The Daily Dose: Rising cases, reopening economies, unanswered questions

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AROUND THE WORLD: African countries were quick to shut down its borders and airspace during the COVID-19 pandemic. It slowed the entry and spread of the virus but, as with every other nation, their economies are suffering. For a region already beset with financial woes, it’s devastating. That’s why Africa is the latest region to begin to reopen its borders to tourists. As per the Associated Press, “African nations face a difficult choice as infections are rapidly rising: Welcome the international flights that originally brought COVID-19 to the ill-prepared continent, or further hurt their economies and restrict a lifeline for badly needed humanitarian aid.” More and more, the trend has been to accept loss of life as a necessary evil. Welcome to the post-COVID world.

QUESTIONS WITH NO ANSWERS (YET): Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Nature has put together a summary of important questions that remain unanswered. Why do people respond so differently? What’s the nature of immunity and how long does it last? Has the virus developed any worrying mutations? How well will a vaccine work? What is the origin of the virus? One thing that’s obvious is how little we still know about SARS-CoV-2. Anyone who lived through the emergence of HIV/AIDS wouldn’t be surprised though. It took a long time for the scientific community to get a firm understanding of the retrovirus.

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW: Marshland just outside of Mexico City are providing researchers with an invaluable window into what early life might have been like when first forming in Earth’s waters. The area, called Cuatro Cienegas, features an abundance of microscopic organisms unseen anywhere else on earth. As per Science, “The landscape—more than 300 turquoise-blue pozas scattered across 800 square kilometers, among marshes and majestic mountains—wasn’t the only draw. The waters, whose chemistry resembled that of Earth’s ancient seas, teemed with microbes; unusual bacterial mats and formations called stromatolites carpeted the shallows.” Researchers have discovered organisms that create lipid walls with sulfur, instead of phosphorous. They’ve also identified thousands of novel archaea. The area is under threat, unfortunately. Agricultural interests are draining water from the area by about 1000 meters a year.

REPRODUCTIVE NUMBER EXPLAINED: There are a whole lotta armchair epidemiologists these days. Much of their focus has been on the reproductive number (R) of SARS-CoV-2. This includes the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. People who actually make a living in the epidemiological field find this a little troubling. As per Nature, “To infectious-disease experts, Johnson’s focus on the reproduction number as a guiding light for policy was worryingly myopic. They worry about placing too much weight on R, the average number of people each person with a disease goes on to infect.” The article provides the lay public with more information about the number’s limitations.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN: Being stuck inside for the past few months has been rough, especially if you live in a city. Just about everyone’s world has shrunk to their homes and immediate surroundings. For many artists, this has meant moving their studio space into their living rooms. (Unless they’ve already been there prior to COVID-19 since renting a dedicated studio is a luxury increasingly out of most artists’ reach.) Hyperallergic has assembled a collection of home-studio images. If you’re into analyzing people’s surroundings, it’s a fun way to spend a few minutes.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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