Covid-19 Live Updates: Apple and Google Offer Contact Tracing Right on Your Smartphone

Here’s what you need to know:

Credit…Jeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Your smartphone may soon let you know you’ve been exposed.

Several state governments in the United States may soon send residents an alert to their smartphones asking them to turn on “exposure notifications.” Here’s why.

On Tuesday, Apple and Google said they would make it easier for states to use their new technology, which detects phones that come close to one another and can notify people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

States that sign on will be able to send a notice directly to iPhones and Android devices asking residents to opt in to the technology. Previous versions of the technology had required people to seek out a state health agency’s app.

The new approach could mark a turning point in spurring the popularity of such virus alert technology in the United States. It significantly lowers the bar for states to adopt the technology, and makes it far easier for the public to enroll.

Maryland, Virginia, Nevada and Washington D.C. already plan to use the new system, Apple and Google said, and about 25 other states were exploring using the earlier app version.

In April, Apple and Google announced they were developing the technology, which uses Bluetooth signals to enable iPhones and Android devices to detect other nearby phones. If someone using the technology tests positive for the virus, they can enter the positive result into the system using a unique authentication code; an automatic notification would then go to other phones that had been in close contact. (The health agencies do not get any information on who actually went ahead and used the code on the app.)

As the pandemic took hold this spring, countries around the world raced to deploy virus apps to help track and quarantine people. But many of the apps were mandatory and invasive, sending users locations and health details to their governments. Many apps were also rife with security flaws.

The Apple-Google technology, by contrast, by contrast, does not ask users for personal health information or track their locations. To use their technology, state public-health authorities simply need to provide certain parameters to the companies, such as how close people need to be to trigger an exposure notification and recommendations for those with possible exposures.

Google would then create an app for the state, while Apple would enable the technology on the iPhone software. The system relies on approximate location data to send an alert to residents’ phones in that state, asking if they would like to enroll. On iPhones, enrolling requires tapping a button, while Android users are prompted to download the state’s app.

Still, some security researchers have warned that the technology could also be misused to send false alerts, spreading unnecessary alarm. While they acknowledged the companies’ desire to help stem the pandemic, a few said they were troubled by Apple and Google’s power to set global standards for public health agencies.

Children of color are infected and hospitalized at higher rates than white children, new U.S. research shows.

Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

People of color have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and new U.S. research is heightening concern about the susceptibility of children in these communities.

They are infected at higher rates than white children and hospitalized at rates five to eight times that of white children, the data shows. Children of color also make up an overwhelming majority of those who develop a life-threatening complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C.

Of more than 180,000 Americans who have died of Covid-19, fewer than 100 are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But children of color make up a majority of these children.

The deaths include 41 Hispanic children, 24 Black children, 19 white children, three Asian-American children, three American Indian/Alaska Native children and two multiracial children.

The unique vulnerabilities of these children are coming to light even as their number of infections is rising, and schools and parents around the country are grappling with nettlesome decisions about reopening safely.

“Children don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Dr. Monika K. Goyal, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington.

Among 1,000 children tested for the virus at a site in Washington in March and April, nearly half of the Hispanic children and nearly one-third of the Black children were positive, Dr. Goyal found in a recent study.

They are more likely to live in homes where the parent or caregiver cannot telecommute, she said, so they are at increased risk of exposure.

“They are also more likely to live in multigenerational households — it’s all connected,” Dr. Goyal said.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford, agreed: “I know exactly what’s happening to those kids. Their parents are frontline, blue-collar or essential workers.”

Researchers at Harvard have documented higher infection rates in Massachusetts communities with high proportions of immigrants, high numbers of food service workers and high numbers of people living in large, shared households.

“What you have is the perfect recipe for fast transmission of Covid-19 in the Latino community,” said Jose Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The true number of children who have been infected with the virus may not be known, as young children tend to have milder courses of the disease and have never been routinely tested in the United States.

Florida severs ties with Quest for taking too long to report 75,000 test results, DeSantis says.

Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida announced on Tuesday that he was directing state agencies to sever ties with Quest Diagnostics, effective immediately, for delays in providing the state’s health department with nearly 75,000 coronavirus test results that date back to April. According to state health officials, the delay did not drastically distort the extent of the pandemic in the state, which saw an overwhelming number of new virus cases over the summer.

Without the data, the state on Monday reported a positivity rate of 5.9 percent. When including the missing Quest data, the positivity rate is 6.8 percent. The World Health Organization has said that — with comprehensive testing — the positivity rate should be less than 5 percent to indicate that a community has contained the spread of the virus. As of Tuesday, the number of daily tests being conducted in Florida is only 24 percent of the level considered necessary by the Harvard Global Health Institute to mitigate the spread of the virus, according to a New York Times analysis.

Quest on Tuesday released a statement that the delay was the result of a “technical issue” and that it had been resolved.

“We apologize for this matter and regret the challenge it poses for public health authorities in Florida,” the statement said. Adding, “Importantly, the issue did not affect or delay reporting of test results to providers and patients.”

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, took issue with the assurance from the state that such an oversight was limited to a data problem, and not something that could have shaped the spread of the disease. “It’s beyond shocking,” he said of the state’s announcement.

“I think it could have materially affected the spread of the infection in Florida,” he said.

Delays in reporting test results have hindered contact tracing efforts across the country. Quest Diagnostics is one of the major commercial laboratories that processes these samples and it was not immediately clear if other states faced similar delays.

“I believe that Quest has abdicated their ability to perform a testing function in Florida that the people can be confident in,” Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said in a statement released Tuesday. On Monday, his office learned that test results as old as five months would be added to the state’s virus monitoring system.

Later on Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis said the Quest testing data dump underscored that many people were using what he viewed as the wrong metric — positive test results, or cases — to determine the severity of the crisis. Instead, he said, he preferred to review daily emergency room visits for Covid-19 symptoms and hospital admissions. Data from hospital admissions only gives a picture of severe cases. Experts say that the positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — is crucial for accurately tracking mild and asymptomatic cases, which are important drivers of the spread of the virus in a community.

Jason Mahon, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said the state could easily switch Quest’s workload to other vendors. “The state uses several labs at state-supported testing sites,” he said, “and we have no concerns with transitioning the few sites that utilized Quest to labs that will be able to step in.”

U.S. Roundup

New York City delays the start of school to get ready for in-person classes.

Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York City is delaying the start of its school year by 10 days, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday, as part of a deal to avert a teachers’ strike and calm principals and parents anxious about the readiness for in-person classes.

The city’s 1.1 million public schoolchildren will not have any in-person classes until Sept. 21. Most children will not start remote classes until that date. New York City’s school district, the nation’s largest, is the only one in a major U.S. city that is planning to reopen its schools in-person this month.

“It’s a very complex moment in history, to say the least,” the mayor said. “Real powerful issues had to be discussed, and resolution had to be found.”

In other news from across the United States:

  • Florida on Tuesday reopened nursing homes to visitors, who had been mostly barred from seeing family members and friends since mid-March, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced. Visits will be by appointment only and nursing home residents will be limited to two guests at a time. Each must a wear mask and pass a health screening that includes temperature checks. Visitation will be suspended at nursing homes where a resident or staff member has tested positive for the virus in the past 14 days.

  • The White House on Tuesday announced that public tours of the presidential mansion will resume on Saturday, Sept. 12. Tours will be limited to two days a week and masks will be required for everyone 2 and older, among other precautions.

  • Hawaii has begun requiring visitors and residents to register online before arrival. Starting Tuesday, visitors were asked to provide their health status and destination to to help officials determine who requires additional airport screening.

  • The University of Dayton has seen a sharp uptick in cases of Covid-19 that it is connecting to large, unauthorized gatherings where students failed to wear masks or socially distance. The school said it has recorded 905 cases since Aug. 10, a figure that jumped sharply from the six cases reported before then. The university said it has gone to online-only classes until at least Sept. 14.

