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Attack of the gaiters

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A minor face-covering controversy broke out this week, thanks to a widely-misinterpreted paper involving masks, lasers, and spit.

The study, which came out in Science Advances on August 7, was pretty straightforward. It laid out a method that other scientists could use to test masks in their own labs. Using a dark box, some lasers, a cell phone camera and a relatively simple algorithm they figured out a way to test how effective different kinds of masks were at containing spit.

People spit when they talk. They also spew droplets out of their mouth when they breathe heavily, sneeze, or sing Hamilton tunes. That humid mess can contain viruses, which is one reason that everyone is now encouraged to wear a mask in public — to reduce the chances that you’ll pass the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on to other people.

Wearing a mask creates a barrier between your germ-filled mouth and the world. (Unless you buy whatever the heck this disaster is.) But with the exception of heavily tested masks, like N95s, researchers don’t have a detailed picture of how well those barriers perform, especially given the huge variety of masks out there.

Which brings us back to the paper. In order to show that their experimental set-up worked, and could work for other researchers, they tested 14 commonly used face-coverings. They “merely demonstrated our method on a variety of commonly available masks and mask alternatives with one speaker, and a subset of these masks were tested with four speakers,” the authors write.

Here’s what they were not doing: they were not running extensive tests on the different mask types. But in their paper, they did see that some masks seemed to do better than others. One of the ones on the lower end of the efficacy pole? Gaiters/buffs/those big cloth necklaces popular with runners. Suddenly The Washington Post was proclaiming that “Wearing a neck gaiter may be worse than no mask at all, researchers find”, much to the dismay of other science journalists.

Other articles quickly followed, defending the gaiters and pointing out that we’ll need a lot more reps of these tests to really say, once and for all, how well different masks compare to each other.

Even the authors of the paper agreed.

“What we don’t want people taking away is: ‘This mask will work. This will not.’ It’s not a guide to masks. It is a demonstration of a new, simple methodology for quickly and somewhat crudely visualizing the effect of a mask,” one of the authors told Wired.

The experiment was adapted in part from another demonstration that we covered back in April. That experiment, and others like it that came out at around the same time, also used lasers to highlight people’s spit as they talked. Like the more recent article, their work was also focused on basic scientific set-up, and not on broad conclusions.

“It emphasizes the principle, and then you dig down a layer to get some of the more information,” Alex Huffman, an associate professor who studies aerosols at the University of Denver told Verge reporter Nicole Wetsman back in April. “But it doesn’t solve everything — just like the mask itself.”

What all these scientific papers do is give us the tools that can help us figure out which masks really are effective — information that could help us keep our germs to ourselves in this pandemic, and in the future.

Here’s what else is going on this week.

Research

Long after the fire of a Covid-19 infection, mental and neurological effects can still smolder
Up to a third of COVID-19 patients may experience neuropsychological problems after they recover from the disease. “It’s not only an acute problem. This is going to be a chronic illness,” Wes Ely, a critical care physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center told STAT. “The problem for these people is not over when they leave the hospital.” (Elizabeth Cooney/STAT)

Vaping linked to higher risk of COVID-19 in teens and young adults, study finds
Teens and young adults who vape were between five and seven times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, according to a new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health this week. (Justine Calma/The Verge)

Development

Large study suggests convalescent plasma can help treat Covid-19, but experts have doubts
A large, not peer-reviewed study found some hopeful hints that plasma from patients who recovered from COVID-19 could be a decent treatment. But it also left researchers incredibly frustrated. “The lack of high-quality trials in making clinical decisions about how to treat patients with coronavirus infection is a national embarrassment. Here we have another non-randomized study, NIH-funded, and uninterpretable,” Clinical trialist Steven Nissen told STAT. (Damian Garde and Matthew Herper/STAT)

Clinical Trials of Coronavirus Drugs Are Taking Longer Than Expected
Experimental antibody treatments are lingering in clinical trials as researchers run into “testing delays, staffing shortages, space constraints and reluctant patients” according to a report in The New York Times. (Katie Thomas/The New York Times)

Russia rushes registration of unproven coronavirus vaccine
In a fit of nationalism, Russia decided to push its unproven vaccine out into the world, leapfrogging the essential step of phase III clinical trials. Russia is calling it ‘Sputnik V.’ Virologists are calling it “beyond stupid.” (Mary Beth Griggs/The Verge)

Perspectives

I had COVID-19, and these are the things nobody tells you
Sports columnist Bill Plaschke vividly writes about what it was like to catch the virus after months of writing about how the pandemic has upended sports.

It felt like my head was on fire. One night I sweated through five shirts. I shook so much from the chills I thought I chipped a tooth. My chest felt like LeBron James was sitting on it. My fatigue made it feel as if I was dressed in the chains of Jacob Marley’s ghost.

