US Approaches 4.9 Million Coronavirus Cases

The number of COVID-19 cases around the world continues its steady climb with more than 19.1 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University.  The U.S. continues to have more cases than any place else with nearly 4.9 million, followed by Brazil with 2.9 million and India with two million.Vaccine prospects
The top U.S. infectious disease expert says the world will never be able to eradicate the coronavirus, but he is hopeful hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine could be available by the end of this year. “There will be, I think, enough vaccine if everything turns out to be successful,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren. “To get vaccine not only to the countries that are the classical rich countries but those who are low and middle income that would not be able to readily have access to a vaccine. That’s what we’re hoping to do.” But Fauci has said in the past that there’s no guarantee a vaccine will give long-term protection against COVID-19 since it is a new coronavirus and scientists are still learning about it. In a separate interview with Reuters, Fauci said the reason the virus will never go away is because of its “highly transmissible” nature. But he said with “the combination of a good vaccine and attention to public health measures … then I think we can get behind this.” According to Johns Hopkins University, there were more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States over the past 24 hours as of Thursday night – the highest one-day number since early May.Student suspended for posting mask-less gathering online
At least one student was suspended at a high school in the southern U.S. state of Georgia for posting a photograph online of a crowded hallway, showing most of the students not wearing masks. Dr. Harry Heiman, a clinical associate professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health told the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper after seeing the photograph that ”It’s not a question of if that’s going to cause spread of the pandemic. It’s only a question of how quickly and to how many people.”Superintendent Brian Otott said the school staff had worked hard to create a safe return for the students.  He said most of the school’s hallways were one way, but the one in the photograph had students moving in both directions to cut down on student travel time between classes.  Students and staff are not required to wear masks at the school, a proven way to curb the spreading of the virus. FILE – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks during an interview at the Governor’s Residence in Columbus, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2019.Ohio governor tests positive, then negative
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican, canceled plans to meet with President Donald Trump in Cleveland on Thursday when he got word that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and immediately went into quarantine.  In a second more sensitive COVID-19 test administered later Thursday in Columbus, DeWine tested negative for the coronavirus, according to the governor’s office.International travel restrictions liftedThe U.S. State Department and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted the recommendation to Americans to avoid all global travel and replaced it with a number of high-level warnings against heading to individual nations. “With health and safety conditions improving in some countries and potentially deteriorating in others, the department is returning to our previous system of country-specific levels of travel advice,” the State Department said. Thirty countries are on the Level Four “Do Not Travel” list, including India, Russia, Egypt, Libya, Honduras and Kazakhstan.Vietnam, Liberia, Armenia, the Philippines and the entire European Union are in the Level 3: Reconsider Travel category, even though the E.U. is currently closed to Americans. Travel Safely Ambassador Carlos Hernandez hands out face masks to an airline passenger at LAX airport, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles, California.Discussions about European travel
The U.S. and E.U. are in talks to allow Americans to once again visit Europe.  In Europe, Britain has added Andorra, the Bahamas and Belgium to the list of countries whose visitors must enter a 14-day quarantine when arriving in the U.K.And Norwegian Prime Minister Ern Solberg said the country is canceling plans to ease coronavirus restrictions because of a slight rise in the number of cases.“We need to slow down now to avoid a full stop down the road,” Solberg told reporters Thursday.Among the measures that are now suspended was a plan to allow some travel from several non-European countries, which has been banned since March.  

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US Forecasters: Atlantic Hurricane Season to Get Stronger

The already record-breaking 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is going to get worse, and forecasters could run out of names for storms, government meteorologists say.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its forecast Thursday and is now predicting up to 25 named storms with as many as 11 becoming hurricanes and possibly six building into major hurricanes with winds of 178 kilometers per hour or stronger.An average number of Atlantic storms is 12.”First and foremost, oceanic and atmospheric conditions are now even more hospitable for hurricane formation and intensification,” lead hurricane forecaster Gerry Bell said. “These conditions are predicted to continue for the next several months. Also, weather and climate models are all now indicating an even higher potential for an extremely active season.”NOAA says if the updated forecast pans out, it will run out of names for storms. If that happens, names would be taken from the Greek alphabet.Hurricane Isaias, which hit the Eastern Seaboard this week, was the earliest storm to start with the letter “I” since storms started getting names in 1950.The U.S. Atlantic hurricane season traditionally runs from June 1 until November 30. Weather experts say the most powerful storms usually come in September.

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Trump Executive Order Requires Government to Buy ‘Essential’ Drugs From US Firms 

U.S. President Donald Trump is planning to sign an order Thursday requiring the government to buy “essential” drugs from American companies rather than from overseas producers, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro announced. 
 
“If we’ve learned anything from the China virus pandemic,” Navarro told reporters Thursday, “it is that we are dangerously over-dependent on foreign nations for our essential medicines, for medical supplies like masks, gloves, goggles and medical equipment like ventilators.” 
 
He said Trump would sign the order on a visit to a manufacturing plant in Ohio, a key midwestern state in the president’s bid for a second term in the Nov. 3 national election against former Vice President Joe Biden. 
 
Trump won Ohio by 8 percentage points in his 2016 upset victory but polls show a tight race with Biden. 
 
Navarro said the order would require the U.S. government to develop a list of essential medicines and buy them from U.S. companies instead of from such foreign countries as China. 
 
He said Americans “must have access to life-saving medications, particularly as we fight this battle against the invisible enemy from China.” Early in the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned American consumers there could be disruptions to the medical supplies, including shortages of prescription drugs. 
 
Navarro said the order “establishes buy American rules for our government agencies, strips away regulatory barriers to domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing,” and it also could boost manufacturing technologies needed to keep drug prices low. 
 
