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The US Could Begin Coronavirus Vaccinations Within Weeks, Official Says

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The United States hopes to begin coronavirus vaccinations in early December, a top government health official said Sunday, the latest positive news to emerge even as cases surge across the worst-hit nation and elsewhere around the globe.

 

The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial shift in the battle against a virus that has claimed more than 1.4 million lives worldwide, including 255,000 just in the US, since emerging from China late last year.

Encouraging results from vaccine trials have bolstered hopes for an end to the pandemic, as nations reimpose restrictions and lockdowns that slowed the spread earlier this year but turned lives and economies upside down across the globe.

Two leading vaccine candidates – one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and another by US firm Moderna – have been shown to be 95 percent effective in trials, and Pfizer has already applied for emergency use approval from US health authorities.

“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours of approval” by the US Food and Drug Administration, Moncef Slaoui, head of the US government virus vaccine effort, told CNN, pointing to possible dates of December 11-12.

FDA vaccine advisors will meet December 10 to discuss approval.

Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the US could be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that.

 

But top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci, who said “maybe 20 million people will be able to get vaccinated by the middle to the end of December,” warned the situation could get worse before getting better if people fail to take precautions in the coming holiday season.

“We’re in a very difficult situation at all levels,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Vaccines for all?

With cases surpassing 12 million in the United States, the highest in the world, many Americans were nonetheless heading to airports to travel for this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, despite health officials’ warnings to stay home.

Some US states were imposing new restrictions, including California, where a 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew took effect Saturday. New York city has closed schools again.

US drug regulators on Saturday already gave emergency approval to a Covid-19 antibody therapy – one used by US President Donald Trump – that could help treat those infected.

However, G20 nations were pushing for “equitable” global access to vaccines, with worries poorer nations will be left behind.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said more needed to be done, since no major vaccine agreements had been struck yet for poorer nations.

 

“We will now speak with (global vaccine alliance group) GAVI about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat worried that nothing has been done on that yet,” Merkel told reporters on Sunday in Berlin after a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia.

There were signs that restrictions being imposed in certain countries were helping slow infections.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose country has been badly hit by the pandemic, said Sunday that a strategy to curb infections was working.

Spain declared a state of emergency last month, which allowed regional governments to impose virus restrictions such as nighttime curfews.

The country has recorded fewer than 400 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last two weeks, compared to nearly 530 cases at the start of the month, he told a news conference after the G20 summit.

‘A mockery’

But the restrictions and mask-wearing rules have led to pushback and protests in some countries, particularly the United States, where Trump supporters have railed against closures.

Similar pushback has been seen elsewhere, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas lashed out Sunday at anti-mask protesters comparing themselves to Nazi victims, accusing them of trivializing the Holocaust and “making a mockery” of the courage shown by resistance fighters.

 

The harsh words came after a young woman took to the stage at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Hanover Saturday saying she felt “just like Sophie Scholl,” the German student executed by the Nazis in 1943 for her role in the resistance.

Government measures introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus have triggered large protests in Germany, drawing in people from the far-left, conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists who claim the curbs infringe on their civil rights.

While necessary to stop the spread of the virus, restrictions have taken a heavy toll on economies across the world.

The latest warning came on Sunday from Britain’s finance minister Rishi Sunak, who said the country’s economy was under “enormous strain and stress.”

Britain has suffered more than any other country in Europe from the coronavirus, recording more than 54,000 deaths from 1.4 million cases.

In November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government imposed a four-week lockdown to stop the spread of the disease. That is due to be partially lifted on December 2, giving some relief to businesses.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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Physicists Just Discovered The Ultimate ‘Kings And Queens’ of Quantumness

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Is that light particle more like a ball careening through space, or more of a smeary mess that is everywhere at once? 

The answer depends on whether the absurd laws of subatomic particles or the deterministic equations that govern larger objects hold more sway.

 

Now, for the first time, physicists have found a way to mathematically define the degree of quantumness that anything – be it particle, atom, molecule, or even a planet – exhibits.

The result suggests a way to quantify quantumness and identify “the most quantum states” of a system, which the team calls the “Kings and Queens of Quantumness.”

In addition to furthering our understanding of the universe, the work could find applications in quantum technologies such as gravitational wave detectors and ultra-precise measurement devices. 