(Bill Plaschke/The Los Angeles Times)

More than numbers

More than 900 healthcare workers have died on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, according to a new report and interactive database built by The Guardian and KHN. The database includes pictures and profiles of 167 medical workers who have died since March.

To the more than 21,240,306 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.

To the families and friends of the 766,414 people who have died worldwide — 168,458 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.

Stay safe, everyone.

Source : TheVerge ScienceRead More

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Science

Too bright to breed

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Night light from coastal cities overpowers natural signals for coral spawning from neighboring reefs.

PHOTO: NOKURO/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Most coral species reproduce through broadcast spawning. For such a strategy to be successful, coordination has had to evolve such that gametes across clones are released simultaneously. Over millennia, lunar cycles have facilitated this coordination, but the recent development of bright artificial light has led to an overpowering of these natural signals. Ayalon et al. tested for the direct impact of different kinds of artificial light on different species of corals. The authors found that multiple lighting types, including cold and warm light-emitting diode (LED) lamps, led to loss of synchrony and spawning failure. Further, coastal maps of artificial lighting globally suggest that it threatens to interfere with coral reproduction worldwide and that the deployment of LED lights, the blue light of which penetrates deeper into the water column, is likely to make the situation even worse.

Curr. Biol. 10.1016/j.cub.2020.10.039 (2020).

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SpaceX launches Starlink app and provides pricing and service info to early beta testers

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SpaceX has debuted an official app for its Starlink satellite broadband internet service, for both iOS and Android devices. The Starlink app allows users to manage their connection – but to take part you’ll have to be part of the official beta program, and the initial public rollout of that is only just about to begin, according to emails SpaceX sent to potential beta testers this week.

The Starlink app provides guidance on how to install the Starlink receiver dish, as well as connection status (including signal quality), a device overview for seeing what’s connected to your network, and a speed test tool. It’s similar to other mobile apps for managing home wifi connections and routers. Meanwhile, the emails to potential testers that CNBC obtained detail what users can expect in terms of pricing, speeds and latency.

The initial Starlink public beta test is called the “Better than Nothing Beta Program,” SpaceX confirms in their app description, and will be rolled out across the U.S. and Canada before the end of the year – which matches up with earlier stated timelines. As per the name, SpaceX is hoping to set expectations for early customers, with speeds users can expect ranging from between 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, and latency of 20ms to 40ms according to the customer emails, with some periods including no connectivity at all. Even with expectations set low, if those values prove accurate, it should be a big improvement for users in some hard-to-reach areas where service is currently costly, unreliable and operating at roughly dial-up equivalent speeds.

Image Credits: SpaceX

In terms of pricing, SpaceX says in the emails that the cost for participants in this beta program will be $99 per moth, plus a one-time cost of $499 initially to pay for the hardware, which includes the mounting kit and receiver dish, as well as a router with wifi networking capabilities.

The goal eventually is offer reliably, low-latency broadband that provides consistent connection by handing off connectivity between a large constellation of small satellites circling the globe in low Earth orbit. Already, SpaceX has nearly 1,000 of those launched, but it hopes to launch many thousands more before it reaches global coverage and offers general availability of its services.

SpaceX has already announced some initial commercial partnerships and pilot programs for Starlink, too, including a team-up with Microsoft to connect that company’s mobile Azure data centers, and a project with an East Texas school board to connect the local community.

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Erratum for the Report “Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances” by R. Van Klink, D. E. Bowler, K. B. Gongalsky, A. B. Swengel, A. Gentile, J. M. Chase

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S. Rennie, J. Adamson, R. Anderson, C. Andrews, J. Bater, N. Bayfield, K. Beaton, D. Beaumont, S. Benham, V. Bowmaker, C. Britt, R. Brooker, D. Brooks, J. Brunt, G. Common, R. Cooper, S. Corbett, N. Critchley, P. Dennis, J. Dick, B. Dodd, N. Dodd, N. Donovan, J. Easter, M. Flexen, A. Gardiner, D. Hamilton, P. Hargreaves, M. Hatton-Ellis, M. Howe, J. Kahl, M. Lane, S. Langan, D. Lloyd, B. McCarney, Y. McElarney, C. McKenna, S. McMillan, F. Milne, L. Milne, M. Morecroft, M. Murphy, A. Nelson, H. Nicholson, D. Pallett, D. Parry, I. Pearce, G. Pozsgai, A. Riley, R. Rose, S. Schafer, T. Scott, L. Sherrin, C. Shortall, R. Smith, P. Smith, R. Tait, C. Taylor, M. Taylor, M. Thurlow, A. Turner, K. Tyson, H. Watson, M. Whittaker, I. Woiwod, C. Wood, UK Environmental Change Network (ECN) Moth Data: 1992-2015, NERC Environmental Information Data Centre (2018); .

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