Science

Investigation reveals just how dangerous Trump's rallies are for public health

An investigation into the latest accelerated spread of coronavirus in multiple states appears to be linked to President Donald Trump's string of campaign rallies over the last several weeks.

As coronavirus plagues states all across America, Trump continues to blatantly disregard how dangerous his campaign rallies are for his campaign staff, White House advisors and aides, and everyone who attends his political events. Now, USA Today has explained the extent of the spreads in several counties following the president's rallies.

According to the analysis released by USA Today, case rates in at least five counties—Blue Earth, Minnesota; Lackawanna, Pennsylvania; Marathon, Wisconsin; Dauphin, Pennsylvania; and Beltrami, Minnesota—increased at a faster pace after Trump's rallies. Collectively, these counties reported 1,500 additional new cases in the two weeks after Trump's campaign rallies. The previous number of 8,069 jumped to 9,647 cases.

As President Donald Trump jetted across the country holding campaign rallies during the past two months, he didn't just defy state orders and federal health guidelines. He left a trail of coronavirus outbreaks in his wake.

While the absence of full contact tracing will make it a bit more difficult to definitively determine whether or not Trump's rallies were the sole cause of the coronavirus' accelerated spread in multiple states, the upticks in the counties highlighted clearly indicate that the president's events likely influenced the spread.

Public health officials have also managed to link some cases and hospitalizations in Wisconsin to the president's recent rallies.

Public health officials additionally have linked 16 cases, including two hospitalizations, with the rally in Beltrami County, Minnesota, and one case with the rally in Marathon County, Wisconsin. Outside of the counties identified by USA TODAY with a greater case increase after rallies, officials identified four cases linked to Trump rallies.

The USA Today report comes as the United States battles its highest number of coronavirus cases in a single day, now surpassing the massive surge over the summer. According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States topped 80,000 cases in a single day on

Psychology study indicates that narcissists are more involved in politics than the rest of us

Those higher in narcissism are disproportionately taking part in the democratic process, according to new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.The study found a positive correlation between narcissism and political participation. In other words: The more narcissistic someone is, the more likely they are to contact politicians, sign petitions, donate money, and vote in midterm elections.“We have entered into an ‘Age of Entitlement’ and a ‘post-truth’ world that combine to form an unprecedented cultural movement where large portions of the public pursue self-interest ...

Prince William says climate change inaction keeps him awake

Prince William claims inaction on climate change "keeps [him] awake at night".The 38-year-old royal has criticised the lack of "political will" to tackle environmental issues and thinks the time has come to tackle such "important issues".Speaking on the 'Outrage + Optimism' climate change podcast, he said: "Everyone knows this is where we’re headed and these are the important issues we need to tackle.“I think getting to those in the political world with the will to tackle things is another story.”He went on to praise the younger generation and the likes of Greta Thunberg for driving a “grounds...

These cities are among most vulnerable in US to COVID-19 mental health consequences, report suggests

PHILADELPHIA— Camden, N.J.; Allentown, Pa.; and Reading, Pa., have been identified as cities where COVID-19 vulnerability and poor mental health overlap, according to a new report published this month by Mental Health America and the Surgo Foundation, a health nonprofit focused on data science.Worsening mental health due to COVID-19 has become an area of serious concern to health officials. A recent report by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that 40% of Americans surveyed said they struggled with at least one adverse mental health condition during the pandemic. Symptoms...

A Little Good News and Some Bad on COVID-19

Can’t see the audio player? Click here to listen on SoundCloud.For the first time in a long time, there is some good news about the coronavirus pandemic: Although cases continue to climb, fewer people seem to be dying. And there are fewer cases than expected among younger pupils in schools with in-person learning. But the bad news continues as well — including a push for “herd immunity” that could result in the deaths of millions of Americans.Meanwhile, the Trump administration is doubling down on efforts to allow states to require certain people with low incomes to prove they work, go to scho...

‘All you want is to be believed’: The impacts of unconscious bias in health care

In mid-March, Karla Monterroso flew home to Alameda, California, after a hiking trip in Utah’s Zion National Park. Four days later, she began to develop a bad, dry cough. Her lungs felt sticky.The fevers that persisted for the next nine weeks grew so high — 100.4, 101.2, 101.7, 102.3 — that, on the worst night, she was in the shower on all fours, ice-cold water running down her back, willing her temperature to go down.“That night I had written down in a journal, letters to everyone I’m close to, the things I wanted them to know in case I died,” she remembered.Then, in the second month, came a ...