Heart of reality

At the subatomic heart of reality, the bizarre world of quantum mechanics reigns.

Under these mind-bending rules, tiny subatomic particles such as electrons can be paired in strange superpositions of states – meaning that an electron can exist in multiple states at once – and their positions around an atom and even their momentums aren’t fixed until they’re observed.

These teensy particles even have the ability to tunnel through seemingly insurmountable barriers. 

Classical objects, on the other hand, follow the normal everyday rules of our experience. Billiard balls strike off one another; cannonballs fly along parabolic arcs; and planets spin around their orbits according to well-known physical equations. 

 

Researchers have long pondered this odd state of affairs, where some entities in the cosmos can be defined classically, while others are subject to probabilistic quantum laws – meaning you can measure only probable outcomes. 

But “according to quantum mechanics, everything is quantum mechanical,” Aaron Goldberg, a physicist at the University of Toronto in Canada and lead author of the new paper, told Live Science. “Just because you don’t see these strange things every day doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”

What Goldberg means is that classical objects like billiard balls are secretly quantum systems, so there exists some infinitesimally small probability that they will, say, tunnel through the side of a pool table. This suggests that there is a continuum, with “classicalness” on one end and “quantumness” on the other. 

A little while back, one of Goldberg’s co-authors, Luis Sanchez-Soto of the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, was giving a lecture when a participant asked him what would be the most quantum state a system could be in.

“That triggered everything,” Sanchez-Soto told Live Science. 

 

Previous attempts at quantifying quantumness always looked at specific quantum systems, like those containing particles of light, and so the outcomes couldn’t necessarily be applied to other systems that included different particles like atoms.

Goldberg, Sanchez-Soto and their team searched instead for a generalized way of defining extremes in quantum states. 

“We can apply this to any quantum system – atoms, molecules, light or even combinations of those things – by using the same guiding principles,” Goldberg said.

The team found that these quantum extremes could come in at least two different types, naming some Kings and others Queens for their superlative nature.

They reported their findings Nov. 17 in the journal AVS Quantum Science

So what exactly does it mean for something to be “the most quantum?” Here is where the work gets tricky since it is highly mathematical and difficult to easily visualize. 

But Pieter Kok, a physicist at the University of Sheffield in England, who was not involved in writing the new paper, suggested a way to get some grasp on it.

One of the most basic physical systems is a simple harmonic oscillator – that is, a ball on the end of a spring moving back and forth, Kok told Live Science. 

 

A quantum particle would be on the classical extreme if it behaved like this ball and spring system, found at specific points in time based on the initial kick it received.

But if the particle were to be quantum mechanically smeared out so that it had no well-defined position and was found throughout the pathway of the spring and ball, it would be in one of these quantum extreme states.

Despite their peculiarity, Kok considers the results quite useful and hopes they will find widespread application. Knowing that there is a fundamental limit where a system is acting the most quantum it can is like knowing that the speed of light exists, he said.

“It puts constraints on things that are complicated to analyze,” he added. 

Goldberg said that the most readily apparent applications should come from quantum metrology, where engineers attempt to measure physical constants and other properties with extreme precision.

Gravitational wave detectors, for example, need to be able to measure the distance between two mirrors to better than 1/10,000th the size of an atomic nucleus. Using the team’s principles, physicists might be able to improve on this impressive feat. 

But the findings could also help researchers in fields such as fiber optical communications, information processing and quantum computing. “There are probably many applications that we haven’t even thought about,” Goldberg said, excitedly. 

This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.

 



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US Could Have 1 Million Daily Virus Cases by The End of The Year, Report Finds

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In March, when New York City hospitals were reeling from an overwhelming surge of coronavirus cases, the US was only catching a glimpse of the bigger crisis to come.

The highest number of cases ever recorded in one day this spring was around 35,000, though many went uncounted. Now, the US has recorded an average of more than 112,000 daily cases over the last seven days. Cases reached an all-time peak of more than 132,000 on Friday.

 

On Monday, the US surpassed 10 million total cases – just 10 days after cases topped 9 million. Before that, it took two weeks for cases to rise from 8 million to 9 million, and three weeks for cases to jump from 7 million to 8 million.

The nation’s weekly per cent positivity rate – the share of coronavirus tests that come back positive – has reached 9 percent. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the rate should ideally sit below 3 percent. Only six states and Washington, DC, currently meet that threshold. Half of states have test-positivity rates in the double digits. South Dakota’s rate is highest, at around 54 percent.

