• Inside Trump’s Failure: The Rush to Abandon Leadership Role on the Virus

    The roots of the nation’s current inability to control the pandemic can be traced to mid-April, when the White House embraced overly rosy projections to proclaim victory and move on. What is more, Michael D. Shear, Noah Weiland, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman, and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times, members of the corona crisis group, meeting in the office of Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff every morning at 8:00am, saw their immediate role as practical problem solvers, but their ultimate goal was to shift responsibility for leading the fight against the pandemic – which was becoming a public health, economic, and political disaster — from the White House to the states.

  • The Crisis that Shocked the World: America’s Response to the Coronavirus

    “Six months after the coronavirus appeared in America, the nation has failed spectacularly to contain it,” Joel Achenbach, William Wan, Karin Brulliard, and Chelsea Janes write in the Washington Post. “The country’s ineffective response has shocked observers around the planet.” They write that the death rate from covid-19 in the United States looks like that of countries with vastly lower wealth, health-care resources and technological infrastructure, adding: “If there was a mistake to be made in this pandemic, America has made it.”

  • Mask Resistance During a Pandemic Isn’t New – in 1918 Many Americans Were “Slackers”

    There’s a clear consensus that Americans should wear masks in public and continue to practice proper social distancing. J. Alexander Navarro writes in The Conversation that  while a majority of Americans support wearing masks, widespread and consistent compliance has proven difficult to maintain in communities across the country. “I’ve researched the history of the 1918 pandemic extensively,” he writes. “At that time, with no effective vaccine or drug therapies, communities across the country instituted a host of public health measures to slow the spread of a deadly influenza epidemic: They closed schools and businesses, banned public gatherings and isolated and quarantined those who were infected. Many communities recommended or required that citizens wear face masks in public – and this, not the onerous lockdowns, drew the most ire.”

  • How French Technology Can Control Wearing of a Mandatory Mask

    The French government announced that as of Monday, wearing a face mask in enclosed public places will become mandatory. How would it be possible to check whether thousands of people are following the government’s instructions or not? Several French start-ups have developed solutions which are now being tested. Valentin Hamon-Beugin writes in Le Figaro [in French] that some companies have developed tools which rely on the use of CCTVs. Software is installed in the cameras, and using artificial intelligence, it detects masked faces. “It’s not about facial recognition. We simply recognize the human form behind the mask, but we don’t have access to the identity of the people filmed,”explains Virginie Ducable, project manager at RedLab, a Normandy-based start-up. No image is stored on servers, only statistical data is sent to the client. “These statistics can serve them in a concrete way. For example, if they find that too few people are wearing a mask at any given time, they will be able to automatically launch voice announcements urging them to follow health guidelines,” she adds. Olivier Gualdoni, CEO of Drone Volt, whose subsidiary, Aérialtronics, is working on a similar project, “Our solution aims to prevent, not to punish. We are completely opposite of the repression stereotypes associated with artificial intelligence.”

  • Contact Tracing’s Long, Turbulent History Holds Lessons for COVID-19

    To get the COVID-19 pandemic under control and keep it from flaring up again, contact tracing is critical, but persuading everyone who tests positive to share where they’ve been and with whom relies on trust and cooperation. Amy Lauren Fairchild, Lawrence O. Gostin, and Ronald Bayer write in The Conversation that contact tracing’s long, contested history shows how easily both can be shattered. Looking back at the reasons for resistance to contact tracing as the U.S. struggled to contain epidemics in the past can help us understand the first signs of pushback against contact tracing in the COVID-19 response, as well as the public health consequences.

  • With Coronavirus Antibodies Fading Fast, Vaccine Hopes Fade, Too

    Disturbing new revelations that permanent immunity to the coronavirus may not be possible have jeopardized vaccine development and reinforced a decision by scientists at UCSF and affiliated laboratories to focus exclusively on treatments. Peter Fimrite writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that several recent studies conducted around the world indicate that the human body does not retain the antibodies that build up during infections, meaning there may be no lasting immunity to COVID-19 after people recover. Strong antibodies are also crucial in the development of vaccines. So molecular biologists fear the only way left to control the disease may be to treat the symptoms after people are infected to prevent the most debilitating effects, including inflammation, blood clots and death.


  • COVID-19 Could Cause Psychosis

    Scientists have now observed that COVID-19 can apparently trigger a wide range of psychiatric symptoms, in addition to neurological ones. It was already known that many patients complain of smell and taste disorders. Strokes, epileptic seizures, paralysis, headaches, and even brain infections have also been reported. Katherine Rydlink writes in Der Spiegel [in German] that several studies now suggest that COVID-19 can also trigger psychosis. A survey of British doctors, the results of which were published in the specialist journal Lancet Psychiatry, showed that around 31 percent of the 125 patients with COVID-19 reported that they had psychiatric disorders. Ten patients suffered from a new onset of psychosis, six from dementia-like disorders, and four patients were diagnosed with an affective disorder, that is, manic or depressive episodes.

  • Has the Coronavirus Proved a Crisis Too Far for Europe’s Far-Right Outsiders?

    In recent years, far-right political parties in Europe have capitalized on crises to build their support bases. Many have made it to positions of power as a result of these efforts. The financial crisis of 2008 and the refugee crisis that began in 2014 have provided opportunities to harness growing uncertainty and resentment for political purposes. Georgios Samaras writes in The Conversation that early signs suggest, however, that these groups have not had the same success during the coronavirus crisis. “The predicament facing Europe’s far right and nationalist parties represents a very interesting break with the past, as the far right has been the significant loser of the pandemic.”