HE WON?! Health study shows impact of shock results on election day

When Donald Trump first won the US presidential election four years ago, many around the world were left shaken up for days. A medical journal is now asking whether news of that political event had any immediate health impacts.The answer is yes, there was a noticeable increase in the number of people hospitalized in southern California due to cardiovascular diseases, say researchers from Harvard University and Kaiser Permanente, a health care company in the US.The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on October 12, found that such stress poses a gre...

White House documents expose the truth: Trump lied — and people died

President Donald Trump has known for over a month that new coronavirus infections have been soaring even as the White House has lied about the seriousness of the surge, documents released Tuesday by a leading Democratic lawmaker show.

HuffPost reports Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, published six weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force reports (pdf)—dated August 16, August 23, August 30, September 6, September 13, and September 20—proving the administration has known since early September that Covid-19 infections were rising rapidly.

However, instead of being forthcoming with the American people and the world, Trump opted to hide the reports while spuriously claiming that the virus "affects virtually nobody"— even as it caused record infections and deaths in numerous states in September.

Not only did the administration fail to honestly inform the nation, Trump held several so-called superspreader rallies and other events in September, including in states hit hard by surging Covid-19 infections, such as Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

On October 1, Trump declared that "the end of the pandemic is in sight." The following day, he announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus.

The reports also show that the White House was fully aware that the number of states in the so-called "red zone"—where new coronavirus cases rose above 100 per 100,000 people and where more than 10% of test results were positive—soared from 18 on September 13 to 31 on October 18.

On October 19, Trump told campaign staffers on a phone call that "people are tired of Covid... People are saying, 'Whatever. Just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," a reference to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Clyburn released a statement on Tuesday calling the reports proof that "Trump's contempt for science and refusal to lead during this crisis have allowed the coronavirus to surge."

"Contrary to his empty claims that the country is 'rounding the turn,' more states are now in the 'red zone' than ever before," Clyburn said. "It is long past time that the administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and could get even worse in the months ahead."

Indeed, according to prominent University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, "the darkest part of the pandemic [will occur] over the course of the next 12 weeks."

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 8.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and nearly 221,000 deaths in the United States, representing just under 20% of the global death toll of 1.12 million people.

Politics won the battle against public health in Florida with Ron DeSantis' high-fiving at Trump rally

Mark down Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, as the date when Ron DeSantis officially stopped pretending that public health was more important than politics.That’s when Florida’s governor walked into a packed Donald Trump rally in Sanford, high-fiving fans on his way to the stage. No mask. No social distancing. Just acting like everything was perfectly normal on a day when the state reported nearly 2,600 new coronavirus infections and 48 COVID-19 deaths (the next day it was 119 dead).What an evolution for the governor since April 1, when Florida reported 1,027 new infections and just 15 deaths and DeSanti...

A physics Nobelist has an odd theory about black holes and the universe. Here's the evidence for it

University of Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize earlier this month for a lifetime of work studying black holes, singularities from which not even light can escape. Yet he is also behind a provocative and controversial theory about the formation of the universe — namely, that the Big Bang did not mark the beginning of the universe as we know it, but merely started the next iteration of our universe. In his theory, known as conformal cyclic cosmology, our current conception of the universe is merely one of a series of infinite universes that came before it and which will come after, too.

Cosmology, of course, is full of theories of assorted degrees of harebrainedness, and many of the most famous ones — such as string theory — lack any observational evidence. But Penrose's prediction is different, as there is some evidence in observations of the cosmic background radiation — meaning the average background temperature of the entire night sky, in which one can see remnant heat from the Big Bang and differentiate bright patches in the sky. As pictured in the featured photo on this story, some of those "bright spots" could be, as Penrose believes, radiation emanations from ancient black holes that predate this universe.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email. Specifically, Nurowski says, in order for Penrose's theory to make sense, one would have to observe a universe that has a positive cosmological constant (meaning the mysterious, constant repulsive force that pushes everything in the universe which is not gravitationally bound away from everything else), as well as a universe that would look similar at its end as it did in its beginning. Observations of our universe suggest that it will end in a disordered, empty state, with all matter converted to stray photons that never interact with each other.