Experts predict this fall-winter surge will be the largest, and perhaps deadliest, yet. Indeed, the second surge the country experienced over the summer, from June through August, resulted in nearly 4.2 million cases. Since September, the US has already recorded about 4 million more.

According to a recent prediction from Pantheon Macroeconomics, the US could be on track to record 1 million daily coronavirus cases by the end of 2020 if average cases continue to grow 34 percent from week to week, as they are currently.

new daily cases bi chart

The US is ‘about to enter COVID hell’

Other models offer more conservative, albeit still troubling, estimates.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for instance, predicts that daily cases could peak at nearly 306,000 on December 31. (The institute defines daily cases as all infections on a given day, not just new cases identified through testing.)

 

If states continue to relax restrictions, the model suggests the fall-winter surge could be even worse, reaching a peak of nearly 793,000 daily cases on January 23. The institute’s model predicts that 160,000 more people in the US could die of the coronavirus from now through February 1.

“I am tremendously concerned,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider.

“The other surges were very localised,” she added. “This is different because it is truly nationwide.”

Weekly hospitalizations have also risen about 18 percent from week to week. If that trend continues, daily hospitalizations could triple to 180,000 by the end of the year.

On Monday, Dr. Michael Osterholm, a recent appointee to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told CNBC that the US was “about to enter COVID hell.”

But public-experts say the US can lower daily cases – and consequently, deaths – this winter, before a vaccine hits the market. The solution would involve more lockdown restrictions.

Lockdown measures could prevent a worst-case scenario

In a Monday report, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief economist, Ian Sherpherdson, warned that the US should brace for the worst-case scenario of 1 million daily cases this winter. The longer states and cities wait to impose lockdown restrictions, he added, the more likely that scenario becomes.

“When it gets as bad as it appears to be in some parts of the country, and potentially others in the weeks to come, you really have little choice left than to do a short-term lockdown, trying to get the numbers down to a point where testing and contact tracing can actually have an impact,” Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider. “I hate to say that because we didn’t necessarily have to be in this position.”

 

Many states are taking the opposite approach, however.

In October, Texas began allowing counties with relatively few coronavirus hospitalizations to reopen bars and other businesses at limited capacity. Pennsylvania, too, started permitting venues like concerts and stadiums to operate at 10 percent to 25 percent occupancy. Restaurants in South Carolina have been able to operate at full capacity since October 2.

Other states have reinstated some restrictions, but not nearly to the extent that they did in the spring.

Illinois, Massachussetts, and New Mexico recently imposed curfews that limit how late certain businesses can remain open. Illinois began prohibiting indoor dining in bars and restaurants earlier this month. And at the end of October, Michigan reduced the maximum capacity at indoor venues from 500 people to 50.

Some other states – including Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina – have simply put their reopening plans on pause.

Public-health experts say it’s likely that under a Biden administration, states may get more concrete guidelines as to when they can safely reopen or should enact new restrictions. Biden’s campaign website at one time stated that if elected, he would tailor reopening guidelines to individual communities based on their levels of transmission.

 

But any lockdown is likely to be met with some opposition, due to a combination of pandemic fatigue and politics.

“Even if we make it completely clear: ‘This is the line, if you cross this line, you should shut down,’ it’s still ultimately a political decision,” Ingrid Katz, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told Business Insider. “If decisions are being driven by forces other than science, then they are not always going to be decisions that are in people’s best interests.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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It’s Official. The World Has Surpassed 50 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases

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There are over 50 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

With about 10 million cases, the United States is the country with the most confirmed coronavirus cases, followed immediately by India and Brazil. At least 230,000 people have died from the disease in the United States.

 

The World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11.

The coronavirus has killed more Americans than every war US troops have died in since 1945 combined, Business Insider’s John Haltiwanger reported. The leading cause of death for Americans, heart disease, typically kills fewer than 650,000 people a year in the US.

The pandemic has created uncertainty and instability, leading to roiled marketsshuttering many small businesses nationwide, and forcing the world to adapt to a new normal.

For nearly nine months, people have been learning to live under once unfamiliar laws and recommendations from health officials. Quarantining, practicing social distancing, and wearing masks have become the relative norm in most countries.

