Science

The case for wearing two masks

At President Joe Biden's inauguration last week, many viewers were keen to notice Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) mittens. But there was another inauguration fashion accessory sported by many that caught eyes: politicians donning not one, but two masks. The practice was quickly dubbed "double-masking." Indeed, former South Bend mayor and Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg wore two facemasks, a white one beneath a cloth black one. His spouse, Chasten, sported a double-masked look as well.

Anecdotally, I have noticed more people opting to wear two masks instead of one in the Bay Area, which raises the question: Is two better than one?

On Monday, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in on double-masking, stating, "it just makes common sense."

"If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective," Fauci said. "That's the reason why you see people either double masking or doing a version of an N95."

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to officially recommend double-masking — and scientists who have been studying the coronavirus and its mitigation strategies tell Salon it's unnecessary for them to do so, for now, for a number of reasons. One being, that while it may be "common sense," the issue is nuanced. That's partly because the effectiveness of double-masking largely depends on the material of the masks, and how that material compares to the material of one really effective mask.

"More layers is probably better, that does make sense . . . if a droplet gets through one layer maybe you'll be stopped by the next layer — that to me is logical," said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Davis. "But of course it would also depend on the material, and then the coverage of the mask."

For example, one N95 mask is better than two cloth masks.

Dr. John Volckens, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University, said that the take home message is certainly "any mask is helpful," but agreed that "double masking" is better than one because of the quality of masks that most of the public is wearing. Studies show the best protection against the coronavirus is an N95 mask. However, they are in short supply and prioritized for healthcare workers. Not only are N95 masks hard to come by, but they need to be professionally fitted to one's face to ensure a tight seal. When this happens, the mask can block 95 percent of very small particles— hence, the name. Even a "suboptimal" fit though can block more than 90 percent of small particles, according to research published before the pandemic. This is why healthcare workers wear N95 masks, which are often accompanied by face shields. But the public isn't wearing N95 masks—they're either wearing cloth masks, or disposable surgical ones.

"A lot of masks that I see out in the wild don't fit very well on people's faces, there are gaps in them, and this is especially true of those blue surgical masks," Volckens said. "Those aren't meant to seal against the face, and if they don't seal against your face, then they leak."

Volckens said after wearing an N95, a person has a ring around their face like they've been snorkeling. That's because the mask has created a seal around that person's face, protecting them from 95 percent of aerosols. Yet that doesn't happen when a person wears either a surgical mask or a cloth mask—there are gaps and leaks on the sides.

"Double masking is a way to combat that lack of protection," Volkens said, "because you have a good mask as the bottom layer like one of those blue surgical masks. The filters in those masks are protective, but they're not allowed to do their job if they're leaking on the side," he continued. "So the second mask you put on holds that filter closer to your face, and provides for a better seal."

The second mask, Volckens said, should be anything that helps press the first one around your face more tightly. He added that the second layer of protection could even be a "mask fitter" or "mask sealer" that holds the mask more tightly around a person's face.

While cloth masks aren't as effective as N95 masks in protecting the person wearing them and other people, they do provide a layer of protection that can have a profound public health impact on a community. For example, a study published in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers found that mask mandates led to a reduction in daily COVID-19 cases; after five days, the growth rate declined by 0.9 percent. At three weeks, the daily growth rate slowed by 2 percentage points.

"A bad mask is better than no mask at all," Volkens emphasized.

Epidemiologist George Rutherford, MD, at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that the more layers you have, the better. Rutherford emphasized that the public wears masks for three reasons.

"The first one is because 60 percent of people who transmit are asymptomatic when they're at their most infectious, the second is we also want to protect ourselves," Rutherford said. "And then the third is if people do manage to get infected, despite wearing masks, you probably get infected with smaller inoculums, fewer viral particles, and as a result they get less sick."

Rutherford said that wearing two masks is especially a good idea when you're on public transportation, or in any situation where can't control the people around you. But don't expect double masking to be a singular means to get us out of this pandemic— so as long as many people continue to refuse to wear masks.

"I'd rather spend my time getting people to wear masks who aren't wearing masks," he said. "Rather than getting people to wear double masks."