Nurowski concluded, "We believe that every possible universe will have all these three features," that "we have an infinite sequence of universes (eons)" and that "Penrose considers this sequence of conformally glued eons as the full physical Universe."

"In this picture, our standard cosmology Universe is only one of the eons," Nurowski added. "So the main difference between 'conformal cyclic cosmology' and the standard cosmology is that our Universe is only a part of Penrose's universe," whereas adherents to the traditional idea of a Big Bang believe that that specific event began our current universe.

This brings us to the recent discovery that may support Penrose's CCC hypothesis. According to a paper co-authored by Penrose, Nurowski and two other scientists, unexpected hot spots that have been discovered in the cosmic microwave background of the universe suggest that there are "anomalous regions," perhaps enormous black holes left over from previous universes that have yet to decay. These regions are known as "Hawking Points," after Stephen Hawking, who first came up with the theory that black holes would very slowly decay over unimaginably long timescales, emitting what is called Hawking radiation in his honor. The discovery of these Hawking points suggests that Penrose's cosmological model is accurate.

"The existence of such anomalous regions, resulting from point-like sources at the conformally stretched-out big bang, is a predicted consequence of conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC)," the paper explains, adding that these so-called Hawking points would be caused by radiation emanating from "supermassive black holes in a cosmic aeon prior to our own."

It must be emphasized that Penrose's Nobel Prize was not awarded because of his theory of a conformal cyclical cosmology. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb clarified in an email to Salon: "In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a paper in Annals of Mathematics doubting that black holes exist in nature. Roger Penrose demonstrated that black holes are a robust prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity and in doing so invented a new mathematical tool to depict spacetimes, called Penrose diagrams."

Loeb added, "He also showed that it is possible to extract energy from a spinning black hole as if it was a flywheel, through the so-called Penrose Process."

Loeb says that Penrose's belief that the hot spots prove that the black holes in question came from previous universes is controversial.

"The particular theory advocated by Penrose, Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, asserts that the Big Bang expansion repeats in succession of cycles of expansion, implying that one can see through our current Big Bang into past Big Bangs, giving rise to patterns in cosmic microwave background," Loeb explained. "Penrose made the controversial claim that such patterns are seen in data, but it was shown by others that the patterns he identified are not statistically significant.... and so his claim is controversial."

There are skeptics in the astrophysics community. Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist who pens a science blog that is published in Forbes magazine, was very critical of Penrose's theory. Last week, he penned an article titled "No, Roger Penrose, We See No Evidence Of A 'Universe Before The Big Bang.'"

"The predictions that [Penrose] has made are refuted by the data, and his claims to see these effects are only reproducible if one analyzes the data in a scientifically unsound and illegitimate fashion," Dr. Siegel wrote. "Hundreds of scientists have pointed this out to Penrose — repeatedly and consistently over a period of more than 10 years — who continues to ignore the field and plow ahead with his contentions."

Nurowski and Loeb both pushed back against Siegel's claims.

"The person that wrote this article seems to never read our recent Monthly Notices paper," Nurowski wrote to Salon, linking to he and Penrose's article showing evidence for Hawking points. "[Siegel] also seems not to read our three other papers. He gives a quote of a picture from an old paper with Penrose and Gurzadyan. He has not a single argument against our newest MNRAS [Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society] paper.... I stress that the statistical analysis in our paper is at the highest astronomical standards."

He added, "I am happy to answer any critics, provided that I hear a single argument against this what we have written, and not the repetition of this what the standard cosmology says. Either we are talking about facts or beliefs. Our paper is about facts. But to talk about them, one has to read the paper first."

Loeb seemed to echo this view, despite his own skepticism about CCC.

"My problem with Penrose's theory is that it is not fully worked out and that there is no statistically irrefutable evidence to support the patterns that he claims to have identified in the cosmic microwave background, but we should remain open minded to new ideas on what preceded the Big Bang," Loeb explained. "This is the story of where we came from, our cosmic roots. The simple picture we have now is clearly incomplete and requires more scientific work. Not more bullying of any new idea."