Trump last month announced a $765 million deal with Kodak to produce ingredients needed to manufacture generic drugs, which now are often bought from overseas companies. 

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Is It Safe to Reopen Schools During Pandemic?

It depends on how widespread COVID-19 infections are in the community and the safety measures the school takes. In areas where the virus is poorly controlled, public health experts say in-person education would be too risky.
In areas where the virus appears to be under control, experts say schools still need to make adjustments to minimize risk when reopening. A sustained decline in cases and a positive case rate of less than 2% are among the signs the virus is under control, some experts say.
But given the many lingering unknowns about the virus, school districts are approaching the school year in a variety of ways.
Evidence suggests young children don’t spread the disease very easily, while kids aged 10 and up may transmit as easily as adults. But experts say more conclusive proof is needed.
And even though children appear less likely to get infected than adults, and less likely to become seriously ill when they do, severe cases and deaths have occurred.
Children and teens often have only mild illness or no symptoms when infected. That means they could unknowingly pose a risk to other students — who may pass the virus on to their parents and grandparents — or to teachers and other adults who might be vulnerable to severe illness if infected.
To reduce risk, experts say schools should make adjustments when resuming in-person classes.
Recommended safety measures include wearing face coverings in schools and limiting movement so kids stay in the same classroom all day. Placing desks several feet apart is also advised.
Canceling assemblies, cafeteria meals and other gatherings also helps, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some Scandinavian countries with far fewer cases than in the United States reopened schools with adjustments, and have had no outbreaks tied to schools. But in Israel, schools that reopened when virus activity was low ended up shutting down a few weeks later when cases spiked in the community, including among students and teachers.
In the U.S., some school districts are planning a mix of in-person classes and online learning to help maintain social distancing. Other districts, such as those in Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles, are starting classes online only.

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A First Diagnosis of Cancer in a Dinosaur

Canadian researchers have discovered the first known case of cancer in a dinosaur, according to a study published in the August issue of the scientific journal The Lancet Oncology.A leg bone from a Centrosaurus was discovered by paleontologists in 1989 in the Canadian province of Alberta.Experts initially believed that the deformed bone had suffered a fracture that healed.But recent examinations, under a microscope and using advanced technologies, such as high-resolution tomography, revealed that a lump on the bone, the size of an apple, was in fact a cancerous tumor.”The dinosaurs did not have an easy life, many of them had healing fractures, or bone infections,” one of the study’s authors, Mark Crowther, told AFP.On such ancient bones, “finding evidence of cancer is difficult”, he emphasizes: most tumors develop in soft tissue, poorly preserved by fossilization.Fine analysis of the bone of the prehistoric herbivore revealed a surprise: “oddly, under the microscope, it looked a lot like human osteosarcoma,” a malignant tumor of the bones, says Crowther.”It’s fascinating to see that this cancer existed tens of millions of years ago and still exists,” notes the researcher, who heads the faculty of medicine at McMaster University in Ontario.The tumor of this Centrosaurus, a horned herbivore that lived 76 to 77 million years ago, probably caused metastases that made this giant lizard limp, say the study’s authors.However, the researchers believe that it was not this cancer that killed the Centrosaurus: the bone of its leg was found among a hundred bones in the same herd, probably swept away by a sudden disaster, such as a flood.“The discovery of this cancer makes dinosaurs more real,” says Crowther. “We often imagine them as mythical creatures, walking with a heavy and robust step, but (…) they suffered from diseases like humans.””By discovering an example dating back more than 75 million years, we realize that (cancer) is part of life,” he concludes. “You have an animal that surely did not smoke, so this shows that cancer is not a recent invention, and that it is not exclusively linked to our environment.” 

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Penguin Poop Spotted from Space Reveals Hidden Colonies

British scientists say there are more emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica than previously thought based on evidence of bird droppings spotted from space.  
 
A study published Wednesday by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey counted 61 emperor penguin colonies dotted around the southernmost continent, 11 more than the number previously confirmed.  
 
Scientists used images from Europe’s Sentinel-2 satellite mission to look for smudges on the ice that indicated large amounts of guano, or penguin poop.Markings points to a patch of penguin guano on an image captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite mission Nov. 7, 2016. 
The majestic emperor penguin breeds in remote areas where temperatures can drop as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit). Researchers have long relied on aerial photographs and satellites to spot colonies of the flightless marine birds.  
 
Peter Fretwell, a British Antarctic Survey geographer and the study’s lead author, called the latest count “good news” but noted that the newly spotted colonies were small.  
 
“(They) only take the overall population count up by 5-10% to just over half a million penguins or around 265,500 – 278,500 breeding pairs,” he said.  
 
Emperor penguins are vulnerable to the loss of sea ice predicted to occur because of man-made global warming. Some researchers suggest the number of colonies could drop by more than 30% by the end of the century.  
 
Some of the newly discovered colonies are located far offshore, on sea ice that has formed around grounded icebergs and which is particularly at risk of disappearing.

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Study: Heatwaves May Force Fish to Flee Huge Distances

Fish and other marine life may have to flee thousands of kilometers to escape damaging heatwaves, according to research published Wednesday, highlighting the scale of disruption caused by these increasing surges in ocean temperatures.  
 
Hot spells can cause dramatic changes to ocean ecosystems, devastating coral habitats, killing large numbers of seabirds and forcing species like fish, whales and turtles into colder waters.    
 
Researchers said the increasing number of marine heatwaves are a sudden shock to local ecosystems whose effects can last months or in some cases years.  
 
They are an additional stress on oceans that are also seeing long-term warming, says the study published in the journal Nature.  
 