Astronomers discover a bizarre string of planets

Nature is fond of patterns, on both the small scale and the large. Take the Fibonacci sequence, for instance — the repeating pattern of numbers in which each subsequent number totals the sum of the previous two. The formula appears in nautilus' spiral shells, but also in the arrangement of the planets in the solar system, whose distances align roughly with Fibonacci numbers' ratios.

But the rough synchrony of our planets is nothing compared to the precise alignment of five newly-discovered exoplanets, which orbit their parent star with such a perfect harmony that it seems almost uncanny. According to a study published in the scientific journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, a solar system discovered by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is host to at least six planets, five of which orbit around the star — known as TOI-178 (or TESS Object of Interest 178) — in a precise ratio. This is known as a "chain of resonances," or a series of occasions in which planets orbit a star while maintaining a beat with one another.

"A resonance between two planets is what happens when one completes a certain integer number of orbits while the other also does so," Dr. Nathan Hara, an astrophysicist at the University of Geneva and a co-author of the paper, wrote to Salon. "They therefore find themselves periodically in the same configuration and the strongest attraction between them is therefore always in the same direction."

There are a few details that make the new finding so striking. One is the fact that five planets are involved instead of two; as Hara explained, this makes it "one of the longest known chains" of resonant planets. In the case of the exoplanets surrounding TOI-178, they dance at a rhythm of 18:9:6:4:3. This means that every time the innermost planet in the chain makes 18 orbits around TOI-178, the next one in line makes nine orbits, and the one after that makes six orbits, and so on.

The finding is also significant because "in the known resonance chains, the farther the planet is from the star, the less dense it is, like in the Solar system: Mercury, Venus and Earth, Mars, have a higher density than Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune." The stars orbiting TOI-178 in synchrony, by contrast, have unusual comparative densities.

"The innermost planets are the densest ones, but then you have a planet with a very small, Saturn-like density, then it goes up again and falls off," Hara told Salon. "It is not shattering our understanding of planetary formation, but it is certainly puzzling."

He also told Salon that the discovery is helpful to scientists because TOI-178 is an unusually bright star — indeed, the brightest star which is known to have transiting resonant chains.

"Here 'transiting' means that the planet passes between the star and the observer, so that the stellar light flux measured by the observer decreases periodically," Hara explained. "This way you also get an estimate of the radius of the planet. The fact that the star is brighter means that we can gain information with other measurement techniques."

Hara told Salon that, in addition to TESS, the discovery was made possible by recent advances in astronomical technology including a European Space Agency telescope called CHEOPS, which was launched in 2019, and a state-of-the-art spectrograph known as ESPRESSO that has been operative since 2018.

"This one allows to measure the velocity of the star in the direction of the line of sight and has an unprecedented precision," Hara explained. "We would not have been able to make mass measurements of the planets of the system with the previous generation of spectrographs, or at the cost of extremely long campaigns."

As for how the resonant chain on planets exists, Hara told Salon that he has a partial hypothesis.

"The formation of resonant chains is believed to result from formations of planets at wider separations from the star which then migrate inwards together and are trapped in resonance with one another," Hara wrote. "As for the fact that the densities are not monotonically decreasing as you move away from the star, we don't really have a convincing explanation yet."

'Disgusting sense of entitlement': Report reveals a scheme to get vaccines meant for an Indigenous community

A wealthy couple has come under fire for traveling to Canada's remote community of Yukon to take COVID-19 vaccines designated for indigenous seniors.

According to The Washington Post, the couple has been identified as Rodney Baker, a 55-year-old casino executive and president, and his wife, Ekaterina Baker, a 32-year-old actress. It has been reported that the couple, residents of Vancouver, Canada, are now facing charges for violating Yukon's Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA).

The two are accused of "breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek," reports Yukon News. The couple is said to have traveled from Vancouver to Whitehorse, Canada before chartering a private jet to Beaver Creek, home to a very small population of mostly the White River First Nation.

The couple's actions have led to stark scrutiny from local officials. On Monday, Jan. 25, Mike Farnworth, the British Columbia solicitor general, released a brief statement to the Vancouver Sun as he shared his reaction to the news. "I can't believe I've ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass."

In a statement released to The Post, the White River First Nation also condemned the couple's behavior as they demand stricter consequences for their actions. Given the couple's financial status, the nation believes that the fine they are currently facing is "essentially meaningless." It has been reported that investors have revealed Baker earned "more than $10.6 million in 2019" as the executive of Great Canadian Gaming, Corp.