Is the pandemic making us drink more or less? It's complicated

Are people drinking more or less during the pandemic? It's a question that's been on the mind of researchers, and the public alike. Humans often turn to alcohol in difficult times, which comes with its own problems: research shows that when you turn to drinking to cope with stress it's more likely to turn into a problem. Yet as recently as last year, studies found that American millennials just weren't that into drinking, perhaps because of related trends in wellness and healthy lifestyles.

Now that we're seven months into the pandemic, researchers are beginning to look at data and polls to study how drinking behaviors have changed.

According to a recent report in the journal JAMA Network Open, Americans are drinking 14 percent more often during the coronavirus pandemic. The study compared responses from a survey of 1,540 participants of their self-reported drinking habits in spring to the year prior. For women, the increase was up to 17 percent compared to last year. Specifically, heavy drinking for women—which was defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours—increased by 41 percent. The study's participants were between the ages of 30 and 80; the data collected was from the RAND Corporation American Life Panel.

"Women were particularly affected in our data," Michael Pollard, a sociologist and co-author of the paper told Salon. "The higher baseline distress, and likely greater increases in distress during the pandemic, suggest that women will similarly increase the use of alcohol to cope at higher levels than men; it is certainly a concern."

Pollard said since women typically have higher levels of mental distress than men, coupled with larger increases in domestic labor at home, it's no surprise that women reported drinking more than men once the pandemic started. The pandemic has had a greater economic and social impact on women than men. Women, and particularly women of color, are more likely to be "essential" workers, too, who are under particular stress.

"Heavy alcohol use by women specifically has been somewhat overlooked by the scientific literature, but clearly it is a real and growing concern," Pollard told Salon. "For example, some of my colleagues at RAND conducted a review of the last 20 years of assessments of the efficacy of Alcohol Use Disorder treatments, and concluded that we simply don't have scientific evidence to inform whether or not those treatments are as effective for women as men—because nobody has set out to study it, and because women are systematically under-enrolled in these studies."

Indeed this study's findings are congruent with what was reported on at the beginning of the pandemic. In the United States, alcohol sales increased by 55 percent the week ending March 21, 2020, compared to the previous year, according to Nielsen data. But this was also during a time when people were stockpiling because it was unclear whether or not the groceries stores would be safe, and how long the lockdown restrictions would last.

According to a separate study by researchers at Washington State University, one in four adults reported a change in alcohol use immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued. Interestingly, the study surveyed more than 900 twin pairs from March 26 to April 5, 2020. An estimated 14 percent of respondents said they drank more alcohol than the week prior.

"We expected that down the road people might turn to alcohol after the stay-at-home orders were issued, but apparently it happened right off the bat," Ally Avery, lead author of the study and a scientific operations manager at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said in a statement. "It shows the need to make sure there is more mental health support since it had an impact on people right away."

The situation varies between countries, curiously. A study by researchers at the University College London found that young Australians are actually drinking less during lockdown, partly because of the lack of social opportunities. Those who reported drinking less reports that they've had an improved financial situation and physical health. Similarly, a July poll from Alcohol Change UK found that 37 percent of 1,647 UK residents surveyed had attempted to manage their alcohol consumption during lockdown by having alcohol-free days, reducing the amount of alcohol they purchased, or attending a virtual support group. However, the same study did find that one in five of drinkers surveyed were drinking more frequently during the pandemic.

Notably, before the pandemic, Americans were drinking more than they were just prior to Prohibition.

"Consumption has been going up. Harms (from alcohol) have been going up," Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University, told AP News in January. "And there's not been a policy response to match it."

Yet, as mentioned briefly above, there is a nascent movement of younger people abstaining. In the last few years, so-called "Dry January" — a monthlong abstinence from alcohol drinks — has become trendy.

"I have seen preliminary studies that suggest depression and anxiety peaked early in the pandemic, but returned back to normal after a month or two," Pollard said. "A big question now is, will alcohol use behaviors persist, or will they go back to the way they were before COVID-19?"

It will be interesting to see if, as the pandemic continues apace, Dry January is popular in 2021.

All things considered, it appears that drinking patterns have bifurcated. Some drinkers now drink more, and others abstain more. The polar reaction suggests that many have reconsidered the role of alcohol in their life.

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