The researchers looked at how far a species caught in a marine heatwave would have to travel to get back to a normal water temperature, in what they term “thermal displacement”.   
 
Previous research focused on measuring the intensity of the temperature change at the location of the heatwave and the effects on static habitats, like kelp forests and coral reefs, researchers said.    
 
Thermal displacement “adds a new dimension” to our understanding of these heatwaves, lead author Michael Jacox of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told AFP.  
 
“It’s important because we know that many marine species can quickly move long distances to find favorable habitat. They won’t just stay in place when the water is too hot, so the question is how far must they go to find cooler water?” he said.   
 37 years of heatwaves 
 
To answer this, researchers analyzed data of marine heatwaves from 1982 to 2019 and looked at the species displacement associated with these events.  
 
In some areas, cooler water would not be far away, such as where different regions of the ocean meet.   
 
But in tropical waters, where variations in temperatures are relatively small, the study found that species would have to travel more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) to find suitable habitat.  
 
This fast-moving displacement of sea life has broad implications, Jacox said.     
 
“Some of the most mobile species — many fish, whales, and turtles — hold great value for humans, whether it’s for fisheries, tourism, or from a conservation perspective,” he said.   
‘The Blob’
 
In 2011, a 10-week ocean heatwave off western Australia shattered the local underwater ecosystem and pushed commercial fish species into colder waters.  
 
At the end of 2013 an unusually warm patch of water that became known as “The Blob” appeared near Alaska and began to expand, stretching all the way to Baja California around 4,000 kilometers away by late 2015.  
 
This vast marine heatwave caused mass strandings of marine mammals and seabirds along the west coast of the United States and Canada and killed off swathes of seagrass meadows and kelp forests.  
 
“Warm-water species such as thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, and mahi mahi [aka dolphinfish] were sighted farther north than ever before,” said a 2016 report on “The Blob” in the peer-reviewed magazine Oceanography.   
 
Mark Payne of the Technical University of Denmark said marine heatwaves were some “of the most visible signs of an ocean under stress”, in a commentary in Nature.   
 
He noted that species may not always be able to find a suitable habitat to relocate to, or are unable or unwilling to move, such as parents guarding young.   
 
But he said that the study by Jacox and colleagues — which he was not involved in — “expands our perspectives” of these heating events.  
 
These are “expected to increase dramatically in the future, given that the increases are linked to climate change”.  
 
Last year, research published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated that climate change would empty the ocean of nearly a fifth of all living creatures, measured by mass, by the end of the century.

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Virgin Galactic Plans to Build Next Generation Supersonic Commercial Aircraft

Entrepreneur Richard Branson’s aerospace company, Virgin Galactic, announced Monday that it is working with British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce to develop an aircraft that can travel three times the speed of sound.According to a release, Virgin Galactic says its new aircraft will be designed to carry between 9 and 19 people and will be able to “integrate into existing airport infrastructure.”  The company released images of designs of the aircraft, which is fashioned similarly to the Concorde supersonic aircraft, which Rolls-Royce also worked on in the 1960s.  Concorde was retired in 2003.Virgin Galactic said it completed its Mission Concept Review (MCR) and received authorization from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation. The MCR describes a plane that can travel more than 3,700 kilometers per hour at altitudes higher than 18,000 meters, literally to the edge of space.Earlier this year, Virgin Galactic signed what it called “a space act” agreement with the U.S. space agency, NASA, to encourage commercial orbital space flight to the International space station, and to collaborate on high speed technology for lower orbit travel.  The company says it is also working on developing “sustainable” aviation fuel for the aircraft.

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UN Chief Warns of ‘Generational Catastrophe’ as COVID-19 Pandemic Creates Crisis in Education