Chief Angela Demit said, "It's clear to me that because we are a predominantly Indigenous community, that they assumed we were naive."

Janet Vander Meer, who serves as the director of the White River First Nation's coronavirus response team also argues a similar stance insisting the couple should face greater consequences for their actions.

"Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who's palliative, was in the same room as this couple," Vander Meer told Globalnews.ca during a discussion on Monday. "That's got to be jail time. I can't see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It's just mind-boggling."

'That's huge!': Chuck Schumer thrills activists with surprise push for Biden to declare climate emergency

Advocates for bold climate action welcomed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's remarks late Monday calling for President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.

"That's huge!" tweeted Dallas Goldtooth, the Keep It In The Ground campaign organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network. It "would allow the president to take significant steps to confront climate chaos."

The New York Democrat's comment came Monday evening in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

"I think it might be a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency," said Schumer. "Then he can do many, many things under the emergency powers of the president that he could do... without legislation."

"Now, Trump used this emergency for a stupid wall, which wasn't an emergency. But if ever there was an emergency, climate is one," Schumer said.

Schumer reiterated the suggestion in a Monday night tweet, stating unequivocally that "Biden should declare a national emergency on the climate crisis."

Water protector Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, joined the chorus of cheers, tweeting, "Holey macaroni!!! SCHUMER says declare climate emergency... ok who said dem prayers?"

Author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben suggested the Biden's demand was evidence of the climate movement's impact.

"When we shift the zeitgeist, we shift what's politically possible, and what's politically necessary. Keep it up, everybody!" McKibben tweeted Tuesday.

That take was mirrored by youth climate leader and Earth Uprising International founder Alexandria Villaseñor, who said the remark was a sign Schumer was "keeping the promise he made to me and our entire generation."

The comment is "incredible" and a sign of a "tectonic shift," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and political director Evan Weber, who, like environmental policy expert Dr. Leah Stokes, welcomed Schumer saying that his legislative policy priorities are climate, racial and economic inequality, and democracy reform.

A coalition of climate groups including the Center for Biological Diversity has already drafted an executive order for Biden to be a "climate president," with action including the declaration of a climate emergency.

Recent polling indicates a majority of the U.S. public would back that action.

A Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey from December found that 56% of voters would support a president "declaring a national emergency to act on global warming," with 84% of Democratic voters backing such an action.

That support is also clear from Green New Deal champion Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who tweeted Tuesday, "We've got to recognize the climate crisis for what it is: an existential threat to life on Earth."

"I'm glad Sen. Schumer agrees that we must meet this emergency with a bold vision, transform our economy, and fight for justice in every step we take," Markey said.

But not all Democratic lawmakers are on board.

Sunrise's Weber, in his tweet, pointed to the need for Schumer to have a plan to not only "bypass GOP obstruction" in advancing climate and other priorities but also tackle pushback from Democratic senators like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, whose opposition to eliminating the legislative filibuster enraged progressive Democrats.

"As Senate majority leader, he'll be judged by his results, not just his positions," Weber added.

Coronavirus: Here's why combining the Oxford vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik V could make it more effective

When the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was announced in late 2020, there was some confusion. The overall efficacy of the vaccine at stopping people developing symptomatic COVID-19, two weeks after the second dose, was 70%. But this wasn't the whole picture.

This figure was based on averaging the results from two groups. In one group, which was given two full doses, the vaccine was 62% effective at stopping people developing symptoms. But in the second group, a dosing error meant that volunteers received a half dose followed by a full one. This ended up being 90% protective against developing COVID-19.

This was intriguing. Why would giving people less of the vaccine lead to a more effective immune response? The answer to this may lie in the design of the vaccine, and could mean that there are ways to make this vaccine – and others that use the same design – more effective.

How the Oxford vaccine works

Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to recognisable parts – or “antigens" – of pathogens that cause disease, such as bacteria or viruses. The immune system then mounts a response. Immune cells called B cells make antibodies to destroy the pathogen. Sometimes T cells can also be called into action, which eliminate our own cells that have been infected with the pathogen.

Illustration of the SARS-CoV-2, showing the spike proteins on its surface

The coronavirus, with its spike proteins shown in red. Many vaccines are targeting parts of the virus specifically.