But as the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise, health officials say practices will remain the new norm well into 2021 and possibly 2022.

Meanwhile, scientists and pharmaceutical companies have been racing to create a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

But it will take more time to release safe and effective shots – and even longer to inoculate enough of the global population to achieve herd immunity.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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A Modem With a Tiny Mirror Cabinet Could Help Connect The Quantum Internet

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Quantum physics promises huge advances not just in quantum computing but also in a quantum internet – a next-generation framework for transferring data from one place to another. Scientists have now invented technology suitable for a quantum modem that could act as a network gateway.

 

What makes a quantum internet superior to the regular, existing internet that you’re reading this through is security: interfering with the data being transmitted with quantum techniques would essentially break the connection. It’s as close to unhackable as you can possibly get.

As with trying to produce practical, commercial quantum computers though, turning the quantum internet from potential to reality is taking time – not surprising, considering the incredibly complex physics involved. A quantum modem could be a very important step forward for the technology.

“In the future, a quantum internet could be used to connect quantum computers located in different places, which would considerably increase their computing power!” says physicist Andreas Reiserer, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

Quantum computing is built around the idea of qubits, which unlike classical computer bits can store several states simultaneously. The new research focuses on connecting stationary qubits in a quantum computer with moving qubits travelling between these machines.

That’s a tough challenge when you’re dealing with information that’s stored as delicately as it is with quantum physics. In this setup, light photons are used to store quantum data in transit, photons that are precisely tuned to the infrared wavelength of laser light used in today’s communication systems.

 

That gives the new system a key advantage in that it’ll work with existing fibre optic networks, which would make a quantum upgrade much more straightforward when the technology is ready to roll out.

In figuring out how to get stored qubits at rest reacting just right with moving infrared photons, the researchers determined that the element erbium and its electrons were best suited for the job – but erbium atoms aren’t naturally inclined to make the necessary quantum leap between two states. To make that possible, the static erbium atoms and the moving infrared photons are essentially locked up together until they get along.

Working out how to do this required a careful calculation of the space and conditions needed. Inside their modem, the researchers installed a miniature mirrored cabinet around a crystal made of a yttrium silicate compound. This set up was then was cooled to minus 271 degrees Celsius (minus 455.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

quant 2The modem mirror cabinet. (Max Planck Institute)

The cooled crystal kept the erbium atoms stable enough to force an interaction, while the mirrors bounced the infrared photons around tens of thousands of times – essentially creating tens of thousands of chances for the necessary quantum leap to happen. The mirrors make the system 60 times faster and much more efficient than it would be otherwise, the researchers say.

Once that jump between the two states has been made, the information can be passed somewhere else. That data transfer raises a whole new set of problems to be overcome, but scientists are busy working on solutions.

As with many advances in quantum technology, it’s going to take a while to get this from the lab into actual real-world systems, but it’s another significant step forward – and the same study could also help in quantum processors and quantum repeaters that pass data over longer distances.

“Our system thus enables efficient interactions between light and solid-state qubits while preserving the fragile quantum properties of the latter to an unprecedented degree,” write the researchers in their published paper.

The research has been published in Physical Review X.

 



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Trump Administration Just Ended Gray Wolf Protections Against Advice of Scientists

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US President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday removed endangered species protections for the gray wolf, paving the way for the iconic predator to be more widely hunted.

 

The move was slammed by conservation groups, which said that while wolf numbers have partly recovered since the animal was first listed in 1974, they remain “functionally extinct” in the vast majority of their former range.

“Today’s action reflects the Trump administration’s continued commitment to species conservation based on the parameters of the law and the best scientific and commercial data available,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

The department added in a statement that the gray wolf population in the lower 48 states is more than 6,000, “greatly exceeding the combined recovery goals for the Northern Rocky Mountains and Western Great Lakes populations.”

Placing wolves under state control will allow Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin to resume hunting and trapping, activities blocked by a 2014 court ruling.

All three states are considered battlegrounds in the November 3 election between Trump and Joe Biden, and the president has sought to appeal to rural voters such as hunters and livestock owners.

A once highly-feared apex predator, the gray wolf was eliminated across much of the United States by the 1930s through government-sponsored hunting, trapping and poisoning programs.

 

But numbers have increased thanks to protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists argue however that the move to de-list them is premature and wolves have only re-occupied 15 percent of their former range.