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says with schools being forced to shut their doors because of the coronavirus pandemic, the world is facing a “generational catastrophe.” Guterres made the comments Tuesday during a video briefing to launch a new U.N. campaign dubbed In this file photo taken on Feb. 8, 2020, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference at the African Union headquarters.The head of the world body said that as of mid-July, more than 1 billion children in at least 160 countries are missing out on formal studies, while at least 40 million children have missed out on pre-school.  Guterres said disabled students, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind. The secretary-general noted the world was already in a “learning crisis” before the pandemic, with 250 million children worldwide out of school.  “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities,”  he said.FILE – Fairfax County Public School buses are lined up at a maintenance facility in Lorton, Va., July 24, 2020.Guterres said getting students back in classrooms “must be a top priority” once the COVID-19 outbreak has been brought under control.  He also called for greater investment in education, with low- and middle-income countries facing an annual funding gap of $1.5 trillion prior to the pandemic, including investments in “digital literacy and infrastructure.” The U.N. chief also said education initiatives must be geared towards those at greatest risk of being left behind.  FILE – Students wear face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in their classroom at the Jean Benoit College in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on June 1, 2020.With the number of confirmed cases around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, now past 18.2 million — and the number of deaths nearing the 700,000 mark — the director of the World Health Organization has warned there may never be a “silver bullet” for stopping the spread of the coronavirus. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom told reporters Monday that while a number of vaccines are now in late-stage trials, all countries and individuals should employ a  “do it all” strategy — listing testing, contact tracing, social distancing and wearing masks — as some of the necessary things that must continue to be done to stop the spread of the virus.      “A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection. However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be”-People line up to enter a supermarket hours before a citywide curfew is introduced in Melbourne, Australia, Aug. 2, 2020.Health officials reported 429 new infections and 13 deaths Monday in Victoria state, which includes Melbourne.  Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews declared Melbourne a COVID-19 disaster on Sunday.     In addition to closing most stores, other industries such as construction and meat production will have to limit their operations starting Friday.   FILE – Police stop drivers at a checkpoint, set up in response to the state of Victoria’s surge in coronavirus disease cases and resulting suburb lockdowns, in Melbourne, Australia, July 2, 2020.Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said Tuesday that an additional 500 military personnel will be deployed to the state this week to help local authorities enforce the new stay-at-home orders, including a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew.  Andrews also said anyone caught violating the orders will face more than $3,500 in fines.  Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday that workers in Victoria who do not have paid sick leave and have to isolate themselves will be eligible to receive a payment of about $1,000.     Parents and students arrive in their vehicles for health screenings and temperature checks before moving into residence halls at West Virginia State University campus, July 31, 2020, in Institute, West Virginia.In the United States, which has about one-fourth of the world’s confirmed coronavirus cases, negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats failed again on Monday to reach agreement on a new aid package that would include federal money to help the millions of people who are unemployed.      Many Americans have lost their jobs during the pandemic, due to lockdown restrictions and new consumer habits that have badly hurt the economy. A previous round of federal aid that provided $600 a week to the unemployed expired last week.      The talks come as the United States deals with an ongoing surge in cases that began in June and pushed leaders in some states to reinstate some of the restrictions they had lifted in hopes that economic activity could return without a resurgence of the virus.     President Donald Trump holds up a signed Executive Order on hiring American workers, during a meeting with U.S. tech workers, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Aug. 3, 2020, in Washington.U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters Monday a “permanent lockdown” policy is not a “viable path forward” in combating the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that other countries have seen a resurgence in cases after lockdowns.  The president lashed out earlier Monday at Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, who said the U.S. had entered a “new phase” of the pandemic during an interview the day before on the U.S. cable news network, CNN.  Trump said Dr. Birx’s comments  that the coronavirus is spreading uncontrollably were meant to appease House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has criticized the administration’s handling of the crisis.  The president tweeted that Birx “took the bait” and called her “pathetic.”  So Crazy Nancy Pelosi said horrible things about Dr. Deborah Birx, going after her because she was too positive on the very good job we are doing on combatting the China Virus, including Vaccines & Therapeutics. In order to counter Nancy, Deborah took the bait & hit us. Pathetic!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) FILE – White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx listens as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, left, speaks at the White House, April 29, 2020, in Washington.Fauci said Birx was referring to “community spread,” meaning the virus is spreading randomly instead of being concentrated in one spot.   “When you have community spread, it’s much more difficult to get your arms around that and contain it,”  Dr. Fauci said.    Richard Green, Megan Duzor, Chris Hannas    contributed to this report.     

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Coronavirus Numbers Drop in Egypt and Sudan; Libya, Tunisia and Algeria See Increases

Egypt is reopening churches for the first time in nearly four months, after a major decline in the number of recorded coronavirus cases in recent days. The number of new cases is also down in Sudan, while Libya, Tunisia and Algeria have been witnessing an increase.Worshippers gathered for the first church service in nearly four months in Egypt’s historic port city of Alexandria. Authorities reopened churches across the country on Monday.Those attending appeared to abide by strict safety rules regarding social distancing and the use of face masks.Mosques are open on weekdays but remain closed for Friday prayers and major holidays.Egypt’s Health Ministry indicated Sunday that there were just 167 new cases during the previous 24 hours and only 31 deaths. Figures for new cases have fallen dramatically in recent days, prompting the government to relax a number of restrictions.Neighboring Sudan has also witnessed a relative drop in the number of cases in recent days with under 100 new cases per day for most of the past week.Nearby Libya, however, is witnessing a rise in the number of new infections, according to Arab media.Libyan news channel 218TV reported that the Islamist militia-dominated port city of Misrata has been placed under curfew by authorities after six people died of COVID-19 over the weekend. Arab media reports say that mercenaries from outside Libya have been entering the country through Misrata. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.Children wear protective face masks as they look at clothes in a shop ahead of the Eid al-Adha celebrations amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Misrata, Libya, July 28, 2020.Paul Sullivan, who is a professor at the National Defense University in Washington, told VOA that he thinks the recent increase in the number of cases in Libya “is likely due in part to the movement of mercenaries into the country.”He added that in periods of conflict, “social distancing takes a back seat, particularly if you are a mercenary who is not part of the community.”Meanwhile, Algeria, with a population of about 44 million people, has seen a rise in the number of cases to more than 600 a day in recent days, double the number of infections from just a month ago. The European Union suspended travel from Algeria to the EU last week due to the increase.Said Sadek, well-known Egyptian political sociologist who is now in Tunisia, told VOA that he thinks there has been a rise in the number of coronavirus infections in Tunisia and other parts of north Africa, “because many people began relaxing their behavior after the number of cases dropped.” He added, “Many family members visit from France and other parts of Europe, bringing the virus back with them.”Saudi TV reported that there were “no reported cases of COVID-19” among those who participated in this year’s annual hajj, or Islamic pilgrimage. Saudi Information Minister Majed al Qasseri noted that “the extensive spread of the coronavirus and its clear danger to humanity forced Saudi Arabia to seriously limit the number of people attending this year’s pilgrimage.” 

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Egypt Fact Checks Elon Musk On Who Really Built Pyramids

Egypt’s minister of international cooperation has extended an invitation to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk after a Musk post on Twitter that the pyramids were built by extraterrestrial beings.  Musk tweeted Saturday: “Aliens built the pyramids obv.” Aliens built the pyramids obv— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) A camel in front of the Pyramids at Giza, Egypt, July 13, 2013. (A. Arabasadi/VOA)Egypt Today reports on its website that famed Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass also weighed in on the topic on social media, saying that Musk’s tweet was a “complete hallucination.” Hawass added that he had “found the tombs of the pyramids builders that tell everyone that the builders of the pyramids are Egyptians and they were not slaves.”  He said ancient Egypt’s pyramid building was “a national project of the whole nation.” Musk had an apparent change of mind and eventually provided a link on his Twitter account about the building of pyramids.  He tweeted: “This BBC article provides a sensible summary of how it was done.” 

