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Millions of Americans Face Water Shutoffs During Pandemic

Health + Wellness
Millions of Americans Face Water Shutoffs During Pandemic
The CDC has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Guido Mieth / Moment / Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control has emphasized that washing hands with soap and water is one of the most effective measures we can take in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, millions of Americans in some of the most vulnerable communities face the prospect of having their water shut off during the lockdowns, according to The Guardian.


Nearly 40 percent of Americans live in areas that rely on water utilities, which have not stopped the policy of shutoffs for non-payment, according to data from and Water Watch (FWW) and The Guardian.

"This is an emergency and the priority is to stop the spread so this is a no brainer, everyone must have access to water … this should not be a partisan issue," said congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, who is pushing federal intervention, as The Guardian reported.

Millions of Americans have been laid off or furloughed during massive social distancing measures, stretching monthly budgets and forcing families to make tradeoffs about which household expenses to pay for.

"As unemployment reaches record highs, millions of Americans are going to have to choose between paying for food, rent and bills … water is not something people should have to tradeoff," said Mary Grant, director of water at FWW to The Guardian.

Water shutoffs have affected Detroit for years. Detroit started the policy in 2014 and has recorded about 127,500 total service cutoffs for households behind on payments, according to the water department, as the AP reported. Michigan has the sixth highest total of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the country.

"In this pandemic, it's the people who are living on the margins of society and the poorest of our society that's being the most adversely impacted," said Rev. Roslyn Bouier, who runs Detroit's Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry, to the AP.

"Access to clean water is a basic human right at all times, but any action that restricts families' access to water during the current coronavirus outbreak would be reckless in the extreme," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Frank Pallone, D-NJ, and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, D-OR, said in a statement to the utility companies, as Food Safety News reported.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order that requires the re-connection of shut off water service. She also started a $2 million grant program to help communities comply with the order, according to WXYZ in Detroit.

"This is a critical step both for the health of families living without a reliable water source, and for slowing the spread of the Coronavirus," Whitmer said in a release, as WXYZ reported. "We continue to work to provide all Michiganders – regardless of their geography or income level – the tools they need to keep themselves and their communities protected."

The highest rates of water shutoffs are in southern and rural states, with the large concentrations in Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Oklahoma. In New Orleans, which has the fourth highest rate of infections per capita, only 300 homes have been reconnected and the city does not seem to know how many more people are without water, according to The Guardian.


"It's a package of related factors – institutional racism, environmental injustice, and poverty – which means communities most vulnerable to Covid-19 are the same communities most vulnerable to water shutoffs," said Grant to The Guardian.

House Democrats proposed a bill that included a $1.5 billion allocation to help cover water bills for low-income families and also would ban utility shutoffs during the pandemic, according to the AP. Additionally, The Guardian reported that last week, Nancy Pelosi signaled plans to propose $85 billion earmarked for water projects in a forthcoming infrastructure bill to stimulate economic recovery.

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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