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Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • If you have to ask EPA for data, are they really public? Agency critics say no

    Alt text: a bumblebee and sunflower in a garden

    Environmentalists want EPA to take into account the latest science on how a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids affect bee populations.

    Clay Bolt/Minden Pictures

    What is a public document? That question is the latest battleground in the yearslong war over proposed changes in what kinds of studies and data the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow to be considered in shaping regulations.

    The changes, which EPA says are meant to promote transparency and “sound science,” have been fiercely criticized by the research community and environmental groups. They would generally bar the agency from using data that are not publicly available. But critics worry that excluding those data will allow EPA to ignore studies that rest on difficult-to-release information, such as confidential patient records, that have played a key role in shaping stiffer regulations.

    Last month, EPA opened a new front by proposing to define a public document in a way that critics say runs counter to the agency’s professed goal of transparency. The definition, included in a 3 March EPA notice seeking additional comments on the broader transparency proposal, covers documents available through “disclosures to the general public that are required to be made by federal, state, or local law.” In practice, that means the definition encompasses data and documents that can be obtained from EPA only through requests made under the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

  • You may be able to spread coronavirus just by breathing, new report finds

    a supermarket cashier waits on customers behind a plastic curtain

    A supermarket cashier in Buenos Aires, Argentina, waits for costumers behind a makeshift plastic curtain as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

    AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has given a boost to an unsettling idea: that the novel coronavirus can spread through the air—not just through the large droplets emitted in a cough or sneeze. Though current studies aren’t conclusive, “the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” Harvey Fineberg, who heads a standing committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, wrote in a 1 April letter to Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Thus far, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health agencies have insisted the primary route of transmission for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is through the larger respiratory droplets, up to 1 millimeter across, that people expel when they cough and sneeze. Gravity grounds these droplets within 1 or 2 meters, although they deposit the virus on surfaces, from which people can pick it up and infect themselves by touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. But if the coronavirus can be suspended in the ultrafine mist that we produce when we exhale, protection becomes more difficult, strengthening the argument that all people should wear masks in public to reduce unwitting transmission of the virus from asymptomatic carriers.

  • United States wants to end most payouts for leading vaccination-related injury

    close up of a vaccine injection approaching a patient’s arm
    P. MARAZZI/Science Source

    On the last day of its existence, the administration of former President Barack Obama made it much easier for people who sustain serious shoulder injuries from improperly administered vaccines to win cash compensation from a $4 billion government fund financed by an excise tax on vaccines.

    Now, after a surge of shoulder injury claims, President Donald Trump’s administration is proposing to reverse that Obama-era regulation. In a quietly circulating proposal, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) argues the shoulder injury claims are related to the improper placement of needles and not to the vaccines themselves and says the claims threaten the “limited” pot of money available. (The fund has grown from $3.7 billion to $4 billion since January 2018.) It also contends that those opposed to vaccination are using the rise in claims to support unfounded assertions that vaccines pose a serious threat to public health.

    Vaccine injury lawyers and the vaccine-injured are pushing back, saying the government is ignoring the findings of its own scientists and the National Academy of Medicine, both of which found a causal link between vaccine injection and shoulder inflammation.

  • ‘These are answers we need.’ WHO plans global study to discover true extent of coronavirus infections

    a paramedic wearing protective gear draws blood from a patient's arm

    A paramedic in Berlin draws blood to test for antibodies to the new coronavirus.

    Kay Nietfeld/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    In an effort to understand how many people have been infected with the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) is planning a coordinated study to test blood samples for the presence of antibodies to the virus. Called Solidarity II, the program, which will involve more than half a dozen countries around the globe, will launch in the coming days, says Maria Van Kerkhove, who is helping coordinate WHO’s COVID-19 response.

    Knowing the true number of cases—including mild ones—will help pin down the prevalence and mortality rate of COVID-19 in different age groups. It will also help policymakers decide how long shutdowns and quarantines should last. “These are answers we need, and we need the right answers to drive policy,” WHO’s executive director for health emergencies, Michael Ryan, told a press briefing on 27 March. 

  • Female scientists allege discrimination, neglect of research on women at NIH’s child health institute

    A conceptual illustration of women scientists leaving a building while a man walks toward the doors on the other side
    STEFANIA INFANTE

    In November 2014, nine senior female scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) requested a meeting with their director. Their concern: that the careers of women at the institute’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR) were being stymied by its powerful scientific director, Constantine Stratakis. They complained that the number of tenured and tenure-track female scientists in the then–$177 million division was at a historic low, and they said women were starkly lacking among its leaders. They wanted more women recruited and better retention of female talent.

