Annalee Newitz looks at the Great Plague of London and 17th century social distancing

Annalee Newitz has a piece in The New York Times about the "Great Plague" of London (1665-1666)--the last outbreak of bubonic plague in England--which ended up taking the lives of almost a quarter of the city's population.

A lot of English people believed 1666 would be the year of the apocalypse. You can’t really blame them. In late spring 1665, bubonic plague began to eat away at London’s population. By fall, roughly 7,000 people were dying every week in the city. The plague lasted through most of 1666, ultimately killing about 100,000 people in London alone — and possibly as many as three-quarters of a million in England as a whole.

...

It felt like Armageddon. And yet it was also the beginning of a scientific renaissance in England, when doctors experimented with quarantines, sterilization and social distancing. For those of us living through these stay-at-home days of Covid-19, it’s useful to look back and see how much has changed — and how much hasn’t. Humanity has been guarding against plagues and surviving them for thousands of years, and we have managed to learn a lot along the way.

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It was most likely thanks to his [King Charles II] interest in science that government representatives and doctors quickly used social distancing methods for containing the spread of bubonic plague. Charles II issued a formal order in 1666 that ordered a halt to all public gatherings, including funerals. Already, theaters had been shut down in London, and licensing curtailed for new pubs.

Read the rest

Here are the 5 kinds of pandemic villains who are making things worse for the rest of us

Does anyone ever read the introductory paragraph preceding a listicle like this? I sure don't. I always skip straight to the numbered list. So without further ado, here are the 5 types of villains making the pandemic worse for everyone else:

1. DENIERS

People who are hostile to science, evangelical Christians, sociopaths, members of Trump's loyalty cult, social media toilet lickers, and those whose investment portfolios are under threat.

Credo: "Coronavirus is George Soros / Bill Gates / libtard-concocted fake news designed to hurt God Emperor Trump."

Exemplars:

Bloviator / racist hatemonger Rush Limbaugh: "The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.” Disgraced failed senate candidate Roy Moore: "Businesses are closed, our economy is destroyed and churches are closed by tyrants who pander fear in the place of faith in God and our U S Constitution" Unfairly photo-shopped Jerry Falwell Jr: “Shame on the media for trying to fan [coronavirus] up and destroy the American economy. They’re willing to destroy the economy just to hurt Trump.” Former Ms. Nevada State 2019 Katie Williams: "I just went to a crowded Red Robin and I'm 30. It was delicious, and I took my sweet time eating my meal. Because this is America. And I'll do what I want." Attorney Scott A. McMillan: "The fundamental problem is whether we are going to tank the entire economy to save 2.5% of the population which is (1) generally expensive to maintain, and (2) not productive."

2. HOARDERS

People who buy up vast amounts of toilet paper, particle masks, disinfectant wipes, and food, either out of fear or to seize an opportunity to profit through price gouging. Read the rest

Man dead, wife in hospital after ingesting what they thought was a drug touted by Trump

On their website, the Arizona medical group, Banner Health, is reporting that a man has died in their care after self-medicating against COVID-19 using what they mistook for an anti-malaria drug that Dear Leader had mentioned during one of his campaign rallies briefings in recent days.

A man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks. Within thirty minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital.

Read the rest of the brief announcement here.

NBC News correspondent Vaughn Hillyard spoke to the wife by phone from her hospital bed. She had this to say:

we saw Trump on TV--every channel--and all his buddies--saying that this was safe. Trump kept saying it was pretty much a cure."

[...] Don't believe anything the President says and his people because they don't know what they're talking about. And don't take anything -- be so careful and call your doctor. This is a heart ache I'll never get over.

Yet another reason why these "briefings" should not be televised live, but should only be summarized by responsible adults.

Photo by camilo jimenez on Unsplash Read the rest

Join the Mask Force, help manufacture DIY emergency PPE supplies

The ever-clever and resourceful Danielle Baskin has created a site for the online coordination and distribution of DIY-produced filter masks, face shields and other PPE (personal protective equipment).

In times of emergency, the CDC allows production for crisis capacity scenarios. Homemade supplies are an emergency supply for overwhelmed hospitals and we have to prepare right now for it. While factory capacity is limited, we are building a distributed factory of crafters, DIYers, and organizers across the country. Here's what we need to focus on first: Surgical masks Gowns Face shields

Note: Some hospitals will not accept DIY PPE supplies.

Join the Mask Force here. Read the rest

Prusa Research develops 3D-printable face shield in three days

Last week, I reported on Czech 3D printer company, Prusa Research, converting over some of their manufacturing capability to producing hand sanitizer. Now, the company has, within three days of prototyping, created a 3D printable face shield.

Josef Prusa writes:

We were notified on Facebook that doctors are in great need of face shields and that there is already a great face shield design available online. We took it as a starting point and decided that we would adjust it for easier and faster 3D printing – e.g. there shouldn’t be any supports required and we should fit as many of them onto a single print sheet as possible. So we started working on it immediately. After all, it is very important to keep the guys, who will take care of us in the darkest times, as healthy as possible. These shields will help protect their eyes and face from coughing and sneezing of their patients.

