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Go read this damning story about the spread of COVID-19 in America’s first pandemic hotspot

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Following individual human stories in a sprawling event like a global pandemic is a challenging task. Making thoughtful connections between the two is even harder. But this long read from The California Sunday Magazine on America’s first COVID-19 epicenter, a nursing home in Washington state, does the job with compelling and tragic precision.

It focuses on two inhabitants of a single room in the nursing facility, the Life Care Center of Kirkland, part of the largest privately held chain of long-term care centers in the US. It tracks how the coronavirus spread through the facility “like a spectral haunting,” and how underpaid and overworked staff battled against the odds to bring it under control.

Around the world, nursing homes have been hit hard by the pandemic, which is no surprise considering that their residents are some of the most vulnerable in society. In the US alone, as of mid-August, 177,129 nursing home residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 45,958 have died from the disease. “This means that nursing-home residents account for more than a quarter of total pandemic deaths,” writes journalist Katie Engelhart.

In America, though, these individual tragedies connect to larger trends. As Engelhart lays out in rigorous detail, the financial and regulatory landscape of the US has seriously diminished the quality of care in nursing homes. The “freakish architecture” of health insurances is one issue, incentivizing management to treat patients with profit in mind:

“At one Life Care facility in Florida, the entire rehab staff had signed a letter declaring that they had ‘been encouraged to maximize reimbursement even when clinically inappropriate.'”

And the financialization of the industry is another. Nursing homes are lucrative businesses thanks to a regular supply of “customers.” This has attracted buyouts from private equity firms and owners concerned only with making money. Nursing homes are folded into complicated company structures that make it harder for patients to sue, while middle managers are brought in on bloated salaries, draining funds from frontline staff.

The results are grimly predictable, explains Engelhart:

“Earlier this year, a Wharton School-New York University-University of Chicago research team found “robust evidence” that private-equity buyouts lead to “declines in patient health and compliance with care standards.” When nursing homes are bought by private-equity groups, the team concluded, frontline nursing staff are cut, and residents are more likely to be hospitalized.”

Lax government regulations have also played a part. One study found that three-quarters of US nursing homes were understaffed before the pandemic, while 82 percent had been cited by the Government Accountability Office for failing to control the spread of infections between 2013 and 2017. These conditions were ripe for the pandemic to move in.

Engelhart’s piece is extremely affecting when detailing the plight of nursing home residents themselves. These are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, whose tragedy is simply aging in a country that does not provide for them. As Engelhart puts it, many people see the tens of thousands of deaths in US nursing homes as evidence of a “cultural abdication” on the part of society. We’ve failed to look after our elders and the human cost is staggering. Perhaps this pandemic can at least wake people up to the change that is needed.

Go read Engelhart’s full story right here.

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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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