The Daily Dose: Blue Origin makes successful tourist voyage; HEPA filters effectively clear coronavirus from air.

Another billionaire space baron has made a successful maiden journey to the edge of space. This time, the company is Blue Origin. Per the Associated Press, “Jeff Bezos blasted into space Tuesday on his rocket company’s first flight with people on board, becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride his own spacecraft. The Amazon founder was accompanied by a hand-picked group: his brother, an 18-year-old from the Netherlands and an 82-year-old aviation pioneer from Texas — the youngest and oldest to ever fly in space. “Best day ever,” Bezos said after the capsule touched down on the desert floor at the end of the 10-minute flight.” That’s 2 for 3 with Richard Branson making the voyage last week. Elon Musk… Where you at?

An epidemiologist in India has estimated that the death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country is in the millions, much higher than official government estimates. Per the Associated Press, “India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country. Most experts believe India’s official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading. The report released Tuesday estimated excess deaths — the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected — to be 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. It said an accurate figure may ‘prove elusive’ but the true death toll ‘is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count.’” Unfortunately, the pandemic is far from over.

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The most severe cases of COVID-19 occur when the virus responsible for the disease makes it deep into a person’s lungs. One way it gets there, scientists believe, is when droplets of phlegm carrying the coronavirus descend into the lungs when a person is asleep. Now a team of researchers believe they have discovered another means of deep penetration and it involves self-infection. According to a paper highlighted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences blog, “The idea, says coauthor Adriaan Bax, a biophysicist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the NIH in Bethesda, MD, is that a cloud of infectious droplets spews into the air and hangs around a person’s face for minutes every time they speak. And through sheer chance, because speaking emits a lot of droplets, the possibility of breathing a droplet into the lungs essentially becomes ‘Russian roulette,’ he says. Previous research in 2020 found that masks reduce severe disease, and this latest study suggests that the reason is a reduction in self-infection after initially catching the virus in the upper respiratory tract.”

Do HEPA filters work against the COVID-19 coronavirus? According to a recent study in the MMRW, the answer is a pretty emphatic yes, especially when coupled with universal mask wearing (something of a pipe dream these days, though). Per the study, “A simulated infected meeting participant who was exhaling aerosols was placed in a room with two simulated uninfected participants and a simulated uninfected speaker. Using two HEPA air cleaners close to the aerosol source reduced the aerosol exposure of the uninfected participants and speaker by up to 65%. A combination of HEPA air cleaners and universal masking reduced exposure by up to 90%.” With people suffering from mask-fatigue, this study seems less realistic by the day, unfortunately.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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