Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • COVID-19 hits U.S. mink farms after ripping through Europe

    A mink

    The nearly 250 mink farms in the United States produce some 2.5 million pelts annually.


    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    COVID-19 has now struck mink farms in the United States, too. Yesterday, roughly 10 days after farmers in Utah reported a rash of mink deaths, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed the SARS-CoV-2 virus had infected the weasellike mammals, which are raised for their fur.

    Infections of mink have already been documented in other countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain. In June, authorities in these countries gassed hundreds of thousands of animals, concerned that the mink could harbor the virus indefinitely, enabling infections to persist among farm animals—and potentially spread to humans.

  • Scientists worried the pandemic would cause malaria deaths to soar. So far, it hasn’t happened

    A man holds a full pack of malaria nets

    A campaign worker distributes bed nets in April in Cotonou, Benin, which canceled but later resumed bed net distribution.

    YANICK FOLLY/AFP/Getty Images

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Back in March when COVID-19 hit, Pedro Alonso became alarmed about a different infectious disease. “I thought I would be witnessing the biggest malaria disaster in 20 years,” says Alonso, a malaria scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO). African countries went on lockdown to curtail COVID-19; worried about mass gatherings, they suspended campaigns to distribute mosquito-fighting bed nets. Fears abounded that with clinics overwhelmed by COVID-19, patients would be unable to get treatment for malaria, which kills an estimated 405,000 per year, mostly African children. In the worst case scenario, models projected, malaria deaths could more than double this year.

    “It does not seem to be happening,” Alonso says. Lobbied hard by WHO’s Global Malaria Programme (GMP), which he heads, and its partners, countries resumed bed net campaigns. Rapid diagnostic tests and effective malaria drugs are available. The situation could still go south as the COVID-19 epidemic accelerates—there are worrying signs—but for now, Alonso says, “We probably stopped the first big blow.”

  • ‘It cannot survive.’ Why Trump’s rollback of methane rule might lose in court

    Natural gas flares

    Natural gas is burned off at an oil field in North Dakota.

    Jim West/agefotostock/Newscom

    Originally published by E&E News

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA's) rationale for its decision to stop directly regulating potent heat-trapping emissions from the oil and gas sector may contain fatal flaws that could cause the agency's new standards to stumble in court, legal experts say.

    The Trump administration last week finalized a pair of regulations aimed at rolling back the Obama administration's 2016 New Source Performance Standards controlling methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry (Climatewire, 14 August).

    Legal experts agree the agency's cost-benefit analysis justifying the rule change will be a likely target of litigation, particularly in light of a recent district court ruling striking down the Trump administration's approach to the social cost of methane, which puts a dollar figure on the harm caused by emissions of the greenhouse gas.

  • How will COVID-19 affect the coming flu season? Scientists struggle for clues

    Sign indicates that they have the flu vaccine available

    Fearing that a combination of seasonal influenza and COVID-19 will overwhelm hospitals, many countries are stepping up campaigns to increase flu vaccination.

    Speed Media/Icon Sportswire

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    In March, as the Southern Hemisphere braced for winter flu season while fighting COVID-19, epidemiologist Cheryl Cohen and colleagues at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) set up a plan to learn from the double whammy. They hoped to study interactions between seasonal respiratory viruses and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Does infection with one change a person’s risk of catching the other? How do people fare when they have both?

    But the flu season—and the answers—never came. NICD’s Centre for Respiratory Disease and Meningitis, which Cohen leads, has logged only a single flu case since the end of March. In previous years, the country’s surveillance platforms have documented, on average, about 700 cases during that period, Cohen says. “We’ve been doing flu surveillance since 1984, and it’s unprecedented.” 

  • What does the COVID-19 summer surge mean for your cats and dogs?

    someone uses a temporal thermometer of a cat’s face

    An employee takes a cat’s temperature at a cat café in Bangkok.


    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Last month, the first U.S. dog to definitively test positive for COVID-19 died in New York City. The canine—a German shepherd named Buddy—likely had lymphoma, but the case served as a reminder that pets, too, are at risk.

    Now, COVID-19 cases are surging in some areas of the United States, including in places that had largely escaped the virus in the spring, and some countries around the world are grappling with renewed outbreaks. People are also wondering and worrying about their pets.

  • The pandemic stilled human activity. What did this ‘anthropause’ mean for wildlife?

    Wolves in a park in Israel

    In April, normally timid jackals appeared in Hayarkon Park in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel, while the city was locked down during the coronavirus pandemic.

    AP Photo/Oded Balilty

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    After the coronavirus pandemic exploded worldwide, Ari Friedlaender, a marine ecologist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, had to abandon his fieldwork in Antarctica, where he was studying the effects of tourism and fishing on humpback whales. He was stressed, but after returning home Friedlaender realized the pandemic offered an unprecedented opportunity for similar studies of whales in nearby Monterey Bay. Lockdowns had dramatically reduced noisy boat traffic, which can stress marine life, and he and his colleagues were soon discussing how to investigate the whales’ response to the hiatus.