  • The University of South Carolina suspended 15 students on Monday and charged six fraternities and sororities with student conduct violations stemming from parties held in violation of virus safety regulations. There were 553 active cases of the virus among students as of Aug. 27, according to the university.

  • Many small businesses across the country have reached a breaking point going into the fall and winter, with their survival dependent on an uncertain infusion of economic aid from the federal government. For some, such as the Cheers Replica Bar in Faneuil Hall in Boston, a casualty of the downturn, it’s already too late.

Florida’s schools reopened this week, with many students attending classes in person.

Credit…Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Schools reopened across Florida this week with in-person instruction, though the state has among the highest Covid-19 per capita infection rates in the country and despite public health concerns among teachers and many education officials.

Over one million students — or about 55 percent of the state’s total student population — have opted for some form of in-person instruction, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has aggressively pushed to bring students back into classrooms, hailed the reopening in an event Monday, saying that Florida parents have “enthusiastically embraced” in-person instruction and asserting that the virus doesn’t have as much of an impact on young people. Scott Atlas, a top adviser to President Trump on the pandemic, was also at the event, an indication of Florida’s importance in the November election.

“We’ve seen now through examples in the U.S. and the rest of the world that having a functioning society is very important in fighting an epidemic,” Mr. DeSantis said at the event in Tallahassee, Fla.

But the state’s main teachers’ union, as well as many local school officials and parents’ groups, remain uncomfortable with the resumption of in-person classes. Though its infection rate has been declining, Florida still reported more than 20,600 new cases in the past week, the third-most in the country.

“The question now is: Is the state and our school districts doing everything possible to make sure that our kids are safe — and the people who work in our schools, are they safe?” said Andrew Spar, vice president of the Florida Education Association. “And the answer to that right now appears to be no.”

In July, Richard Corcoran, Florida’s commissioner of education, issued an emergency order requiring schools to offer at least some in-person instruction, under threat of losing state aid. The state’s largest districts — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — were granted exemptions from the order.

Teachers’ unions sued Mr. DeSantis, arguing that the order went against the state’s Constitution and jeopardized the safety of public schools. Although a Florida judge ruled that the order violated the state’s Constitution, the state appealed the ruling, and the lower court’s decision was stayed, allowing schools to reopen for in-person instruction this week.

Across the globe, students are returning to the classroom.

Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

From Wuhan to London to Paris and many places in between, students have returned to classrooms after months of staying home in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In the Chinese city of Wuhan, the original center of the coronavirus epidemic, state-run news media said that more than 2,840 primary and secondary schools, serving nearly 1.4 million students, reopened on Tuesday. It was a striking turnabout from the early days, when the virus spread rapidly and mysteriously through Wuhan and officials imposed a 76-day lockdown.

In Britain, classrooms and schoolyards rang with the clamor of students on Tuesday morning as hundreds of thousands of children returned to classrooms in the government’s boldest bid yet to reopen society.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared the reopening of schools to be a “moral duty,” and made it a centerpiece of his strategy to recover from the pandemic, which has inflicted a higher toll — 41,500 deaths — on Britain than on any other European country.

In Russia, which reached 1 million virus cases on Tuesday, schools opened with few precautions. Teachers and children are not required to wear masks.

After six months off, other than a brief return in June, more than 12 million students in France are also back in classrooms. Students over 11 and all teachers have to wear masks and try to maintain social distance. Where there are outbreaks, classrooms will close again, said the minister of education, Jean-Michel Blanquer.

In Israel, more than 2 million students returned Tuesday despite a relatively high coronavirus infection rate and concerns that academic institutions could facilitate the spread. Experts have said that Israel’s quick reopening of schools last May — after Covid-19 cases had subsided — played a significant role in the virus’s comeback.

Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Israeli authorities instituted new regulations meant to prevent outbreaks, and decided to keep schools closed in 23 cities and towns with especially high infection rates. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 20,699 active virus cases in Israel, according to the Health Ministry.