“This is no ‘mission accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, which called the decision “illegal” and said it would sue the government.

“Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.

“This delisting decision is what happens when bad science drives bad policy.”

Last year, 1.8 million Americans wrote comments against delisting when the rule change was proposed.

It has also been opposed by 86 members of Congress, and 100 scientists wrote a letter urging the government to reconsider.

The science behind the rule change was also disputed by experts in a peer-review report commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service itself.

British scientist Jane Goodall said in a video message: “Wolves have all the sentience, and emotions, and intelligence perhaps more so than dogs.

“How would you feel if your dog was caught in a leg-hold trap, suffering for hours in agony? How would you feel if your dog was shot, so that its head could be mounted on somebody’s wall?”

Currently only four states – Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming – allow the public to hunt wolves.

© Agence France-Presse

 



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Elevated Radiation Found Near US Fracking Sites Has Public Health Experts Worried

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Residents who live downwind of fracking wells are likely being exposed to radioactive airborne particles, according to a new statistical analysis of public data. 

While the levels measured in this case are not extremely dangerous, if inhaled on a regular basis, scientists worry they may cause adverse health outcomes, like lung cancer, in nearby areas.

 

Once these radioactive particles are in a person’s body, they can continue releasing ionising radiation, possibly inducing oxidative stress and inflammation, even at the low levels observed.

Fracking is known to produce radioactive waste, usually from briny water welling up to the surface and bringing isotopes or uranium and radium up from below.

But the potential health effects of these particles are unclear and the current literature is limited. Despite many reasons to worry – including links to high-risk pregnancies, adverse birth outcomes, migraines, chronic rhinosinusitis, and severe fatigue – radioactive drilling waste from fracking is “virtually unregulated” in the United States, and both presidential candidates support the practice.

“If you asked me to go and live downwind [of fracking sites], I would not go,” public health scientist Petros Koutrakis from Harvard University told The Guardian.

“People should not go crazy, but I think it’s a significant risk that needs to be addressed.”

Gathering over 320,000 measurements of particle radioactivity in the air from across the United States, the analysis found communities between 20 and 50 kilometres downwind of operational fracking sites experienced worse radioactive pollution. The closer these communities got to the wells, the greater the levels of radioactivity. 

 

“With adjustment for environmental factors regarding the natural emission and movement of particle radioactivity, an additional 100 upwind [fracking] wells within 20 kilometres was associated with a 0.024 mBq/m3 increase in the level of particle radioactivity,” the team writes in the study.

Such radiation levels translate to roughly 7 percent above the nationwide background levels of  0.35 mBq/m3.

But the most affected place in the country appears to be Fort Worth, Texas, which had nearly 600 wells 20 kilometres upwind in 2017. Based on the team’s calculations, this could result in a 40 percent increase of radiation levels above normal. 

The association is too great to ignore, and while more research needs to dig into possible causes, the authors suspect several factors, including accidental spills and the sneaky release of natural gas, as well as the management, storage, and disposal of radioactive waste water, mud, and radioactive drill cuttings. 

Another recent review of the potential risks faced from fracking found radioactive pollutants might even be present in natural gas pumped into people’s houses if it’s not stored away for long enough.

That sounds really scary, but the authors say with appropriate regulation of “exploratory drilling, gas capture and the use and storage of fracking fluid” the risk to the environment and public health can be minimised.

 

While some states in the US and other countries around the world have banned fracking until further research is done, the current analysis suggests there are still many communities in the United States where invisible pollutants in the air are putting people’s health at risk.

“Our hope is that once we understand the source more clearly, there will be engineering methods to control this,” Koutrakis told Reuters.

Of course, stopping the drilling is another option, too.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

 



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12 US States Just Hit Record COVID-19 Case Counts. It Could Be The Dreaded 2nd Wave

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Across the US, coronavirus outbreaks seem to be larger than ever before.

On Saturday, 12 states hit record seven-day rolling average case counts, according to a Business Insider analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, which compiles data from state and territory-level public health authorities.

 

Alaska, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oregon, South Dakota, and Utah recorded more new infections in the last seven days than they ever have in a one-week period.

The US overall has recorded more than 50,000 new cases each day for the last four days. The country hasn’t seen such a streak since mid-August.