    The study, which received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week, is just one example of how wildlife scientists are now working to understand the impacts of what many are calling the “anthropause”—the dramatic slowdown in human activity caused by the pandemic. Some are tracking how fish, mammals, and even iguanas are reacting to steep declines in tourism. Others are pooling data on animal movement, gathered from GPS tracking devices and automated cameras, to probe large-scale responses to emptier roads and airports. In particular, the pause has created unique natural experiments, allowing researchers to compare how animals behaved before, during, and after the pandemic.

  • This physician has battled epidemics, quakes, and poverty in Haiti. Now, she’s taking on COVID-19

    Marie Marcelle Deschamp

    “Every time you make progress … you are pushed back by either a natural or political catastrophe,” Marie Marcelle Deschamps says.


    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Marie Marcelle Deschamps remembers the first patient with COVID-19 to visit a clinic she runs in Portau-Prince, Haiti. It was late March. His blood oxygen saturation, normally above 90%, was 35%. The 45-year-old man died within 1 hour. “Oh my God,” she recalls telling her colleagues. “It’s here.”

    As the director of a major health care organization in Haiti, Deschamps was already stretched thin by the struggles of providing medical help in one of the poorest nations on Earth. Her clinic was soon seeing thousands of COVID-19 cases per week, and her days became consumed with treating patients, supervising the other doctors, and dispatching teams to provide care and counseling to people in Haiti’s urban slums and countryside.

  • COVID-19 and Brexit disruption offer chance to build stronger system, says new U.K. research funding head

    Ottoline Leyser

    Ottoline Leyser, the second director of UK Research and Innovation, says she’s prioritizing diversity at the funding agency.

    Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University

    On 29 June, Ottoline Leyser, a plant biologist from the University of Cambridge, started her new role as chief executive of the United Kingdom’s main research funding agency, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). She is only the second director of the young agency; her predecessor, Mark Walport, oversaw the union of discipline-specific research councils into UKRI in 2018.

    Leyser steps into the job at a turbulent time. The U.K. government has big plans for science, recently announcing plans for new infrastructure, immigration support, and an expanded budget. But with the COVID-19 pandemic upending research careers, and Brexit challenging the internationality of U.K. science, there are challenges as well as opportunities afoot.

    ScienceInsider interviewed Leyser about her first weeks on the job and her plans for U.K. research funding and culture. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

  • Georgia Tech scientist gets lighter sentence in grant violation case because of her work on coronavirus

    Eva Lee

    Applied mathematician Eva Lee had her day in court.


    A federal judge today gave a lighter sentence than the government requested to Eva Lee, a suspended professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) who has pleaded guilty to making false statements about her federal grant.

    The United States “needs you to help us” fight the coronavirus pandemic, District Court Judge Steve Jones said in rejecting the prosecution’s request that Lee be immediately confined to her home for 8 months. Instead, Jones sentenced Lee to 60 days of home confinement and delayed its start until the spring of 2021. “Society would not benefit from [you serving] 8 months of home confinement now,” Jones told Lee during a hearing this morning in Atlanta, which was conducted via Zoom.

    Lee, an applied mathematician who has developed computer models to improve health care and is working with several federal agencies on the country’s response to the pandemic, admitted in December 2019 to misrepresenting information on a grant report to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and then lying to agents investigating her handling of the $40,000 award. She told Jones she didn’t understand the reporting requirements and said the university failed to provide her with the necessary administrative support. But she said she also recognizes that she broke the law.

  • Arecibo radio telescope goes dark after snapped cable shreds dish

    damage to the Arecibo telescope

    This week, a snapped cable tore a 30-meter gash in Arecibo’s iconic 307-meter dish.

    Arecibo Observatory

    The iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico was damaged early on 10 August when a snapped steel cable smashed into one of its antennas and tore a 30-meter gash in its 307-meter-wide dish. Observations have been halted for at least 2 weeks while investigations are carried out, say Ramon Lugo, director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which manages the observatory for the National Science Foundation (NSF). “My primary focus right now is the safety of people and the facility,” he says. The accident happened at 2:45 a.m., he says, but if it had been during the day when more staff were on site, there could have been injuries.

    For nearly 60 years Arecibo has been a mainstay of radio astronomy, atmospheric research, and planetary science. For decades, it was the main telescope used in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Its dramatic appearance has won it supporting roles in several films. Its fixed dish, built into a natural depression in the surrounding hills, was the largest single dish in the world until 2016, when it was overtaken by China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST). Arecibo can only look straight up, but some steering is possible by moving the receivers, or antennas, around a platform suspended by cables high above the dish.

    The cable that broke this week was not one of the main support cables but one of several auxiliary ones added in the 1990s to stabilize the platform when a large new antenna, known as the Gregorian dome, was added. The cable failed where it was attached to the platform. Because it contained a lot of stored energy from tension, it flailed around wildly, damaging the Gregorian dome and the main reflector of the dish, Lugo says. The platform itself appears to be twisted, he adds. 

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