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Mexico No. 3 in Virus Deaths; Storm Could Hinder US Response

Mexico now has the third most COVID-19 deaths in the world, behind Brazil and the United States, where a hurricane bearing down on the East Coast on Saturday is threatening to complicate efforts to contain the virus.Hurricane Isaias’ imminent arrival forced the closure of some outdoor testing sites even though Florida has become a major hot spot, and other states in the path of the storm prepared emergency shelters that comply with social-distancing measures.”We had to put safety first,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Friday.But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said no immediate evacuation orders have been given and that hospitals in general are not being evacuated of coronavirus or other patients.Meanwhile, Mexican health officials on Friday reported 688 new deaths, pushing the country’s confirmed total to over 46,600. That put Mexico just ahead of the United Kingdom, which has more than 46,100, according to the tally by Johns Hopkins University.Where Has the New Coronavirus Spread?New virus, denoted 2019-nCoV by the WHO, has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS in 2002-2003Some countries are seeing hopeful signs: China reported a more than 50% drop in newly confirmed cases in a possible indication that its latest major outbreak in the northwestern region of Xinjiang may have run its course.However, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, infections continue to surge. Hong Kong reported more than 100 new cases as of Saturday among the population of 7.5 million. Officials have reimposed dining restrictions and mask requirements.Tokyo on Saturday saw its third day straight of record case numbers, the metropolitan government said. Nationwide, Japan’s daily count of cases totaled a record 1,579 people Friday, the health ministry said.And Vietnam, a former success story, is struggling to control an outbreak spreading in its most famous beach resort. A third person died there of coronavirus complications, officials said Saturday, a day after it recorded its first-ever death as it wrestles with a renewed outbreak after 99 days with no local cases.All three died in a hospital in Da Nang, a hot spot with more than 100 cases in the past week. Thousands of visitors had been in the city for summer vacation and are now being tested in Hanoi and elsewhere.Twelve additional cases were confirmed on Saturday, all linked to Da Nang Hospital. Officials tightened security and set up more checkpoints to prevent people from leaving or entering the city, which has been in lockdown since Tuesday.A makeshift hospital was set up, and doctors have been mobilized from other cities to help.”I want to be tested, so I can stop worrying if I have the virus or not,” said Pham Thuy Hoa, a banking official who returned to the capital from Da Nang.In South Korea, prosecutors arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect linked to more than 5,200 of the country’s approximately 14,300 confirmed cases. He has denied charges of hiding members and underreporting gatherings to avoid broader quarantines.The global pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of this year’s Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, with as few as 1,000 pilgrims already residing in Saudi Arabia taking part, down from 2.5 million last year.Poverty brought on by the pandemic is also making it harder for many to join in the four-day Eid al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice,” in which Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor.”I could hardly buy food for my family,” Somali civil servant Abdishakur Dahir said. “We are just surviving for now. Life is getting tougher by the day.”The Saudi Health Ministry said there have been no cases of COVID-19 among this year’s pilgrims. All were tested, their movements monitored with electronic wristbands and required to be quarantined before and after.Meanwhile, India recorded its steepest spike of 57,118 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its coronavirus caseload close to 1.7 million, with July alone accounting for nearly 1.1 million infections.The country’s Civil Aviation Ministry delayed resumption of international flights by another month until Aug. 31. But it will continue to allow several international carriers from the United States, Europe and the Middle East to operate special flights to evacuate stranded nationals.In France, travelers entering from 16 countries where the virus is circulating widely now must undergo virus tests upon arrival at airports and ports. The country is not permitting general travel to and from the countries, which include the United States and Brazil. The testing requirement therefore only applies to people entering under limited circumstances, including French citizens who live in these countries. Those who test positive as of Saturday must quarantine for 14 days.As autumn approaches, nations around the world are grappling with how to safely reopen schools.A scientist advising the British government on the coronavirus pandemic says pubs in England may have to be closed to allow schools to reopen in September. Graham Medley, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the BBC that there may have to be a “trade off.”In Utah, the Salt Lake City School District Board of Education announced that its schools will start the year with all online-only classes in response to an increasing number of confirmed cases in the city. Just days after public schools around Indiana reopened their doors, at least one student and one school staff member in districts around Indianapolis have tested positive for the virus.The debate over school openings came as Dr. Anthony Fauci dismissed a tweet by President Donald Trump claiming the U.S. global lead in coronavirus cases is because of increased testing.Fauci ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Coronavirus VaccineTop US infectious-disease expert tells lawmakers vaccine could be available in coming monthsFauci said the scale of the U.S. outbreak is the result of multiple factors, including some states opening up too quickly and disregarding federal guidelines.On Friday, the head of the World Health Organization predicted the effects of the pandemic will be felt for “decades to come.””Most of the world’s people remain susceptible to this virus, even in areas that have experienced severe outbreaks,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in London. “Although vaccine development is happening at record speed, we must learn to live with this virus.”

