CDC Adds 'Off and On' Brief Encounters to Coronavirus Contact Guidelines
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has altered its guidelines that define close contact between people while also releasing a study that showed the novel coronavirus is able to be transmitted in brief interactions, as STAT News reported.
For several months, the CDC had defined close contact as spending more than 15 minutes within six feet of another person. On Wednesday, however, that definition changed to the CDC's new guidelines, which say brief interactions that add up to 15 minutes over the course of a day now count as close contact, as the AP reported.
The definition was changed for the CDC's quarantine guidelines, so people who spent 15 minutes or more with an infected person over the course of 24 hours know to self-isolate for 14 days. The guidelines were issued in response to a new study conducted by the CDC and the Vermont Department of Health that traced a coronavirus outbreak of six prisoners back to an employee at a Vermont correctional facility, as NPR reported.
An investigation of the outbreak used video evidence to piece together the employee's day. It showed that the officer never spent 15 straight minutes with any one prisoner. However, over the course of an eight-hour workday, the employee had 22 interactions totaling 17 minutes with the six incarcerated people, according to STAT News.
Some of the interactions took place while the six incarcerated people were not wearing face masks, according to NPR.
"This article adds to the scientific knowledge of the risk to contacts of those with COVID-19 and highlights again the importance of wearing face masks to prevent transmission," the CDC said.
"While a mask provides some limited protection to the wearer, each additional person who wears a mask increases the individual protection for everyone. When more people wear masks, more people are protected," the CDC added, as The Washington Post reported.
In the first news conference that the agency permitted in more than eight weeks, Jay Butler, the CDC's deputy director for infectious diseases, said Wednesday that the nation is "unfortunately seeing a distressing trend, with cases increasing in nearly 75 percent of the country," as The Washington Post reported.
Butler also stressed that even though the public may be tired of all the suggestions from health officials, the importance of wearing masks should not be taken lightly as the weather cools and more and more interactions move inside, which increases the risk of transmission, according to The Washington Post.
The new guidelines also note that close contact can include if someone coughs or sneezes on you, hugging and kissing, as well as sharing eating utensils with an infected person.
"As we get more data and understand this COVID we're going to continue to incorporate that in our recommendations," said CDC Director Robert Redfield at the press conference, according to the AP.
The new guidelines will "mostly impact workplaces, schools and other places where people spend all day together off and on," said Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to NPR. She added that the expanded definition of close contact has "the potential to significantly increase the number of people who are asked to quarantine."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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