In Belgium, children 5 and older also headed back to school Tuesday. Only those in high-risk groups were allowed to stay home. But children returning from vacation in dangerous areas are not allowed back in school for 14 days. Masks are required for older students.

Back in Wuhan, children endured temperature checks outside school gates and received lessons in hand-washing. But many hailed the school year as another sign that life was slowly getting back to normal.

“School is open, and I’m very excited and happy,” a sixth-grader named Li Xinnuo told a radio broadcaster in Wuhan. “I can see my classmates, whom I haven’t seen for a long time.”

For parents of school-age children, there’s no easy answer to the question of sending them back to classrooms.

Credit…Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA, via Shutterstock

Throughout the summer, parents have been weighing whether to send their children back to school (if the schools even open at all) for in-person learning. Apoorva Mandavilli, a New York Times science reporter — and a mother to an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old — spoke to a number of experts and found that there were arguments on both sides. Among the factors she examined:

  • Fewer children than adults become infected. But childhood infection is not uncommon.

  • Children do become sick with the virus, but deaths are very rare.

  • Children can spread the virus to others. How often is still unknown.

Senate Republicans say a scaled-down stimulus plan breaches the divide and could reach a vote next week.

Senate Republicans, who have been deeply divided over their $1 trillion pandemic relief proposal, appeared on Tuesday to be coalescing around a drastically pared-down plan they could vote on as soon as next week.

With a price tag between $500 billion and $700 billion, the proposal would reinstate lapsed federal unemployment benefits at $300 per week — half their previous level — and allocate $105 billion for schools, funds for testing and for the United States Postal Service, as well as grant new liability protections to employers.

Far from a breakthrough in the stalled stimulus talks, it is all but certain to be opposed by Democrats, who have pressed for a measure of at least $2.2 trillion. But it may reflect a fresh willingness among Republicans who have opposed extending any additional virus aid to accept a narrow bill.

Senator John Barasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, told reporters in the Capitol that party leaders had set a goal of beginning debate on the measure next week when lawmakers returned from summer recess, and senior party aides said they expected all but one or two Republican senators to support it.

“We have a focused, targeted solution that we hope that the House would pass,” Mr. Barasso said.

There is little chance of that. Democrats pushed a $3.4 trillion stimulus measure through the House in May, including an extension of the full $600 weekly federal jobless payment. They have been willing to cut down the price tag since then, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California saying last week she would accept $2.2 trillion.

Still, Republican leaders say they hope a vote could jump-start the stalled stimulus talks in part by ramping up political pressure on Democrats.

“I’m hopeful that we will get everybody back in town and that Senate Republicans will lead the way to breaking this logjam,” said Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, who has been a negotiator of the next bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested to a congressional committee on Tuesday that “there is more work to be done” and that lawmakers focus on a smaller, more targeted package of relief, saying “we need support quickly, and if we need to do more we can come back.”

Mass testing at a Tennessee prison finds that nearly 2 out of 3 inmates have the virus.

The coronavirus situation at the South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton, Tenn., did not look like a crisis a week ago. The prison had reported fewer than 100 cases since the pandemic began. And according to Amanda Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, the private company that runs South Central, only 10 of the prison’s roughly 1,500 inmates were showing Covid-19 symptoms.

But state officials ordered mass testing at the prison last week, and the results are eye-popping: As of Tuesday morning, 965 inmates of 1,410 tested — about two-thirds of the total population — were positive, and another 168 test results were still pending, the state said.

Prisons, jails and immigration detention centers across the country have struggled with virus outbreaks. In all, more than 180,000 prisoners and correctional officers have tested positive, and nearly 1,100 people have died, according to a New York Times database.

Relatively little testing has been done at many correctional facilities. When officials do conduct mass testing in those facilities, they have often found high rates of transmission. A recent study found that prisoners have been infected at more than five times the nation’s overall rate.