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Astronauts Face Final Leg of SpaceX Test Flight: Coming Home

A pair of NASA astronauts face the final and most important part of their SpaceX test flight: returning to Earth with a rare splashdown.Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took part in a farewell ceremony Saturday at the International Space Station, several hours ahead of their planned departure on a SpaceX Dragon capsule.  Despite approaching Hurricane Isaias, NASA said the weather looks favorable for a Sunday afternoon splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico near Panama City, Florida. It will be the first splashdown for astronauts in 45 years. The last time was following the joint U.S.-Soviet mission in 1975 known as Apollo-Soyuz.The astronauts’ homecoming will cap a two-month mission that ended a prolonged launch drought in the U.S., which has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the end of the shuttle era.  In launching Hurley and Behnken from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit. Now SpaceX is on the verge of becoming the first company to bring people back from orbit.  “The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important is bringing us home,” Behnken said.  A successful splashdown, Behnken said, will bring U.S.-crew launching capability “full circle.”This photo provided by NASA shows, from left, front, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the International Space Station, Aug. 1, 2020. Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to leave the station in a SpaceX capsule Saturday and splashdown Sunday.Space station commander Chris Cassidy, who will remain on board with two Russians until October, presented Hurley with the small U.S. flag left behind by the previous astronauts to launch to the space station from U.S. soil, in July 2011. Hurley was the pilot of that final shuttle mission.The flag — which also flew on the first shuttle flight in 1981 — became a prize for the company that launched astronauts first.  Elon Musk’s SpaceX easily beat Boeing, which isn’t expected to launch its first crew until next year and will land in the U.S. Southwest. The flag has one more flight after this one: to the moon on NASA’s Artemis program in the next few years.”We’re a little sad to see them go,” Cassidy said, “but very excited for what it means to our international space program to add this capability” of commercial crew capsules. The next SpaceX crew flight is targeted for the end of September.Hurley and Behnken also are bringing back a sparkly blue and purple dinosaur named Tremor. Their young sons chose the toy to accompany their fathers on the historic mission.

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Mexico Replaces UK As Country With 3rd Highest COVID Deaths

There are more than 17.6 million worldwide COVID-19 cases, according to Johns Hopkins statistics.  The U.S. continues to lead in the number of infections with more than 4.5 million, followed by Brazil with 2.6 million cases, and India with almost 1.7 million.Mexico has replaced Britain as the country with the third largest number of deaths from COVID-19. Johns Hopkins says Mexico now has reported 46,688 deaths.The U.S. leads the world in the number of deaths from the virus with more than 153,000, followed by Brazil with more than 92,000.Where Has the New Coronavirus Spread?New virus, denoted 2019-nCoV by the WHO, has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS in 2002-2003Russia is gearing up to launch a mass vaccination campaign against the coronavirus in September or October.  News media reports quote sources as saying the vaccine was developed at a state research facility.   Scientific data about the vaccine or test results have not been released.In South Korea, the leader of a secretive religious sect linked to more than 5,200 of the country’s more than 14,000 COVID cases has been arrested. Lee Man-hee has denied allegations that he hid members and underreported the sect’s activities in an effort to avoided quarantines.The coronavirus has burned through a summer sleep-away camp in the U.S. state of Georgia, perhaps providing a cautionary tale for school districts currently weighing the pros and con of reopening in the COVID era.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a study that the camp observed the suggestions the agency provided but did not require the children to wear masks.  Only the staff members were required to wear masks.   A teenage staffer fell ill shortly after the camp opened.
A COVID diagnosis was confirmed the next day and the camp began sending the children home that day.  The CDC had tests results for only 344 of the 597 campers and 76% of them were positive.  The infection rate could have been higher since the CDC did not have results for everyone.The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told lawmakers Friday on Capitol Hill he is “cautiously optimistic” a coronavirus vaccine would be available in the coming months, as infectious continue to rise at an alarming rate in the U.S.”We hope at the time we get into the late fall and early winter, we will have in fact a vaccine that we can say will be safe and effective,” Fauci said before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “One can never guarantee the safety and effectiveness unless you do the trial, but we are cautiously optimistic.”Fauci ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Coronavirus VaccineTop US infectious-disease expert tells lawmakers vaccine could be available in coming monthsFauci said a Phase 3 trial, the last phase of the vaccine approval process, recently got underway.Fauci also cautioned against importing vaccines made in Russia or China due to concerns over safety.At the hearing’s open, panel chairman Democrat James Clyburn and the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Steve Scalise, clashed over whether the Trump administration has a national strategy to contain the coronavirus crisis.”The administration’s approach to deferring to states, sidelining experts and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths,” Clyburn said. “In fact, the United States response stands out as among the worst of any country in the world.”Scalise dismissed Clyburn’s assessment, arguing with a stack of documents in hand that the administration has, indeed, issued guidance to the country about how to contain the pandemic.”These are just a few of the documents that your agencies have published to show states how to safely reopen, to show schools how to safely reopen, to show nursing homes how to care for their patients,” Scalise said to Fauci and the other government experts at the hearing.”If all governors would have followed those guidelines, thousands more seniors in nursing homes would be alive today, if just five governors would have followed your plan that was developed President Trump,” Scalise added.Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also testified Friday, saying it was in the “public health best interest” for K-12 schools to reopen.He also discussed a decision by the Trump administration to direct all hospitals to send all coronavirus data to a database in Washington and thus passing the CDC. Redfield said he did not know of the decision until after it was made.US Health Experts: COVID-19 Vaccine Could be Ready by 2021US has topped 150,000 deaths from COVID-19In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday he was delaying plans to ease lockdown measures by at least two weeks after the country reported its highest number of new COVID cases since late June.British Minister for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said a second wave of the virus is rolling across Europe and that Britain must defend against it.British authorities added Luxembourg to the country’s quarantine list, meaning travelers from there must isolate for 14 days after entering Britain. Spain, which had been dropped from the list, has been reinstated and other countries may be added.Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, reimposed a two-week lockdown on Thursday after a surge in new confirmed COVID-19 cases. The increase came as the WHO warned against easing coronavirus restrictions throughout Africa. The WHO says the number of infections on the continent has doubled in the past month.”We are concerned that … we will see an increase in cases as we have seen in [other] countries” where restrictions have been eased too soon,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.She said more than 20 African countries have recorded more new cases than in the previous weeks, with South Africa accounting for the most but increases also reported in Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe.Moeti said Uganda, Seychelles and Mauritius are doing well in controlling the virus.