  • Disinformation Campaigns Are Murky Blends of Truth, Lies, and Sincere Beliefs – Lessons from the Pandemic

    The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned an infodemic, a vast and complicated mix of information, misinformation and disinformation. The notion of disinformation often brings to mind easy-to-spot propaganda peddled by totalitarian states, but the reality is much more complex. Though disinformation does serve an agenda, it is often camouflaged in facts and advanced by innocent and often well-meaning individuals. This mix of information types makes it difficult for people, including those who build and run online platforms, to distinguish an organic rumor from an organized disinformation campaign.

  • Chinese Government Hackers Charged with IP, COVID-19 Research Theft

    U.S. DOJ accused China on Tuesday of sponsoring criminal hackers to target biotech firms around the world working on coronavirus vaccines and treatments, as the FBI said the Chinese government was acting like “an organized criminal syndicate.”

  • Using Epidemiological Models to Explain Spread of Social Unrest, Rioting

    Do social unrest and riots spread as infectious diseases do? Researchers used the SIR epidemiological model, known for modeling infectious disease spread, and applied it to social unrest. The SIR technique separates the population into susceptible, infectious, and recovered individuals. “Within a rioting context, someone ‘susceptible’ is a potential rioter, an ‘infected individual’ is an active rioter, and a ‘recovered person’ is one that stopped rioting,” explained one researcher. “Rioting spreads when effective contact between an active rioter and a potential rioter occurs.”

  • Russian Government Hackers Trying to Steal COVID-19 Research Information from Western Labs

    Russian government hackers are targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development, U.K. security officials have revealed. The APT29 hacking group, also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” is staffed by GRU (Russian military intelligence branch) hackers, and the GRU subcontracts Kremlin-ordered cyber operations to APT29. In 2016, the APT29 hackers stole emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC

  • Of (Flawed) Models and Policy Decisions; and a New Hydroxychloroquine Skirmish

    Last week, in the face of the increase in the number of infections in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, and, around the world, in Israel and Brazil – although, as Derek Thompson notes, the number of infected individuals needing hospitalization, and the number of deaths, have not increased correspondingly — questions were again raised about the right balance of risk and benefits of measures such as economic lockdowns. Beda M. Stadler, John Lee, and Christopher Snowdon forcefully argue that the decision to impose devastating lockdowns was driven by panic – worse, by an uninformed panic: “An early maintained but exaggerated belief in the lethality of the virus reinforced by modelling that was almost data-free, then amplified by further modelling with no proven predictive value,” in Lee’s words. Olga Yakusheva offers a counterargument.

    We live in a politically polarized time – a time when many feel an even stronger need to avoid what Leon Festinger called “cognitive dissonance.” Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris write that “when people feel a strong connection to a political party, leader, ideology, or belief, they are more likely to let that allegiance do their thinking for them and distort or ignore the evidence that challenges those loyalties.” The result is that a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions of the coronavirus as political choices rather than medical ones — for example, whether or not to wear face masks or maintain social distance.

    Another example is whether or not hydroxychloroquine should be used to treat COVID-19-infected patients. The issue came to the fore after President Trump heard about the drug on Fox News, and began aggressively to promote it as the biggest “game changer” in medical history. A reluctant FDA in March  issued an emergency authorization to use the drug in COVID-19 patients, but two weeks ago revoked its authorization after all controlled clinical trials — randomized, double-blind trials – have concluded the drug offered no benefits to COVID-19 patients, while increasing the risk of heart problems. Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey write that the White House is again pushing for the reauthorization of the drug following a study – criticized by several scientists as flawed – which says some early-infection patients have benefitted from the drug.

  • Coronavirus: Why Everyone Was Wrong

    “This is not an accusation, but a ruthless taking stock [of the current situation],” Beda M. Stadler writes in Medium. Stadler, the former director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Bern and an emeritus professor of biology, stresses that his article is about Switzerland, and that the situation in different countries may differ. He continues: “I could slap myself, because I looked at Sars-CoV2- way too long with panic. I am also somewhat annoyed with many of my immunology colleagues who so far have left the discussion about Covid-19 to virologist and epidemiologist. I feel it is time to criticize some of the main and completely wrong public statements about this virus. “Firstly, it was wrong to claim that this virus was novel. Secondly, it was even more wrong to claim that the population would not already have some immunity against this virus. Thirdly, it was the crowning of stupidity to claim that someone could have COVID-19 without any symptoms at all or even to pass the disease along without showing any symptoms whatsoever.”

  • The Fatal Mistakes Which Led to Lockdown

    On the basis of what were fateful decisions about economic lockdowns as a proper response to the coronavirus made? And why is there such resistance to efforts to go back, cautiously and intelligently, but in a determined fashion, back to semblance of normalcy? Dr. John Lee writers in The Spectator that those who insisted on lockdowns and who now question economic and social reopening explained that they are being “guided by science.” In fact, he writes, “they are doing something rather different: being guided by models, bad data and subjective opinion. Some of those claiming to be ‘following the science’ seem not to understand the meaning of the word.” The decision-making leading to lockdowns was of exceedingly low quality, as is the resistance to economic and social reopening. The reason for both? “An early maintained but exaggerated belief in the lethality of the virus reinforced by modelling that was almost data-free, then amplified by further modelling with no proven predictive value. All summed up by recommendations from a committee based on qualitative data that hasn’t even been peer-reviewed.” Lee concludes: “Mistakes were inevitable at the start of this. But we can’t learn without recognizing them.”