The Tennessee Department of Correction said on its website that the inmates at South Central who tested positive but had no symptoms would be monitored and assessed daily, and that staff members who tested positive would self-quarantine. All inmates and staff members in state facilities are required to wear masks and adhere to disinfection and safety rules, the department said.

Ms. Gilchrist said in a statement on Tuesday that “the health and safety of the individuals entrusted to our care and our staff is the top priority for CoreCivic.”

GLOBAL Roundup

Hong Kong begins mass testing, but some fear Beijing’s influence.

Credit…Pool photo by Anthony Kwan

Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed coronavirus testing program began on Tuesday amid concerns about safety, privacy and the influence of the mainland Chinese government.

The program is open to everyone, and the local government has touted it as generous, vital aid from the central Chinese government. More than half a million of the city’s 7.5 million residents have already registered for it.

But some members of Hong Kong’s medical community have criticized the one-off voluntary tests as a waste of resources, saying they could create a false sense of security.

Another concern is that samples could be used for Beijing’s sprawling surveillance — a claim the government has denied.

Still others say it is preposterous that the local government is allowing citywide testing after using the virus to justify postponing citywide elections that had been scheduled for Sept. 6.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said that the government’s critics were trying to “cause worries and fears” about the program to scare people away.

“They don’t understand the details of the program, the procedures, the safeguards that we have put in place,” Mrs. Lam told reporters.

Hong Kong’s third and most severe wave of infections, which peaked in July, appears to have gradually eased, with only nine new confirmed cases on Monday. The city’s schools are to resume in-person instruction on Sept. 23.

In other news from around the world:

  • The number of coronavirus cases reported in Russia since the start of the pandemic passed 1 million on Tuesday, the government said, and continues to rise by about 5,000 per day despite an official declaration in early August that the country had a vaccine. The authorities reported 4,729 new cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,000,048. The death toll in Russia is now 17,299. Russia, with a population of about 145 million, is now fourth in the world for reported total infections, after the United States, Brazil and India. Per capita, Russia’s rate of infection is about one-third that of the United States.

  • After tens of thousands of unmasked protesters rallied against virus restrictions in the German capital over the weekend, Berlin instituted a rule that requires masks for demonstrations with more than 100 participants. Dilek Kalayci, the city senator for public health, said at a news conference on Tuesday that the rules would go into effect immediately. Though Germany has been lauded for its coronavirus response and low death rate, a vocal minority has taken to the streets to protest measures to contain the spread.

  • Dozens of scientists around the world are working on, and giving themselves, family and friends D.I.Y. vaccines, with wildly varying methods, affiliations and claims. Each effort is motivated in part by the same idea: Exceptional times demand exceptional actions. Defenders say that as long as scientists are measured about their claims and transparent about their process, we could all benefit. But critics say that no matter how well intentioned, these scientists aren’t likely to learn anything useful because their vaccines are not being put to the true test of randomized and placebo-controlled studies.

  • Doctors went on strike in Nigeria’s capital, saying that the government had not paid promised Covid-19 hazard allowances. The Association of Resident Doctors said the pay hadn’t materialized “despite timelines and promises.” The regional minister of state, Ramatu Aliyu, said doctors “must make sacrifices,” according to Nigerian news reports. Officially, around 1,000 people have died and about 50,000 have had the coronavirus in Nigeria, but as in many countries, testing is low. Earlier in the year, there was a spate of unexplained deaths in the country’s north.

  • After Hungary announced last week that it would impose border restrictions from Sept. 1 to curb a spike in virus cases, it decided to make some exceptions. In a statement on Facebook on Monday night, Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said his country would permit travel from the Czech Republic after a personal plea from the country’s prime minister, Andrej Babis. The exception will also apply to Slovakia and Poland.

  • With the virus spreading quickly in Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas agreed Monday night to ease up on bombarding each other. Israel agreed to let fuel flow back to Gaza’s power station, and a cash infusion from Qatar helped seal the deal. The virus has accelerated its spread in Gaza since last week, when Hamas officials reported the first cases of community transmission. As of Monday, there were 243 active cases of local spread and 37 among returning travelers held at quarantine facilities, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Officials have reported three virus-related deaths in the past week and say tests are in short supply.