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Early in Pandemic, Frantic Doctors Traded Tips Across Oceans

Amid the chaos of the pandemic’s early days, doctors who faced the first coronavirus onslaught reached across oceans and language barriers in an unprecedented effort to advise colleagues trying to save lives in the dark.With no playbook to follow and no time to wait for research, YouTube videos describing autopsy findings and X-rays swapped on Twitter and WhatsApp spontaneously filled the gap.When Stephen Donelson arrived at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in mid-March, Dr. Kristina Goff was among those who turned to what she called “the stories out of other places that were hit before.”Donelson’s family hadn’t left the house in two weeks after COVID-19 started spreading in Texas, hoping to shield the organ transplant recipient. Yet one night, his wife found him barely breathing, his skin turning blue, and called 911.In New York or Italy, where hospitals were overflowing, Goff thinks Donelson wouldn’t even have qualified for a then-precious ventilator. But in Dallas, “we pretty much threw everything we could at him,” she said.Like doctors everywhere, Goff was at the beginning of a huge and daunting learning curve.”It’s a tsunami. Something that if you don’t experience it directly, you can’t understand,” Italian Dr. Pier Giorgio Villani said in a series of webinars on six straight Tuesday evenings to alert other intensive care units what to expect. They started just two weeks after Italy’s first hospitalized patient arrived in his ICU, and 10 days before Donelson fell ill in Texas.Villani, who works in the northern city of Lodi, described a battle to accommodate the constant flow of people needing breathing tubes. “We had 10, 12, 15 patients to intubate and an ICU with seven patients already intubated,” he said.The video sessions, organized by an Italian association of ICUs, GiViTI, and the non-profit Mario Negri Institute and later posted on YouTube, constitute an oral history of Italy’s outbreak as it unfolded, narrated by the first doctors in Europe to fight the coronavirus.
Italian friends spread the word to doctors abroad and translations began for colleagues in Spain, France, Russia and the U.S., all bracing their own ICUs for a flood of patients.
They offered “a privileged window into the future,” said Dr. Diego Casali of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who is from northern Italy and was directed to the webinars when he sought advice from a front-line friend about how to prepare.Dr. Jane Muret of the French Society of Anesthesia-Resuscitation also heard by word-of-mouth and, impressed by the breathing-tube lessons, posted a translation when France had only a handful of diagnosed COVID-19 cases.”Now we can recognize our COVID patients” when they start showing up, she said.
Every tidbit about the newest baffling symptom, every trick to try, served as clues as the virus bore down on the next city, the next country. By the time Donelson arrived, Goff’s hospital was adjusting ventilator care based on that early advice.But while grateful for the global swirl of information, Goff also struggled to make sense of conflicting experiences.”You have no idea how to interpret what went right or what went wrong,” she said, “or was it just the native course of the disease?”Even now, months into a pandemic first wave that’s more like constantly shifting tides, Goff is humbled at how difficult it remains to predict who will live and who will die. She can’t explain why Donelson, finally home after a 90-day ordeal, was ultimately one of the lucky ones.COVID-19 patient Stephen Donelson is applauded by family and health care professionals as he departs the Zale Hospital on the UT Southwestern Campus in Dallas, June 19, 2020.Doctors in Italy were confused: Reports from China were suggesting a death rate of about 3% among those infected. But for the first 18 days, only the dead left the ICU at Bergamo’s large Pope John XXIII Hospital.While the toll eventually dropped, 30% of the hospital’s initial 510 COVID-19 patients died.After decades in practice, ICU chief Dr. Luca Lorini thought he knew how to treat the dangerous kind of respiratory failure — called ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome — first thought to be the main threat.”Every night, I would go home, and I had the doubt that I had gotten something wrong,” Lorini said. “Try to imagine: I am all alone and I can’t compare it with France because the virus wasn’t there, or Spain or the U.K. or America, or with anyone who is closer to me than China.”Only later would it become clear that for patients sick enough to need the ICU, death rates were indeed staggeringly high.By February, China had filed only a limited number of medical journal reports on how patients were faring. Lorini’s hospital tried to fill the data gap by dividing patients into small groups to receive different forms of supportive care and comparing them every three or four days — not a scientific study, but some real-time information to share.
The first lessons: The coronavirus wasn’t causing typical ARDS, and patients consequently needed gentler ventilation than normal. They also needed to stay on those ventilators far longer than usual.”We made big errors,” Villani said, weaning patients off machines too soon.
Then mid-March brought another startling surprise: In a training video for U.S. cardiologists, Chinese doctors warned that the virus causes dangerous blood clots, and not just in the lungs.Dr. Bin Cao of the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing explained that as the virus sneaks past the lungs into the bloodstream, it damages the lining of blood vessels, forming clots in the heart, kidneys, “all over the body.” He urged American doctors to use blood thinners protectively in the severely ill.In Italy’s epicenter, doctors were making the same discovery. Lorini described a scramble to get the word out via Skype and email. “This is a vascular sickness more than a pulmonary one and we didn’t know that,” he said.In the U.S., the finding about blood thinners made biological sense to Dr. Tiffany Osborn, a critical care physician at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.”It means at least you’re not shooting in the dark. You’re trying something that from a physiologic standpoint makes sense,” said Osborn, who was living in a camper in her driveway to avoid bringing the virus home to her family after her long ICU shifts.By April, many doctors were bowing to pressure to try a malaria drug named hydroxychloroquine that obsessed President