US CDC/Wikimedia Commons

Some B and T cells then remember the antigens for the future. At some future point, if the person is exposed to the pathogen, these long-lasting memory cells can quickly order more antibodies to be made to destroy the pathogen and attack infected cells.

In effect, the principle of vaccination is to “mimic" an infection, but in a controlled way so that immunity is generated without causing illness. After a few weeks, once T cells and B cells have been generated, the person vaccinated will be protected. For certain vaccines, this requires two doses, as in some people the first dose alone won't generate complete immunity. The booster dose ensures as many people as possible acquire protection.

In the case of the coronavirus vaccines, a number of methods are used to present the virus's antigens to the immune system. Some, such as the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines in China, simply present the body with a whole, inactivated version of the coronavirus. But others instead instruct the vaccinated person's own cells to produce a specific part of the coronavirus: the spike protein on its outer surface, which is a particularly recognisable antigen.

These vaccines do this by delivering the part of the coronavirus's genetic code that encodes the spike protein into the cells of the body, which then read the code and start making the protein. Some, such as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, deliver the code in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA). Others use a harmless virus to get the genetic code inside cells; the Oxford vaccine uses chimpanzee adenovirus, genetically altered so that it's unable to reproduce, called ChAdOx1. These are known as viral-vector vaccines.

How design could affect efficacy

It's not yet known why the reduced-dose regimen of the Oxford vaccine showed better efficacy in trials, but it could be down to the viral vector.

When a person is given a viral-vector vaccine, as well as generating an immune response against the coronavirus's spike protein, the immune system will also mount a response against the viral vector itself. This immune response may then destroy some of the booster dose when it is subsequently delivered, before it can have an effect. This has long been recognised as a problem.

However, a lower first dose might not allow for a strong anti-vector immune response to develop, which could leave the booster dose unscathed and lead to greater overall efficacy. If it turns out that this is the case, then future work will need to establish the optimum dosing regimen for generating the strongest immune response.

The Russian Sputnik V vaccine acknowledges that immunity to the viral vector could be a problem, but comes up with a different solution. It uses two different human adenoviruses – Ad26 and Ad5 (out of the 50 that affect humans) – for its two vaccine doses. This heterologous (or hybrid) vaccine, with different vectors for prime and booster vaccinations, is less likely to have one jab generate an immune response against the viral vector that then interferes with the other. The vaccine is therefore less likely to have a reduced efficacy.

The Gamaleya Center, the lab that made Sputnik V, said that after two doses the efficacy of the vaccine is over 90% (though it has yet to publish full results demonstrating this). This has now led to AstraZeneca testing a new hybrid vaccine schedule, comprising one dose of its vaccine and one of the Ad26-vector Sputnik V, to see if this makes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine more effective.The Conversation

Jameel Inal, Professor of Immunobiology, London Metropolitan University, and Visiting Professor of Biomedical Science, University of Hertfordshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fauci admits he 'got in trouble' under Trump — and now has a 'liberating feeling'

Many observers of the U.S. COVID-19 response frequently wondered about and speculated on Dr. Anthony Fauci's emotional reaction to the Trump administration's mishandling of the crisis. Former President Donald Trump frequently contradicted public health experts like Fauci and floated ideas and claims about the coronavirus that no trustworthy scientist took seriously. And on Thursday, Dr. Fauci — who has been given a prominent role in the COVID response on President Joe Biden — finally shared his candid thoughts about what it was like to work under Trump.

"There were things that were said," Fauci said during the days' White House press briefing, "regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that that was really uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact. I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president. So it was really something where you didn't feel like you could actually say something and there wouldn't be any repercussions about it. The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that's it! Let the science speak — it is somewhat of a liberating feeling."

A reporter noted that Fauci was basically "banished" for a period under Trump. Asked if he felt like he was back, Fauci said with a laugh: "I think so!"

Fauci also emphasized that under Biden, the focus will be on the facts and the science, rather than a purely political agenda.

"One of the new things in this administration is that if you don't know the answer, don't guess," he said. "Just say you don't know the answer."

He denied that, under Trump, he let himself be genuinely censored or forced to say things he didn't believe.

"I always said everything — that's why I got in trouble sometimes," he said.