Case counts are high – with a seven-day daily average of at least 15 new cases per 100,000 people – in 26 states, according to analysis from The New York Times. Daily case counts are growing in another 16 states and Washington, DC.

“We are all seeing increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients who are coming into our ERs, who are getting really sick, requiring hospitalisation and even intensive care,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-room physician and Brown University associate professor, told CNN on Sunday.

“We are all deeply afraid that this is the beginning of that dreaded second wave.”

Experts have long warned that the coronavirus could make a fall resurgence, as children and college students return to classrooms and cooler weather sends people indoors.

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, has said that Americans need to “hunker down and get through this fall and winter.”

“As we get into the fall and we do more indoor things, we are likely to see upticks in COVID-19,” Fauci said in a September panel discussion with Harvard Medical School.

Daily death counts are still trending downward. But deaths usually lag behind case counts by three to four weeks as it takes time to die of a coronavirus infection.

An influential COVID-19 model, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, is now projecting that deaths will peak at about 2,300 per day in mid-January and that the total death toll will nearly double to 400,000 by February.

If 95 percent of the population wore masks in public, the IHME model projects, the death toll would be about 315,000 my February. Currently, less than 70 percent of people surveyed have said they do so.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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Internet Search Results Predict US COVID-19 Hotspots Weeks Later, Study Reveals

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Googling your symptoms when you’re feeling sick might lead you towards some pretty unreliable medical information most of the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s an entirely useless exercise.

 

In a recent study, researchers measured the popularity of medical symptom searches on Google and discovered that the volume of such searches can subsequently help predict the incidence of COVID-19 cases arising weeks later in the area.

While the most common symptoms associated with coronavirus might be things like cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, in this case, researchers wanted to examine whether there was correlation between COVID-19 cases and surges in searches for a more distinct subset of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms caused by the disease, such as abdominal pain and diarrhoea.

“We identified common GI symptoms attributed to COVID-19 from previous studies as search terms, which included ageusia [loss of taste], abdominal pain, loss of appetite, anorexia, diarrhoea, and vomiting,” the team, led by first author and gastroenterologist Imama Ahmad from North Shore Medical Centre in Salem, Massachusetts, explains in their paper.

Using Google Trends, the researchers compared the volume of anonymised searches for these terms in 15 US states against the reported incidence of COVID-19 cases, in the period between January and April of this year.

 

They found Google searches for specific, common GI symptoms were indeed linked with subsequent coronavirus cases in most of the states studied, with the strongest relationship being evident about three to four weeks after the searches were made.

While this is an important and potentially helpful insight, it’s not an entirely surprising link. For several years, it’s been well known that search engine queries can help alert us to things like influenza outbreaks.

So the main takeaway here is that – as experts have suggested – the same technique really can also help inform us on the spread of COVID-19, potentially signalling which suburbs might be about to become hotspots.

“Searches for GI symptoms preceded the rise in reported COVID-19 in a predictable fashion, slightly longer than the one to two-week lag time observed in prior studies on influenza,” the authors write.

“The observed time difference could be related to differences in testing availability, reporting, or longer incubation period of COVID-19 compared with influenza.”

The tool is most useful in identifying correlations in areas that are already experiencing a high burden of disease: in this study, the states with the highest incidence of cases during the study period were New York, New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, and Illinois.

 

Not all related GI symptoms correlated strongly with increases in COVID-19 diagnoses, with ageusia, loss of appetite, and diarrhoea demonstrating the firmest links.

Another limitation of the study, the researchers acknowledge, is that the largely anonymised nature of the search information available in Google Trends makes it hard to filter out confounding variables that could have an effect on the data.

With a view to helping health researchers as much as they can, though, Google this month announced it was making these kinds of search data more widely available for scientists trying to ascertain COVID-19 incidence from search queries.

The hope is that, with elevated access to search interest and trends for more than 400 medical symptoms, signs, and conditions, it will be easier for health professionals to visualise and forecast ahead of time likely areas of coronavirus impact in the US.

For Ahmad and her team, it’s already clear the technology can be of great aid.

“Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential harbinger of COVID-19 infection and suggests that Google Trends may be a valuable tool for prediction of pandemics with GI manifestations,” the researchers explain.

The findings are reported in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

 



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The Fate of Schrödinger’s Cat Probably Isn’t in The Hands of Gravity, Experiment Finds

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For the better part of a century, the world’s greatest minds have struggled with the mathematical certainty that objects can be in multiple positions at the same time before something causes them to snap into place.

