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Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • 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.

    LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images

    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.

    KATTY HUERTAS

    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.

    VILLAR LOPEZ/EFE/NEWSCOM

    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. 

  • ‘We’re losing an entire generation of scientists.’ COVID-19’s economic toll hits Latin America hard

    Protesters in Ecuador on 5 May

    Students protest against a cut in the education budget at the Central University of Ecuador on 5 May.

    RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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

    As the COVID-19 pandemic surged across the United States and Europe in February, scientists at Mexico’s Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav) sprang into action. They quickly converted one of their research labs into a diagnostic clinic, and by mid-March, as cases began to mount in Mexico, they had launched seven other COVID-19–related projects.

    Then a second crisis hit. On 2 April, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered the termination of public trust funds, which pay for special and long-term projects at Cinvestav—a public institute with nine campuses that employs 7500 people—and other institutions. Three weeks later, he announced a 75% cut for some federal institutions’ operating budgets, including Cinvestav’s, that would have forced the institute to shut down, says Cinvestav Director José Mustre de León.

  • New Zealand suspects ‘some failure at the border’ after COVID-19 returns

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds up two fingers while speaking at a press conference.

    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern discussed new COVID-19 restrictions, including a lockdown of Auckland, at a press conference in Wellington today.

    Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

    Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    New Zealand officials and scientists are eying a breach in isolation security as the possible cause of the first cases of community transmission in the country in 102 days. Investigators are exploring several possibilities, but experts believe the alternatives—that the virus was circulating undetected or that it entered the country on a freight shipment—are unlikely.

    “We must have had some failure at the border, it’s unlikely there could have been silent transmission for that long,” says Nick Wilson, a public health scientist at University of Otago.

  • Few Black educators win prestigious White House teaching award

    LeShundra Young with four of her students

    Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching winner LeShundra Young and her advanced placement biology students at Germantown High School

    LeShundra Young

    Diversity isn’t an official criterion for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST). But the three Black educators named to this year’s class of 107 winners announced last week say receiving the nation’s highest honor for precollege teaching makes them even more committed to fostering a more inclusive U.S. technical workforce.

    “As a female and an African American, I hope I can be that face to students and teachers [from groups underrepresented in science] around the country,” says LeShundra Young, a biology teacher at Germantown High School in Madison, Mississippi. “It’s harder to relate to someone who doesn’t look like you.”

    The lack of diversity in the 2019 class—the other Black educators selected are Pamela Hytower, a middle school math teacher in Georgia’s Carroll county, and Ashley Kearney, a high school math teacher in Washington, D.C.—isn’t unusual for the award. Winners are drawn from a pool of finalists submitted by each state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. (The competition rotates each year between elementary and secondary school teachers.) But although the selection criteria don’t mention diversity, the National Science Foundation (NSF) “encourages diversity and equality in the review of applicants,” says a spokesperson for the agency, which manages the program. A few years ago, NSF went a step further, mandating diversity training for state coordinators in hopes of boosting the mix in the pool.

  • In reversal, ornithologists yank Confederate general’s name from bird

    A thick-billed longspur perched on a shrub

    Thick-billed longspur

    Jim Zipp/Science Source

    Last week, another Confederate monument fell. The monument, in this case, was taxonomic: McCown’s longspur—a grassland bird native to the central United States—will henceforth be known as the thick-billed longspur, the North American Classification Committee (NACC) announced on 7 August.

    The decision comes nearly 2 years after a graduate student in ornithology first proposed renaming the bird, which was dubbed for John McCown, a Confederate general in the Civil War. NACC initially rejected the proposal, with some members citing McCown’s “legitimate contributions to ornithology” and noting that “it is widely known that judging historical figures by current moral standards is problematic, unfair to some degree, and rarely black-and-white.” But amid the recent social reckoning ignited by the May killing of George Floyd, the panel gave the proposal a fresh look and decided to join other scientific disciplines in stripping the names of racists and eugenicists from species, buildings, and prizes in their fields.

    The move also came after a widely publicized bird-watching incident in New York City’s Central Park. The incident—which occurred on Memorial Day, within hours of the killing of George Floyd—involved a white woman falsely claiming to police that Christian Cooper, a Black birder, was threatening her life. In the outrage that followed, a group of Black ornithology graduate students organized #BlackBirdersWeek to raise awareness about a variety of issues, including the persistence of bird species names that codified the legacies of people who held racist views.

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