Watch the clips below:


The pandemic will end someday — but the trauma will linger

Ever since Pfizer and Moderna announced the development of successful COVID-19 vaccines, the end of the pandemic has been in sight. It has been a heinous ordeal — at the time of this writing, more than 2 million people have died worldwide of the disease, including more than 400,000 in the United States — and slow vaccine distribution means uncertainty still lies ahead.

Yet even if all goes well and we do manage to contain the pandemic in the near future, there will be lasting psychological consequences for the humans who suffered through it.

Intriguingly, not all of them will be negative, as Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, told Salon.

"The pandemic has made everybody concerned about their health. And I think that once the pandemic passes, that concern will continue, which is a good thing rather than a bad thing," Langer explained. She cited as an example how people might be more conscientious when they display flu-like symptoms.

"If one has the flu and the flu is not going to go away, even after COVID goes away, there will be a more positive response to it by people," Langer speculated. "So when you have symptoms, you're likely to address them sooner than you might have prior to the concern about the pandemic."

But the pandemic will also shape our collective psychology for decades to come, as it has profoundly affected people from all ages and all walks of life.

"This will take generations to get past," Dr. David Reiss, psychiatrist in private practice and expert in mental fitness evaluations, told Salon. "And that's because at every stage of development, things have been disrupted, whether you're talking about like my two-year-old grandchild who somehow has to understand seeing family members in masks, to four and five-year-old kids who are just starting to socialize, to adolescents who can't socialize and all through different stages of life." Reiss said as an adult in his sixties he felt deeply affected.

"It's really disrupted the passage to different life milestones and developmental periods, and that disruption is more subtle, but may have a longer lasting effect," Reiss explained.

Indeed, for millions of Americans who have struggled through social isolation and lockdowns, the effect has been traumatizing.

"We always look at trauma in phases, if we're looking at it intelligently anyway, because there is the moment of trauma, then there's the immediate aftermath of trauma," Dr. Lise Van Susteren, general and forensic psychiatrist in Washington, DC, told Salon. "And then there's the long-term impacts of trauma. And we are a traumatized world right now. Certainly we understand that we're a traumatized nation. We've gone through a lot and still it's not over."

Those with pre-existing mental health conditions may be more likely to suffer from pandemic-related trauma, Van Susteren said. People who were left feeling unusually vulnerable are also likely to suffer from trauma issues.

"If you felt you were in charge of your life — and this is typical across trauma generally — the degree to which you feel helpless is going to either exacerbate or fortify you in facing trauma down the road," Van Susteren told Salon regarding the issue of vulnerability. "So if you could protect yourself and your family, you're not going to be as traumatized as those people who could not." To cope with this and other similar traumas, Van Susteren argued people should examine "the degree to which you were able to solve the problems that were thrown at you, and you can look to your review of what happened and tell yourself that under the circumstances you did the best job that you could, that you did the best you could, and that's where you build. That's the essence of resilience. It is 'I did the best I could under the circumstances.'"

Reiss told Salon that people should also look out for signs that they are experiencing trauma.

"I think it will definitely be sort of a classical PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] reaction among many people, and that may range from mild and subtle to overt symptoms," Reiss explained. PTSD is a mental disorder that develops after an individual has been exposed to a traumatic event, with symptoms including insomnia, ruminative thoughts, persistent anxiety, depression and flashbacks.

Reiss speculated that there are not as likely to be many flashbacks "other than for people who are frontline workers who or who lost someone specifically," but that there will likely be occasions of "re-experiencing of the sense of fear, the sense of loss and just the sense of distance and loneliness" that will persist even after the pandemic has ended. He argued that we should look for people who feel lonely, whose interpersonal relationships have been disrupted or who display signs of clinical depression, "which is a sense of hopelessness or helplessness."

Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist who has taught at Yale and authored the new book "Profile of a Nation: Trump's Mind, America's Soul," told Salon that President Donald Trump and far right-wingers who fed misinformation to the public also hurt our collective mental health.

"The mental health ramifications are going to be huge and exacerbated because of our failure to address this historic public health crisis appropriately," Lee told Salon. "We have handled it perhaps in the worst way possible from a mental health perspective. By supporting denial and suppressing the voices of mental health experts, which the federally-funded American Psychiatric Association achieved unilaterally, we created conditions for exploiting and using psychological vulnerabilities as a political tool. Essentially, this helped divide people into those who believe the pandemic is real and those who believe it is a political ploy to discredit the president."

