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Coronavirus Spreading in U.S. Could Cause 'Severe' Disruption to Daily Life, Health Officials Warn

Health + Wellness
Coronavirus Spreading in U.S. Could Cause 'Severe' Disruption to Daily Life, Health Officials Warn
Passengers arrive in Los Angeles from Asia on Feb. 2. MARK RALSTON / AFP via Getty Images

The spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, could cause "severe" disruption to daily life in the U.S., public health officials warned Tuesday.


The warning was prompted by the spread of the new virus in countries outside its epicenter, such as Iran, Japan, South Korea and Italy, NPR reported.

"It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, who leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division for immunization and respiratory diseases, said during a press release Tuesday.

Messonnier said that people in the U.S. should prepare to provide childcare in the case of school closures, arrange to work remotely and investigate the possibilities of receiving remote medical care.

"I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming and that disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things that people need to start thinking about now," she said.

So far, the new disease has sickened more than 80,000 people in 37 countries and killed more than 2,600, according to The New York Times. The U.S. has seen only 57 cases to date, and 40 of them were linked to the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was the sight of an outbreak when it docked in Japan.

"The immediate risk to the general American public remains low. But, as we have warned, that has the potential to change quickly," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during Tuesday's press conference, according to NBC News.

So far, the U.S. has responded by issuing travel restrictions and instituting the first federal quarantine in 50 years, according to NPR, but officials do not think such methods can succeed forever.

"We cannot hermetically seal off the United States to a virus," Azar told the Senate Tuesday, according to The New York Times. "And we need to be realistic about that."

Cases are falling in China, where the disease first emerged in December of 2019. Epidemiologist Bruce Aylward said this spoke to the effectiveness of steps taken in the country to fight the disease, such as locking down impacted cities and building new hospitals.

"The implications are that you can actually effect the course of this disease, but it takes a very aggressive and tough program," Aylward said at a Word Health Organization (WHO) press conference Tuesday reported by ABC News.

At the same time, the illness has begun to spread outside China. New clusters have emerged in Iran, where 95 cases and 15 deaths have been confirmed, and in Italy, which has reported 322 cases and 10 deaths as of Tuesday. Public health officials want Americans to be prepared for similar outbreaks in U.S. communities.

"We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare with the expectation that this could be bad," Messonnier said, as NPR reported.

Despite the warnings of his own health officials, President Donald Trump has downplayed the risk of the disease.

"You may ask about the coronavirus, which is very well under control in our country," he said while visiting India, according to The New York Times. "We have very few people with it, and the people that have it are, in all cases, I have not heard anything other — the people are getting better, they're all getting better."

Some have expressed concerns that the administration's cuts to public health programs could hamper the U.S. response. The administration did request $2.5 billion from Congress this week to contain and fight the new virus. The money would go towards public health surveillance programs, testing for the disease and vaccine development, according to NBC News.

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the request "long overdue and completely inadequate to the scale of this emergency."

She pointed out that Trump's recent budget had included cuts to CDC funding."Weeks after the #TrumpBudget called for slashing the CDC budget during this coronavirus epidemic, this undersized funding request shows an ongoing failure to understand urgent public health needs," she said.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

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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