  • Openly selling or smoking tobacco has been highly restricted in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan since 2010. But now the government has begun selling tobacco directly to smokers as part of an unconventional strategy aimed at fighting a more pressing problem: Covid-19. In regions there without a black market for tobacco, nicotine-deprived smokers flock to the border with India for cigarettes. But as virus cases have spiked in India, concerns have grown that the virus will return with the contraband.

New viruses among humans are accelerating. The reason is ecological disturbance, caused by us.

We interviewed experts to find out why so many new virus are spreading. The answer lies in humans’ continued disturbance of animals and their habitats. Watch our video to see how we are making ourselves sick.




How to Stop the Next Pandemic

It’s not just Covid-19. Pathogens once confined to nature are making their way into humans on a more regular basis. And it’s our fault.

This graph can tell you a lot about your future. Each bar shows how many new infectious diseases emerged in a year. In 1944, there was one. In ’48, three. We have no immunity to new pathogens. Each disease on this list posed a new pandemic threat. It was around 1960 when the number began to rise. By the time 1990 rolled around, it wasn’t just two or three new diseases that year — there were 18. Soon after, the trend became so clear, a scientist appeared on TV with a warning. “What worries me the most is that we’re going to miss the next emerging disease, that we’re going to suddenly find a SARS virus that moves from one part of the planet to another, wiping out people as it moves along.” That was 17 years ago. And today, stuck at home in a seemingly never-ending pandemic purgatory, it appears that we did not heed his warning. Covid-19 has opened our eyes to the danger. But has it opened them enough to look past this pandemic to what our future holds? We tracked down that same scientist today to ask him: How do you stop the next pandemic? He said the trend isn’t looking good. “We see an increased frequency of emerging pandemics. We also still have the ones that emerged recently. We still have H.I.V. We still have Ebola. We still have H1N1. So we’re adding to the stock of known pandemic pathogens with new ones at an increasing rate. That’s not a good place for us as a species right now.” If you want to know how to stop the next pandemic, you first need to know why they’re happening. “We humans are an ecological anomaly. There have never been 7.7 billion large-body vertebrates of one species on this planet before in the history of earth.” This is David Quammen. He’s a — “— a very unmystical, black-hole Darwinian materialist.” Well, David’s a storyteller. He’s been writing about the origin of infectious diseases for decades. “So we are unprecedented, and we’re causing ecological wreckage that’s unprecedented, and there are consequences of that.” [explosions] “Pandemics emerge due to our ecological footprint. And our ecological footprint is accelerating exponentially.” Remember this guy? That’s Peter Daszak, the scientist who warned us in 2003. He’s sometimes referred to as a virus hunter. He goes out to preemptively find viruses before they find us. “It’s the connection between humans and animals that’s driving this. And that connection happens where people move into a new region through things like road building and deforestation, mining, palm oil production, timber and livestock production. People move into new areas. They come across wildlife that we’ve not really had much contact with. The pathogens spill over into them, and then can spread through that connectivity.” [birds squawking] “We’re encroaching on their habitats. And just many, many more opportunities for spillover events to occur.” Christian Walzer is a global veterinarian and executive director for the Wildlife Conservation Society. “The destruction happening at the edge of forests is one of the areas where we’re very concerned. Changing the trees that bats, for example, would roost on, they may be driven to an edge. They may be driven into an area where there’s more human population. And suddenly, you create a contact area which didn’t exist before.” So what do these new contact areas look like? In this video, we’re going to show you three ways in which our changing relationship with wildlife is increasingly creating dangerous pandemic possibilities. So let’s say you want to sell toothpaste. No, peanut butter. Wait, wait shampoo. Never mind, it doesn’t matter. In all of those cases, you need palm oil. So you burn down a forest in Malaysia to grow palm trees. But that forest was home to some bats. So the bats find a new home, near some fruit trees