    After the meeting, then-NICHD Director Alan Guttmacher wrote in an email forwarded to the women: “There is wide agreement that we have a serious problem.” He added that he looked forward to “action … which actually makes a difference.”

    But today, fewer female scientists run labs in DIR than in 2014, when one in four lab leaders was a woman. In 2011, the year Stratakis became permanent scientific director, 27% of DIR labs were run by women, compared with 23% today. At leading children’s research hospitals canvassed by Science, comparable percentages range from 30% to 47% (see table).

  • How women at NIH’s research hospital lost chances at childbearing

    Kelsey Taylor

    Kelsey Taylor was able to freeze her eggs before receiving therapy toxic to her ovaries.

    ANGELO MERENDINO

    In 2014, Kelsey Taylor of Norwood, Massachusetts, was 19 years old, ill with severe sickle cell disease, and about to be treated at the Clinical Center, the research hospital at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the toxic drugs and radiation used in her treatment were likely to injure her ovaries and leave her infertile.

    Even at 19, Taylor knew she wanted the chance to have biological children someday. “For me that was huge,” she says. She was fortunate: NIH was just starting to freeze patients’ eggs before fertility-damaging therapies, so that women might start a pregnancy after their medical odyssey. But the next year, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which launched the egg-freezing program, suspended it, dismaying infertility experts.

    The program originated with OB-GYN Erin Wolff, then a scientist in training at NICHD. Several months earlier, Wolff had proposed to NICHD’s scientific director, pediatrician Constantine Stratakis, that she provide egg freezing to patients like Taylor. Several young women had decided not to enter potentially lifesaving research studies when they learned they were likely to lose their fertility, Wolff says.

  • These drugs don’t target the coronavirus—they target us

    entrance of Aarhus University Hospital

    Researchers will start to treat COVID-19 patients at Aarhus University Hospital with a drug named camostat mesylate that targets a human protein.

    HENNING BAGGER/AFP via Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    In another example of the blinding speed at which science is moving during the pandemic era, researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark will start a clinical trial of a drug named camostat mesylate tomorrow—barely 1 month after a Cell paper showed the compound can prevent the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, from entering human cells. 

    “If we are to have an impact on the rising epidemic, then we have to act right now,” says Ole Søgaard, the infectious disease physician leading the study.

  • ‘We have no choice.’ Pandemic forces polio eradication group to halt campaigns

    A community health worker shows a vial of an oral polio vaccine

    Going door-to-door to deliver the oral polio vaccine would put both communities and health workers at risk of COVID-19, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative says.

    Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The COVID-19 pandemic is imperiling the worldwide, 3-decade drive to wipe out polio. In an unprecedented move, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) has recommended suspending polio vaccination campaigns to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    On 24 March, GPEI’s leadership called on all countries to postpone until at least the second half of this year both mass campaigns to boost immunity to the polio virus and the targeted campaigns underway in Africa to stop outbreaks sparked by the live virus vaccine itself.

  • White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier will also lead NSF—for now

    Kelvin Droegemeier

    Kelvin Droegemeier

    Stephen Voss

    Kelvin Droegemeier, science adviser to President Donald Trump, today was handed another job that he’s always wanted—but it’s only temporary.

    Droegemeier, a meteorologist, has been named acting director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) following the departure of France Córdova, whose 6-year term ended on 30 March. In December 2019, Trump picked Sethuraman Panchanathan to succeed Córdova. Although Panchanathan’s nomination is not controversial, there’s no telling when the U.S. Senate will confirm the 58-year-old computer scientist, now executive vice president at Arizona State University.

    So today, Trump filled the void at the top of the $8 billion agency by double-hatting Droegemeier. “My role at NSF is a temporary one as we all excitedly await the swift Senate confirmation of Dr. Panchanathan,” said Droegemeier, who since January 2019 has served as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

  • The United States leads in coronavirus cases, but not pandemic response

    A field hospital of tents in Central Park

    Workers build an emergency field hospital in New York City’s Central Park for COVID-19 patients.

    MARY ALTAFFER/AP PHOTO

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    America is first, and not in a good way. Last week, the United States set a grim record, surpassing all other nations in the reported number of people infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. As of this morning, officials have documented nearly 190,000; the death toll neared 4100. Even President Donald Trump—who just 1 month ago claimed the virus was “very much under control”—has warned that the pandemic is about to get much worse.

    To limit the damage, Trump announced on 29 March that federal recommendations to practice physical distancing would re­main in place at least through the end of April, dropping his much-criticized push for a faster return to business as usual. In the meantime, officials across the nation are scrambling to find enough ventilators, protective gear, and supplies for hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients—or about to be. Many state governors ratcheted up restrictions intended to slow the pandemic, imposing stay-at-home orders that some said could last into June.

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