Donald Trump. Osborn never understood why such a drug would work and, sure enough, it eventually failed when put to a real test.But what else might be effective?”We’re learning as we go,” Osborn said. “You could talk to me in two weeks and I might be telling you something that’s really different.”FILE – In this March 12, 2020 photo, medical staff work at one of the emergency structures that were set up to ease procedures at the Brescia hospital, northern Italy.When Stephen Donelson arrived in the emergency room, “we had very little hope for him,” Goff said.The Midlothian man had undergone an organ transplant two years earlier, and the immune-suppressing drugs that prevent rejection of his new lungs and liver meant his body couldn’t fight the coronavirus. Goff’s first challenge: how to scale back those medicines just enough for Donelson to battle the virus without endangering his transplant.Her second: He was fighting against the ventilator’s artificial breaths. So Goff deeply sedated Donelson, paralyzing his muscles to let the machine do all the work.Hospital after hospital struggled with balancing how to get enough air into oxygen-starved coronavirus patients without further damaging fragile lungs.Ventilation is like “blowing air into a sponge and all the little holes are opening up. Walls between the holes can be very thin. If you’re putting in a lot of air, it can damage the lining of those little holes,” explained Osborn, the St. Louis critical care specialist.A trick the doctors shared with each other: Flip patients over from their backs to their stomachs — a procedure called proning that takes pressure off the lungs, which lie closer to the back. It also helps lower fluid accumulation in the lungs.It’s not a one-time fix. Donelson stayed on his belly about 16 hours a day early on, as his doctors watched his oxygen levels improve. It’s also hot and heavy work: Every turn took five or six health workers, in full safety garb, working in slow synchrony to avoid dislodging his breathing tube.Italy’s Alessandro Manzoni Hospital set a schedule: Start turning patients onto their bellies at 2 p.m. — it took more than three hours to work through them all — and then put them on their backs again at 8 a.m., when fresh nurses arrived.Hospitals that specialize in treating ARDS knew how to prone before COVID-19 hit. For many others, it was a brand-new skill their workers had to learn. Fast.”We’ve never had to prone anyone here before the pandemic, but now it’s like second nature,” Kevin Cole, a respiratory therapist at Fort Washington Medical Center in Maryland, said four months into the U.S. outbreak.And some hospitals now are asking patients not yet on ventilators to simply roll over periodically, in hopes it might prevent them from needing more invasive care.”What have we got to lose? That’s something that’s not going to hurt anybody,” Osborn said.Molly Gough, a speech therapist at the Zale Hospital on the UT Southwestern Campus speaks with patient Stephen Donelson as he departs the hospital in Dallas, June 19, 2020.Even in normal times, critical-care specialists know they can’t save all their patients. But they’re used to more hand-holding. With this virus, even garbed in spacesuit-like protective gear, health workers must minimize time with infectious patients to avoid getting sick themselves. And family members are largely barred, too.”My general way of doing things is, no one dies alone,” said Osborn, who holds her phone in front of dying patients so loved ones can say goodbye.She paused to compose herself, and added: “If this is going to happen, and you can provide some comfort that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten if you weren’t there, that’s important.”The newest lesson: Recovery takes a lot longer than surviving.Back in Dallas, Donelson spent 17 days on a ventilator. When it was removed, he was too weak to even sit without support and the breathing tube had taken away his ability to swallow.”He would try to pick his head up off the pillow and it would lob to the side just like a newborn baby,” said his wife, Terri Donelson, who for the first time since his hospital admission finally was allowed to connect with her husband through a videoconferencing app.For days after waking up, Donelson had tremendous delirium, a dangerous state of mental confusion and agitation. He didn’t know where he was or why, and would try to pull out his IV tubes. Then a bacterial infection hit his lungs.Then one morning, worried that Donelson suddenly was too quiet, his doctor donned what she calls her “full-helmet, Darth Vader-style mask, which cannot possibly help anyone’s delirium,” and went in to check on him.”I rubbed his arm,” Goff recalled, asking him to wake up. “I said, ‘Hey are you OK, are you with me?'” and Donelson started trying to talk, at first too raspy to understand.Eventually, she made out that he was wishing her a happy Easter. She can only guess he heard the date on TV.Doctor and patient cried together.That was Donelson’s turning point. He still wasn’t deemed virus-free but physical therapists cautiously spent a little more time helping him gain strength and learn to swallow. His first bite: chocolate pudding.Terri Donelson countered the long periods of isolation by keeping the video app running non-stop, talking to her husband and giving him quizzes to stimulate his memory.”Little by little, with each day, he gains something new, something else reawakens,” she said.Finally, on June 19, 90 days after the frantic ambulance ride, Donelson — still weak but recovering — went home. His doctor is humbled by his survival, and anxiously awaiting better science to help guide care as the pandemic continues.”If you have one patient who leaves a really strong impression on you, you may interpret that patient’s experience to be hallmark. Until we have large, population-based studies of actual outcomes, it’s really hard to know what’s real and what’s not real,” Goff said.

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US Health Experts: COVID-19 Vaccine Could be Ready by 2021

The United States has passed the marker of 150,000 deaths from COVID-19, as some spots around the country continue to see rising case numbers. The political, economic and public health crises are a source of ongoing concern for lawmakers. But the nation’s top health experts did have some encouraging news Friday, telling a congressional panel that development of a vaccine for the virus is proceeding rapidly. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Washington.
Produced by: Katherine Gypson

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