As a result of this happening, Lee concluded that "we now have a large segment of the population that has been encouraged and trained to avoid reality." People who have become emotionally invested in misinformation and other types of falsehoods, even those that work against their own self-preservation, are going to struggle to come to terms with the fact that they were wrong, a process that will take a lot more time than would have been the case if they had not been lied to. Lee told Salon that she believes "this will eventually be worse than the mental health difficulties from the pandemic itself."

Lee emphasized that humans are resilient. "if they have the notion in their mind that they're in it together with other people, if they have the psychological and social support." Because Trump's errors compounded the magnitude of the pandemic in America and spread misinformation, however, Lee says that there could be a major psychological consequence.

"To learn that a calamity was not necessary, on the other hand, that they were deliberately lied to, will be a much more difficult to overcome, as experiences are far more traumatic when they are human-caused rather than naturally-occurring," Lee explained.

If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a far-reaching effect on human history, much as the bubonic plague did in the mid-14th century. Although the so-called Black Death caused anywhere from 75 million to 200 million human deaths, it also wound up forcing lords to improve wages and working conditions for serfs on their lands, forced improvements in medicine, helped fuel the Renaissance and (on a less salutary level) led to an increase in persecution against marginalized minority groups like Jews. Some of these changes were due to economic and political factors, but others were rooted in psychology.

Even when the pandemic ends, the psychological fallout will almost certainly change the course of history.

Experts warn Trump admin's refusal to coordinate with Biden team could lead to vaccine rollout issues

The Trump administration's adamant refusal to put aside partisanship and work with the Biden transition team could lead to potential challenges with the continued distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, experts warn.

It is no secret that President Donald Trump refused to allow members of his administration to cooperate with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team after he was declared the winner of the election back in November, The Washington Post's latest report indicates that up until this week, the Biden administration was still shut out of meetings for Operation Warp Speed.

The staggering lapse in communication from November to January could be costly as the Biden administration prepares to pick up where Trump's White House is leaving off.

According to the report, the Biden administration has revealed that it took several weeks for them to gain access to Tiberius, a data system that offers an in-depth look into "where vaccine is going, which states are ordering, when it is moving." Back in the earlier part of December

"Look, we are still prepared to meet our goal of 100 million shots in 100 days," the official said, referring to a commitment Biden made in early December. "But it would have been a lot more helpful if we'd had access to real-time information."

Multiple officials have also spoken out with their concerns about the Trump administration's vaccine rollout and the task ahead to get distribution on track. Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, noted the impact of the lack of coordination for the vaccine rollout which "means we are stumbling out of the gate with the vaccine."

He added, "We are failing at a government level on distribution because there is no game plan. There is a chaotic Trump one and a learning-curve Biden one."

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, also criticized the Trump administration's decision to divert from recommendations regarding prioritization of age groups for vaccination.

"When you make a recommendation that … far exceeds the number of doses that are available for the foreseeable future, that's not helpful," said Osterholm, also a member of Biden's coronavirus advisory board. "It only creates confusion, frustration, and frankly, a lack of trust in the system."

As the Biden administration prepares for its first 100 days in office, the coronavirus is continuing to put a strain on healthcare systems across the United States. As of Friday, Jan. 15, the United States has reported more than 23 million coronavirus cases nationwide. The death toll now stands at nearly 400,000.

Lung damage after COVID-19 is worse than smokers' lungs: surgeon

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage states across America, one surgeon has issued a warning that may serve as a reminder to stay vigilant. According to CBS News, Dr. Brittany Bankhead-Kendall, a Lubbock, Texas trauma surgeon, tweeted an observation of COVID's impact on the lungs as she highlighted the likely long-term difficulties people will face.

"Post-COVID lungs look worse than any type of terrible smoker's lung we've ever seen. And they collapse. And they clot off. And the shortness of breath lingers on... & on... & on."

During an interview with CBS Dallas-Fort Worth, Bankhead-Kendall revealed what she thinks is far worse than the mortality rate that most people focus on. She expressed concern about the long-term impacts COVID-positive and even asymptomatic people may face.