on a pig farm. But soon, a virus from those bats makes its way into the farmers who own the property. This isn’t science fiction. This is how the Nipah virus came to humans. “Why was it getting from the fruit bats to the people? Because of habitat destruction. Most of the forest in northern Malaysia, where the bats would ordinarily be living wild and feeding on wild fruit, most of that forest had been destroyed. In place of the forest, among other human enterprises, were giant pig farms, piggeries, where thousands of pigs were kept in a single corral, being raised for meat. Some of those corrals were shaded by domestic fruit trees that were planted to grow mangoes or to grow starfruit for another revenue stream for these pig farms. So the bats, having lost their wild habitat, are attracted to the domestic fruit trees. They come in, they eat the mango, they eat the starfruit, they drop the pulp into the pig corrals. And with it, they drop their feces and their urine and their virus. It gets into the pigs, spreads through the pigs, then gets in the pig farmers, pork sellers, and other people.” Land use change is one big reason more infectious diseases are making their way into humans. However, it’s not just animal habitat we need to worry about. Animal diversity can be just as important. “Loss of biodiversity itself has led to emergence of disease. When you lose species, you tend to be left with certain groups. And if they happen to carry viruses, and if they dominate the landscape, you will be exposed to those viruses more than others.” This story doesn’t begin in the jungles of Africa or forests of Southeast Asia. We begin in the American suburbs. “If humans cut down the forest and turn it into a suburb, like those beautiful suburbs we know in semi-rural Connecticut, where there are great big lawns in front of nice houses, and there are hedges, and then there’s somebody else’s house with a great big lawn in front of it, that’s really good habitat for white-footed mice, and also for white-tailed deer. Not so good for larger mammals, like foxes, like weasels, or for birds of prey. So the hawks and the owls tend to disappear, the foxes and the weasels tend to disappear from this environment. What happens then? You get more white-footed mice. You get an abundance of white-footed mice because their predators are not suppressing them.” Having an abundance of white-footed mice wouldn’t be so bad, except they are the natural reservoir host of Lyme disease. This means they harbor the bacteria, but it doesn’t make them sick. So if there was a biological diverse landscape, well, then — “The pathogen is shared amongst the various hosts that are in that landscape. Many of these hosts are incompetent and are unable to actually transmit the disease. And so it becomes a dilution effect.” “The net result of this reduction in biological diversity, changing the landscape, making it more fragmented, less forested, is more ticks infecting more little kids when they go out to roll around in the grass and bust through the hedges. So there is more Lyme disease.” And yet, Covid-19 may not have started this way at all. “In view of the ongoing outbreak, if you create a completely artificial interface where you go and capture animals regionally, globally, and bring them together at one place, like at a wildlife trading market, then you’re obviously creating fantastic opportunities for viruses to spill over.” A pathogen from an animal might not be able to spill over directly into humans, but it could spill over into another animal, evolve or adapt, and then infect humans. With a rotating variety of animals stacked on top of each other, the pandemic possibilities are significant. This is one theory of how the coronavirus may have started in China. The thing is, in the past, a spillover event from this wildlife market may not have affected you. “We also have to take one step back from the sort of very romantic idea that these are isolated communities living in central Africa. You know, I always point out that a rat which you capture somewhere in northern Congo now, within 12 hours, you’re in Brazzaville.” “The Republic of the Congo now has a new modern highway and economic artery thanks to Chinese assistance.” See, just 10 years ago, that would have been impossible. But then, well, China — “The national highway was complete —” China wanted access to minerals to mine. In exchange, they helped with infrastructure. Now, there’s a road. They’ve created accessways, not only for the rare earths which are so important for your mobile phone, but for viruses as well. “If you catch the plane that evening and you take your rat with you because you want to bring it to your family in Paris, it’s less than 24 hours from a very, very remote