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As Coronavirus Infections Rise, CDC Is Criticized

Health + Wellness
As Coronavirus Infections Rise, CDC Is Criticized
CDC Expert seen in a Hazmat Suit. Eugeneonline / iStock / Getty Images

The World Health Organization has now declared that the fatality rate of the COVID-19 coronavirus is higher than the flu. After several missteps and the deaths of nine Americans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now saying that it will lift restrictions on testing and will fast-track people who fear they may have been exposed to the virus, according to The New York Times.


Here are three ways the CDC has drawn criticism for its handling of COVID-19 so far.

COVID-19 Testing Mishaps

The CDC's first attempt to screen for COVID-19 hit a snag when they "botched its first attempt to mass produce a diagnostic test kit, a discovery made only after officials had shipped hundreds of kits to state laboratories," as The New York Times reported.

The faulty tests took weeks to replace. Still, the replacements did not allow state and local laboratories to make a final diagnosis.

"The incompetence has really exceeded what anyone would expect with the C.D.C.," Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said to The New York Times. "This is not a difficult problem to solve in the world of viruses."

"It's really, essentially, inexplicable why the CDC did not have well-performing test kits before now," Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said to NPR. "But this delay has really been costly in terms of our ability to identify and control the disease."

The CDC's response is slightly shocking for an advanced nation, considering that South Korea tested 10,000 people on Friday alone and has established drive-thru COVID-19 screening locations, as Business Insider reported.

Narrow and Stringent Testing Criteria

The CDC is also taking flak for the narrow and stringent testing criteria it set-up, ensuring that very few Americans would actually be tested for COVID-19. As the New York Times pointed out, "the persistent drumbeat of positive test results has raised critical questions about the government's initial management of the outbreak.

Why weren't more Americans tested sooner? How many may be carrying the virus now?"

Until last week, the CDC only called for testing people who had recently traveled to China and come in contact with someone who had a diagnosed case of COVID-19. That strict criteria meant that a patient in California, who tested positive for the coronavirus, went untested for several days at two area hospitals, according to Business Insider.

Last week, the CDC changed the guideline to include people whose symptoms were so severe that they required hospitalization. However, it still did not offer tests for people who had traveled to Iran or Italy, both spots of severe outbreaks, as Business Insider reported.

The case in California was alarming since the patient did not travel to China nor did the patient have direct contact with someone known to have the virus. Furthermore, doctors had to plead with officials to test the patient and to persist in asking before the CDC went ahead and tested the patient, according to CNN.

Numbers Disappearing From CDC Website

A strange thing happened at the CDC site that reports on the total number of COVID-19 cases. The CDC had been reporting the number of people who had been tested. Then, on Monday, the numbers disappeared.

"All of a sudden those stats vanished," Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said as CNN reported. Pocan wrote a letter of complaint to the CDC Monday night.

"Inexplicably, today, the CDC's public webpage dedicated to COVID-19 data no longer displays how many persons have been tested for, or who have died from COVID-19. I would like to know why," Pocan wrote.

"Americans are dying. We deserve to know how many Americans have perished from COVID-19, and we deserve to know how many people have been tested for it," Pocan added in his letter.

A CDC spokeswoman told CNN that the numbers were taken down since many states are testing and reporting their own results. Yet, the spokeswoman added, "There's only 50 states. We can get this information relatively easily."

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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