"Everyone's just so worried about the mortality thing and that's terrible and it's awful," she told the publication. "But man, for all the survivors and the people who have tested positive this is — it's going to be a problem."

She went on to discuss the X-rays of symptomatic and asymptomatic which indicate "severe chest X-ray every time, and those who were asymptomatic show a severe chest X-ray 70% to 80% of the time." She also noted the bizarre phenomenon of internal damage for asymptomatic people.

"There are still people who say 'I'm fine. I don't have any issues,' and you pull up their chest X-ray and they absolutely have a bad chest X-ray," she said.

Bankhead-Kendall also offered photo comparisons of a healthy lung, a smoker's lung, and a COVID lung as she explained the distinctions between the three. "You'll either see a lot of that white, dense scarring or you'll see it throughout the entire lung. Even if you're not feeling problems now, the fact that that's on your chest X-ray — it sure is indicative of you possibly having problems later on," she said.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health, also noted similar findings as he insisted that patients who suffered severe cases of COVID-19 could have difficulties for many years to come.

"When someone recovers from pneumonia, whether it's a bacterial pneumonia or a viral pneumonia, it's going to take some time for their chest X-rays to improve. Chest X-rays lag your clinical improvement. So you may be better, but your chest X-ray still looks bad," Adalja said. "And we know that people with COVID-19 can get severe pneumonia, and some of that pneumonia will lead to damage to the lungs that will take time to heal. And some of it may be permanent."

He also urged people not to dismiss the severity of the virus. "It's not something you can blow off. This isn't something you want to have. Because even if you survive, you still may be left with some severe complications that make it very hard for you to go back to your baseline functioning."

As of Friday, Jan. 15, the United States has reported more than 23 million positive coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The death toll is also rapidly approaching the 400,000 mark.

Here's the psychology behind election denial

Surveys taken several days after the presidential election show that most Republicans believe Trump really won the election. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll reported on November 18, fifteen days after the presidential election, that 52% of Republicans thought Trump won. Later surveys indicated that between 70% and 80% of Republicans do not buy reports of Biden's victory. They think the election was rigged and claim enough fraud occurred to tip the balance.

Why do so many Republicans refuse to acknowledge overwhelming evidence that confirms Joe Biden's victory? Millions of Republicans continue to accept myths about a stolen election. Facts do not influence their judgment. Evidence does not shake beliefs.

Obviously, the President and the national media influenced the thinking of many Republicans. Donald Trump frequently asserted that he won. Trump insisted that a mysterious disappearance of ballots and manipulation of tallies indicate fraud. Commentators on Fox News, Newsmax, and other media back the president's specious claims. But there may be an explanation from the field of psychology that explains defiance of the facts as well.

University of Michigan psychologist Christopher Peterson cited the idea when pointing to a rumor that spread across the Internet in 2011. The message claimed the world would end at 6 PM on May 21, 2011. After the projected date passed without a calamity, several people refused to recognize they'd been duped. "How many folks acknowledge that they were mistaken when the ensuing facts stare them in the face?" Peterson asked. Some do but many do not, he stated. "People will go to great lengths to maintain consistency among their beliefs, even when they prove to be blatantly wrong."

Christopher Peterson based this interpretation on research by a famous psychologist who conducted groundbreaking investigations in the 1950s. Leon Festinger developed the concept of Cognitive Dissonance, which suggested why some people hold firmly to beliefs when confronted with contradictory evidence. An investigation that helped launch his theory related to a group of people that believed a Chicago woman's prophesy that a great flood would destroy the world on December 21st. When the disaster did not occur, many followers did not acknowledge they had been misled. They accepted the cult leader's explanation that God spared them because of their devotion, commitment, and action. Rather than change their minds, those true believers became more intensely faithful. They attempted to persuade others, trying to broaden membership in the cult.

Leon Festinger followed up this study (published in a book, When Prophesy Fails) with several experiments that demonstrated the significance of Cognitive Dissonance. When confronted with contradictory information, Festinger observed, individuals often feel uncomfortable. Their personal beliefs or hopes are contradicted by hard facts. People reduce that dissonance (inconsistency) by avoiding situations or information that intensifies their discomfort. Especially when individuals have deep convictions and take significant actions in support of them, they are reluctant to question cherished ideas. If they are associated with a large group of people committed to the belief, their fidelity often becomes more severe. They find comfort in numbers.