 

A number of physicists have wondered if good old gravity is responsible for forcing the particle equivalent of a roulette ball to settle into its metaphorical pocket. That’s looking a little less likely in the wake of a new experiment.

Researchers from across Europe recently tested a potential explanation of the apparent collapse of a waveform, determined not by observations or weirdly branching multiverses, but by the geometry of spacetime.

It’s an idea that has its roots in a paper published back in 1966 by the Hungarian physicist Frigyes Karolyhazy, championed decades later by renowned minds like Roger Penrose and Lajos Diósi.

In fact, it was Diósi who teamed up with a handful of scientists to determine if we could blame gravity for one of quantum physics’ most brain-numbing paradoxes.

“For 30 years, I had been always criticised in my country that I speculated on something which was totally untestable,” Diósi told Science Magazine’s George Musser.

New technology has finally made the untestable a possibility. But to understand how it works, we need to take a brief dive into quantum insanity.

 

Back in the early 20th century, theorists modelled particles as if they were waves in order to reconcile what they were learning about atomics and light.

These particles weren’t quite like waves rippling across the surface of a pond, though. Think of the curving line you might draw on a graph to describe your chances of winning a bet in a dice game.

To some physicists, this whole gambling analogy was just a convenient fudge-factor, to be later resolved when we worked out more about the fundamental nature of quantum physics.

Others were adamant quantum physics is as complete as it gets. Meaning it really is a muddy mess of maybes down in the depths of physics.

Explaining how we get from a rolled dice to a clearly defined number describing things like particle spin, position, or momentum is the part that has had everybody stumped.

The famous Swiss physicist Erwin Schrödinger was firmly on team ‘fudge factor’.

He came up with that outrageous thought experiment involving a hidden cat that was alive and dead at the same time (until you looked at it), just to show just how nuts the whole ‘undecided reality’ thing was.

 

And yet here we are, a century on, and still superposition – the idea of objects like electrons (or bigger) occupying multiple states and positions at once until you measure them – is a core feature of modern physics.

So much so, we’re developing a whole branch of technology – quantum computing – around the concept.

To avoid needing to invoke half-baked notions of consciousness or infinite co-existing versions of reality to explain why many possibilities become one when we look at a particle, something less whimsical is needed for quantum probability to collapse into.

For physicists like Penrose and Diósi, gravity might be that very thing.

Einstein’s explanation of this force rests upon a curving fabric of three-dimensional space woven with time’s single dimension. Frustratingly, a quantum description of this ‘spacetime’ continues to elude theorists.

Yet this firm discrepancy between the two fields makes for a good backbone to pull waves of possibility into line.

Penrose’s version of this idea rests on the assertion that it takes different amounts of energy for particles to persist in different states.

 

If we follow Einstein’s old E=mc^2 rule, that energy difference manifests as a difference in mass; which, in turn, influences the shape of spacetime in what we observe as gravity.

Given enough of a contrast in all possible states, spacetime’s immutable shape will ensure there’s a substantial cost to pay, effectively choosing a single low-energy version of a particle’s properties to yank into place.

It’s an alluring idea, and luckily one with a potentially testable component. For all purposes, that snap should affect a particle’s position.

“It is as if you gave a kick to a particle,” Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies physicist Sandro Donadi told Science Magazine.

Kick an electron enough and you’ll force it to cry photons of light. Logically, all that’s left is to create a kind of Schrödinger’s cat experiment by locking the right kind of material inside a lead box, buried far from the confounding effects of radiation, and listen for its cries. That material, in this case, is germanium.

If Penrose’s sums are right, a crystal of germanium should generate tens of thousands of photon flashes over several months as its superpositioned particles settle into measured states.

But Diósi and his team didn’t observe tens of thousands of photons.

Over a two month period when they conducted the experiment underground five years ago at INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory, they measured barely several hundred – just what you’d expect from the radiation that managed to leak through.  

Penrose isn’t too worried. If gravity were to cause particles to emit radiation on collapse, it might run against the Universe’s tightly controlled laws of thermodynamics, anyway.

Of course, this isn’t the end of the story. In future experiments, gravity might yet be shown to be responsible for flattening quantum waves. Right now, anything seems possible.

This research was published in Nature Physics.

 



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