus.

This approach is not new. Johnson & Johnson used a similar method to make its Ebola vaccine, and the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine is also an adenovirus viral vector vaccine.

A coronavirus particle blocked by a red circle.
With only one dose, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is
72% effective at preventing severe COVID-19.
Anastasia Usenko/iStock via Getty Images

How effective is it?

The FDA’s analysis found that, in the U.S., the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was 72% effective at preventing all COVID-19 and 86% effective at preventing severe cases of the disease

While there is still a chance a vaccinated person could get sick, this suggests they would be much less likely to need hospitalization or to die from COVID-19.

A similar trial in South Africa, where a new, more contagious variant is dominant, produced similar results. 

Researchers found the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be slightly less effective at preventing all illness there – 64% overall – but was still 82% effective at preventing severe disease

The FDA report also indicates that the vaccine protects against other variants from Britain and Brazil too.

Your toothbrush reflects you, not your toilet

Microbes on your toothbrush match microbes inside your mouth

Northwestern University

Good news: The bacteria living on your toothbrush reflect your mouth -- not your toilet.

After studying microbial communities living on bristles from used toothbrushes, Northwestern University researchers found those communities matched microbes commonly found inside the mouth and on skin. 

This was true no matter where the toothbrushes had been stored, including shielded behind a closed medicine cabinet door or out in the open on the edge of a sink.

The study's senior author, Erica Hartmann, was inspired to conduct the research after hearing concerns that flushing a toilet might generate a cloud of aerosol particles. She and her team affectionately called their study "Operation Pottymouth."

Pleasure boaters don't like offshore wind turbines

URI survey finds offshore wind farms reduce value of recreational boating experience

Todd McLeish

Many these boaters bought into this
A survey of recreational boaters conducted by a team of University of Rhode Island researchers found that offshore wind farms detract significantly from the boating experience.

Tracey Dalton, the URI professor of marine affairs who led the survey, said that while most respondents indicated that seeing offshore wind turbines far in the distance did not affect their experience, most preferred not to go boating close to the turbines.

“There have been a lot of studies looking at the ecological impacts of offshore wind farms, but we’re interested in what happens when you put a new structure in place in the ocean and how it impacts people that have historically and culturally used that space,” Dalton said.

More than 680 boaters with a hailing port in Rhode Island completed surveys in 2018. All owned Coast Guard-certified boats, meaning their vessels were at least 26-feet long. The research was published in December in the journal Marine Policy.

According to Dalton, the survey results were not homogenous among every category of boater. Those whose boating objective was fishing, for example, were less negatively affected by the turbines, perhaps because the turbine structures have been shown to attract sport fish. Non-fishermen and those who had never been close to the Block Island wind farm before indicated their experience was most negative.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Working Families Party: Nearly one year into pandemic, RI billionaire’s wealth continues to climb

RI's richest man and only billionaire is doing fine during the pandemic. Most of us don't 

By the  Working Families Party 


Harvard Business School alumnus
The net worth of private-equity executive Jonathan Nelson, Rhode Island’s richest man and lone billionaire, jumped by $180 million, or 10% over the course of the pandemic, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and the Rhode Island Working Families Party

The $180 million in pandemic profits of the state’s richest resident could make up over one-third of the state’s projected $400 – $500 million fiscal year 2022 budget gap, and still leave him as wealthy as he was when the pandemic hit 10 months ago.  

Between March 18 – the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place – and January 29, Nelson’s fortune rose from $1.8 billion to $2 billion between March 18 and Jan 29, based on this analysis of Forbes data. 

Nelson’s private gain is a sharp contrast to the severe health and economic crises hitting average Rhode Islanders. 

Over the same 10 months, close to 113,754 state residents fell ill with the coronavirus, 2,144 died from it and 290,100 lost jobs in the accompanying recession. 

23,716 Rhode Islanders residents were collecting unemployment the week of Jan. 4, and late last year, 80,000 adult state residents, or 11%, reported going hungry over the past week. The figure for households with children was 14%.

While federal lawmakers debate more cash payments to people and families in the next relief package, Nelson has amassed enough new wealth during the pandemic, a  $180 million surge, to send every one of the state’s 1,059,361 residents a relief check of roughly $170 each. A family of four would get $680.

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Math shows kids can get COVID but at a lower rate than adults

Mathematical modeling suggests kids half as susceptible to COVID-19 as adults


A new computational analysis suggests that people under the age of 20 are about half as susceptible to COVID-19 infection as adults, and they are less likely to infect others. 

Itai Dattner of the University of Haifa, Israel, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS Computational Biology.

Earlier studies have found differences in symptoms and the clinical course of COVID-19 in children compared to adults. Others have reported that a lower proportion of children are diagnosed compared to older age groups. 

However, only a few studies have compared transmission patterns between age groups, and their conclusions are not definitive.

To better understand susceptibility and infectivity of children, Dattner and colleagues fitted mathematical and statistical models of transmission within households to a dataset of COVID-19 testing results from the dense city of Bnei Brak, Israel. The dataset covered 637 households whose members all underwent PCR testing for active infection in spring of 2020. Some individuals also received serology testing for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

By adjusting model parameters to fit the data, the researchers found that people under 20 are 43 percent as susceptible as people over 20. With an infectivity estimated at 63 percent of that of adults, children are also less likely to spread COVID-19 to others. The researchers also found that children are more likely than adults to receive a negative PCR result despite actually being infected.