community all the way to Paris.” But luggage is screened, you say. The rat would get caught. Maybe. But really, the rat isn’t the biggest threat. It’s you. Your bag gets screened. Your blood does not. “We all have a share of the responsibility. It’s not just people in China who want to eat bats or who want to eat pangolins. That may be the immediate cause of this spillover, but in terms of the initiation of these things, generally, there is also enough blame, enough responsibility to go around.” The three ways in which a pandemic could start shown in this video all have one thing in common — us. “Here’s what we did. We changed the planet so significantly and so fundamentally that we dominate every ecosystem on earth, right now. We are the dominant vertebrate species. Our livestock are the dominant biomass on the planet. And that’s the issue. What we’ve done is we’ve created this pathway through our consumption habits by which viruses can get from wildlife into people and then infect us. And our response is we blame one country versus another, we blame people who eat one species over people who don’t eat another and we blame nature. Well, no. We need to point the finger directly at ourselves. This is not a whiny argument that the world’s falling apart and it’s our fault, this is an argument that says we are the reason why this happens. We, therefore, have the power to change it.” So how do you stop the next pandemic? “Well, this is what you do. No. 1, you find out what viruses there are in wildlife. We estimate 1.7 million unknown viruses. Let’s go and discover them. Let’s get the viral sequences. Let’s get them into the hands of vaccine and drug developers, and get them to design vaccines and drugs that are broadly effective — not just against one pathogen, but against a number of pathogens. But No. 2, and critically, we need to work with the communities that are on the front line of this. And that’s a solution that the public are less excited by. It’s old-fashioned. It’s working in foreign countries with different communities that do different things. It’s hard work, and it’s less attractive to the voting public. We’ve got to do all of the above. High-tech, low-tech, but focused on prevention. It’s possible and it’s doable. Let’s get on and do it.” Great. Let’s do it. No more pandemics. There’s just one problem — money. “Please, in the back.” “Thank you, Mr. President. U.S. intelligence is saying this week that the N.I.H., under the Obama administration in 2015, gave that lab $3.7 million in a grant. Why would the U.S. give a grant like that to China?” “We will end that grant very quickly, but —” That’s Donald Trump canceling a grant that was funding research to stop pandemics, including studying coronaviruses in bats. But the grant wasn’t going to China. It was going to — you guessed it — Peter Daszak. That grant started in 2015. “2015? Who was president then, I wonder?” “We have to put in place an infrastructure, not just here at home, but globally that allows us to see it quickly, isolate it quickly, respond to it quickly.” This is not a new fight. “But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare.” What is new is our reaction to it. “It’s nobody’s fault — it’s not like — who could have ever predicted anything like this?” “What worries me the most is that we’re going to miss the next emerging disease.” If we don’t want more Covid-19-like events in the future, we need to stop pandemics before they happen. That means depoliticizing pandemics and investing in prevention. “I think we need to wake up. There’s a certain moment right now where the public around the world, because this pandemic has got to every country on the planet, the public now see their own health as intimately connected to why these pandemics emerge through the wildlife trade or deforestation. So we need to really drive that message home that producing a healthier planet will actually save our own lives and improve our own healths.”

Video player loading
It’s not just Covid-19. Pathogens once confined to nature are making their way into humans on a more regular basis. And it’s our fault.

Reporting was contributed by Ben Casselman, Nicholas Fandos, Emma G. Fitzsimmons, Antonella Francini, Matthew Futterman, Michael Gold, Javier C. Hernández, Andrew E. Kramer, Mark Landler, Ruth Maclean, Apoorva Mandavilli, Heather Murphy, Jack Nicas, Benjamin Novak, Monika Pronczuk, Roni Caryn Rabin, Adam Rasgon, Matt Richtel, Campbell Robertson, Frances Robles, Christopher F. Schuetze, Eliza Shapiro, Bhadra Sharma, Natasha Singer, Kaly Soto, Eileen Sullivan, Lucy Tompkins, Maura Turcotte, Neil Vigdor, Allyson Walker, Timothy Williams, Katherine J. Wu, Liu Yi, Elaine Yu and Albee Zhang.

View original article here Source

Related Posts