Cognitive Dissonance appears to be a factor in the persistence of belief and loyalty displayed by many Republicans despite hard facts that indicate Joe Biden's substantial victories in the Electoral College and the popular vote. Over a period of four years, members of Trump's base enthusiastically accepted untruths disseminated by the admired leader. They were not inclined to challenge Trump's controversial statements and misrepresentations.

Now, after Trump's stunning defeat at the polls, they are hearing the president and his enablers on television, radio, and the Internet claiming information reported in the national media is false. To accept facts reported outside the partisan bubble can, indeed, produce the kind of emotional discomfort Festinger described. Many Republicans are acting in ways Festinger would predict. When dealing with the clash between internal beliefs and external realities, they adhere to beliefs.

Furthermore, as Festinger showed, Trump's hard-core supporters discover comfort in numbers. They proselytize, hoping to expand the size of their group and build an impression that favored ideas enjoy widespread acceptance. During the weeks of extensive media attention to Trump's fruitless legal and rhetorical efforts to deny Biden's victory, true believers among the president's followers tried to shore up their cause. They shared favorite reports on websites about supposed mischief in the tabulation of ballots, trying to legitimize claims that Trump and his enablers had been making in the national media.

Psychology cannot provide all the answers to the intriguing question of why so many Republicans refuse to change their minds in the face of abundant factual evidence that contradicts their ideas about the presidential election. But insights developed long ago by Leon Festinger and other social scientists may explain, to some degree, why this puzzling behavior occurs.

'Maternal hostility' may predict whether one mistreats their adult romantic partners

A new study suggests that there is a close connection between people who dehumanize their partners in romantic relationships and whether their mothers treated them with hostility as children. Unusual for an academic journal article, the paper has gone viral due to many readers relating to its conclusions and seeing connections in their own lives.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the Australian Deakin University School of Psychology defined dehumanization as "the perception or treatment of another person as lacking qualities considered to be uniquely or essentially human."

They write that dehumanization usually entails two types of behavior: denying a human being's uniqueness "such as intelligence, self-control, civility, competency, social refinement, and maturity" or denying a person's human nature, including their ability to feel emotions

Relying on data from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, the authors found that there is a direct correlation between experiencing maternal insensitivity or "hostility" at an early age, and dehumanizing romantic partners later in life.

"Maternal sensitivity reflects a mother's ability to detect and accurately interpret her infant's signals and respond to them in a prompt, appropriate manner, thereby meeting the child's physical and socioemotional needs," the authors explain. Children who do not receive enough maternal sensitivity may feel that they have been denied the validity of their ability to experience emotions, they write.

"Maternal hostility reflects a mother's expressions of anger and hostility toward her child, which can entail a lack of regard or the expression of rejection," they write. "From a dehumanization perspective, hostility conveys that a person is perceived or treated by another as if they are foolish, irrational, or flawed, which reflects the denial of human qualities such as intelligence and rationality."

The authors focused on mother-child relationships "because it reflects a person's early life experiences with their primary caregiver." This is important because "child–caregiver relationships early in life that are characterized by greater hostility, neglect, and abuse tend to have negative downstream effects in the form of poorer romantic relationship functioning in adulthood."

A number of Reddit users responded to the study, opening up about their own experiences with difficult parents.

One pseudonymous user, who described having an "authoritarian father," said that they are married to a wife who is a counselor and has helped rein in their own authoritarian instincts. "Every once in a while it instinctively comes out of me when dealing with our kids, particularly my son," the user writes. "But I'm at least self aware enough now to catch myself when it goes there and reel it back in. Definitely something I have to make an effort to actively manage."

Another Reddit user recalled, "As an adult in a relationship, whenever my partner gets into a broody [mood], I instinctively retreated into a shell just like my dad did, out of the fear that whatever caused them to get angry was something I did." The user added that usually they discovered they had done nothing wrong, but that this is a trait they picked up from their parents.

"My wife came from an abusive household and it's been very important to us that we identify the problems and break the cycle when it comes to our own relationship and when raising our daughter," a third Reddit user recalled. "I think an important part that is going unsaid is mutual respect. If you and your partner, child or family member have respect for each other it makes communication and constructive development so much easier."