In three days, we were able to go through dozens of prototypes, two verifications with the Czech Ministry of Health and we even met our minister of health Adam Vojtech. Today we are excited to share with you that we have started prototype production and the first units just went to the hospital for field testing and verification. I want to thank Martin Havrda from the University Hospital Vinohrady in Prague for taking the time to meet us. And also, when we have this design verified, we will move to design protective goggles.

Read the rest

FDA gives go-ahead to Maryland bio-firm to accept orders on their COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kit

From BioSpace via Alberto Gaitán:

ROCKVILLE, Md.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- 20/20 BioResponse, a business unit of 20/20 GeneSystems, Inc. announced today that it will begin taking orders for its CoronaCheck  COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kit. (The test is intended to identify persons having an immune response against SARS-CoV-2.) The company’s action follows discussions with officials from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) this week after the agency’s March 16 Guidance issued to “expand the number and variety of diagnostic tests” as the “severity and scope of the current COVID-19 situation around the globe necessitates greater testing capacity than is currently available.”

Alberto comments:

"Low cost" 15-minute COVID-19 antibody test has been cleared for use in the USA by the FDA. "Rapid Antibody Test Generates Results in under 15 minutes from Blood Drop without Laboratory Equipment or Personnel"

Standard error is ±10%, which is kinda high (i.e., you're positive but get a negative result and think you're okay so you do stuff you shouldn't, and the opposite case is also problematic).

Read the rest on BioSpace.

[Thanks, Alberto!]

Image: Photo by CDC on Unsplash Read the rest

Nighthawks in quarantine

In 2014, reddit user u/damburglar posted this abandoned recreation of Edward Hopper's 1942 painting Nighthawks. That it's a plainly-rendered 3D model seems to make it even creepier. [via]

Here's one from Maxim Leyzerovich:

Read the rest

Is it canceled yet?

No, not problem celebrities. Read the rest

Listen: loudspeakers broadcast corona virus closure messages to the empty streets of Shanghai Disneyland

Deutsche Welle's footage of the empty entrance plaza of Shanghai Disneyland as the PA system broadcasts a message that the park is "temporarily closed" for "prevention and control of the disease outbreak" is indeed "straight out of a Hollywood horror movie," as the caption says. Read the rest

Humanity isn't likely to extinguish itself, writes SETI scientist

Climate change. Pandemics. Nuclear war. While these are undoubtedly devastating realities or possibilities, could they wipe out humanity entirely? Highly unlikely, writes Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. From Quartz:

A century ago, the Spanish flu caused a staggering 20-50 million deaths, more than WWI. Still, the toll amounted to less than 3% of the world population. As ghastly as it was, the Spanish flu didn’t even rise to the level of decimation; viruses can slay, but they can’t annihilate. If past mortality is prologue, a millennial has less chance of succumbing to a new pandemic than dying in an auto accident.

OK, well what about climate change, now recognized as a non-hoax by 75% of Americans? It’s not the heat per se that will waste us, but the knock-on effects. Low-lying nations will turn into aquariums and Caribbean countries will be pummeled and pelted by savage storms....

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, 5 million people will perish due to the consequences of climate change. Nonetheless, if aliens visit Earth in 2050, they’ll still find billions of humans. Indeed, probably more than walk the planet today...

However, there’s at least one lethal bullet we might never be able to dodge: a gamma ray burst. This cosmic phenomenon could sterilize our planet in short order. Such bursts are not frequent—they’re thought to be the final gasps of collapsing, massive stars—but if one were to occur in our own galaxy, the results could be truly catastrophic, resulting in destruction of our protective atmosphere.

Read the rest

Ebola keeps on keeping on

Hey gang, let's talk Ebola: Everyone's favorite viral boogeyman.

Over the weekend, the AFP News Agency reported that health professionals in the Democratic Republic of Congo have uncovered five new confirmed cases of Ebola: three cases in the Bikoro area and two in Wangata. This most recent outbreak of the disease in the country’s northwest has resulted in more than 50 confirmed cases and 25 deaths. These numbers, of course, only reflect the incidents of the disease that health agencies such as the World Health Organization and Medecins Sans Frontieres and DR Congo’s healthcare system are aware of.

As such, the push to track everyone who has come into contact with the disease and take appropriate precautions continues, albeit slowly. One of the biggest hurtles in tracking and containing Ebola is that, logistically, the rural regions of DR Congo are a pain in the ass. The roads are often so pocketed with potholes that the only way to reliable traverse them is with a motorcycle—and that’s if there are any roads at all. Many of the smaller villages surrounding Bikoro are packed away by dense jungle. Additionally, cellular coverage in the country’s northwestern region comes with massive holes. This makes doing important work, such as sending field operatives into areas of infection, shipping vaccines or sending collected data back for processing extremely difficult.

According to the New York Times, because of these difficulties, researchers are having a hard time piecing together how the current strain of the virus was transmitted. This, in turn, makes vaccinating the right people in the hopes of stopping the spread of the disease an uphill battle. Read the rest