How Solitude Can Help You Regulate Your Mood
July 27, 2020
This year has given many of us a whole new understanding of solitude -- whether we wanted it or not.
That's been one of the odd side effects of the coronavirus: Between the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines issued across the world, many of us have spent weeks at a time seeing no one in person but our local grocery store clerk. Or perhaps cramped among family or working at a busy hospital or grocery store -- just dreaming of a lot more alone time.
Either way, being alone has been on our minds -- and on the minds of experimental psychologists, too. Over the past few years, researchers have devoted significant study to the concept of solitude -- its potential benefits, its role in our lives, even its basic definition.
So, here are a few takeaways from their recent work -- with an eye toward how you can make solitude a healthy practice in your own life.
1. Solitude is in the mind of the beholder.
Let's get one crucial idea out of the way first.
"There isn't even a really agreed-upon definition about what solitude means," says Robert Coplan of Carleton University in Canada.
And he should know. Beyond his role as director of the Pickering Centre for Human Development, he and colleague Julie Bowker edited The Handbook of Solitude, a collection of some of the latest scholarly research on solitude.
It makes sense that there should be some confusion. After all, are you experiencing solitude if you are stranded on a desert island ... with a good WiFi connection and updates to peruse on Instagram? What about when you're on a crowded subway platform, but with earbuds in and everyone else ignoring you? Where is the line between "together" and "alone"?
Those questions aren't easy to answer, and to date, psychologists haven't settled on a single definition of solitude or the nature of its "active ingredient," in Coplan's words.
But many agree, at least when conducting their studies, that the key rests with whether participants feel alone. One's subjective perspective matters more than whether their objective circumstances would bear that out on closer inspection. In other words, if you feel alone, you probably are -- at least for the purposes of your mental state.
2. We may crave time alone the way we crave time with others.
When we feel lonely, it's because our desire for company exceeds our ability to find it. And Coplan posits that this process can work in reverse, as well: If our desire for solitude exceeds our ability to find it, we can also struggle with feelings of discomfort.
"All the evolutionary psychologists talk about the need to affiliate with others, that we evolved with this need to be around others. And that's 100% true. I also think there is a need for solitude, which has been less well defined and less well discussed," he explains.
"If we're not satisfying that need, there might also be a cost, just like there's a cost of being lonely if you don't satisfy your need to belong."
What constitutes the right amount of solitude varies person to person, Coplan says, but when you aren't getting enough time on your own, you may begin to feel more irritable, anxious or put out.
3. Don't expect an epiphany.
Easy there, Thoreau. Don't get solitude mixed up with the promise of insight or revelation. While the concepts are often paired in books and films, real life is obviously a lot more complicated. Sometimes solitude is calming, sometimes meaningful, but for a lot of us, it's often downright uncomfortable.
Just look at a 2014 study, in which a majority of participants preferred giving themselves an electric shock(!) to simply sitting alone with their thoughts for up to 15 minutes. Perhaps you, too, will find yourself wishing for a simple electric shock while waiting impatiently for that lightning bolt of inspiration.
But that bolt from the blue need not arrive for solitude to show some psychological benefits. And you don't need to emulate a medieval hermit to get the kind of time and space needed to feel those effects either.
Paul Salmon, a psychology professor at the University of Louisville, recommends looking at your quest for solitude more along the lines of a high-intensity interval workout -- as a variety of exercise that can be brief and scattered throughout the day but no less effective for it.
Be opportunistic, Salmon says.
"Maybe even go into a room if you have a space that you can go to where you can be alone for a little bit," he says. "And also, to be clear, this is not isolating yourself but simply giving yourself a time to kind of recharge the batteries."
Thuy-vy Nguyen has found that just 15 minutes in solitude can have an effect. A professor at the University of Durham in the U.K., Nguyen was tracking something she calls a person's arousal level: High arousal could mean something good (excitement) or bad (anger), just as low arousal moods could be good (contentment) or bad (boredom).
And in just that brief window of time, Nguyen says she has found that solitude correlates with a drop in those high-arousal moods. That means, effectively, that time alone may simply help even us out.
4. Solitude can be a communal exercise.
Funny as it may sound, pursuing your solitude may help develop your sense of community. By asking others for the time to yourself, and explaining why this is no reflection on their company, Salmon says you are bringing others into your trust, which they may appreciate.
"Explain that it's not like you're isolating yourself and setting yourself apart, but that what you're doing is something of personal value," he recommends. "By doing so, you're inviting other people to at least acknowledge and accept that and possibly even engage in it themselves."
And if even this does not help you obtain a separate space of your own, even for a little bit, remember that in many ways, solitude is what you make it. According to Salmon and his wife, Susan Matarese, a political scientist also at Louisville, one doesn't need to be physically alone to experience solitude.
Just close your eyes, turn inward for a bit and pay attention to what's going on in your body and what thoughts are going through your brain.
Choosing Organic is Even More Critical Now
July 21, 2020
The world is slowly reopening, but the COVID-19 crisis isn't over, and everyone still has concerns. While in many areas, the number of cases is decreasing, our health will remain in danger until we make a major change and paradigm shift.
That change is closer than you might think. It's in your kitchen, your backyard garden, and at your local farmers market.
The solution is our soil and in our food. What we eat is critical to protecting our health, and our broken food system needs an overhaul.
The coronavirus pandemic has focused the spotlight on the importance of health, immunity, and disease prevention. We watched as our medical systems became inundated with patients, while feeling helpless to support our own health in the face of an invisible threat.
As we return to a new normal, it is imperative that we stay vigilant about maintaining our health. Sales of organic food rose 22 percent in March, 18 percent in April, and 16 percent in May as consumers looked for ways to boost their immune systems. We cannot return to our industrial, chemical food system as the crisis recedes -- a food system that is harming both people and the planet -- and expect positive impacts on our personal health. We need resilient agriculture for the future.
What we eat is directly related to how we feel and how we protect our health. So why have we allowed an agricultural system that sprays our food with chemicals, disproportionately harms vulnerable communities, and poisons our environment be the main source of food for our families? Why is our medical system so out of touch with the role that food plays in our physical health, prescribing pharmaceuticals for lifestyle diseases that create even more side effects and problems?
For too long, farmers and doctors have been siloed while pursuing the same goal -- keeping people healthy. Remember the grade school adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away?" It's far past time that we bring these individuals and professions back together.
The path towards change can be found in regenerative healthcare. Regenerative organic food is free of the threat of chemicals like glyphosate, a probable carcinogen. At Rodale Institute, our research has shown not only that organic can feed the world, but that it can feed the world's families more nutrient-dense food, full of natural antioxidants and phytonutrients that can prevent, suspend, and even reverse the most wide-spread of lifestyle diseases.
And yet, the standard American diet gets only 11 percent of its calories from whole plant foods, and more than 50 percent from highly processed products. Today, more than 70 percent of global deaths are due to lifestyle-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic immune disorders.
When facing a threat as strong as COVID-19, we need to avail ourselves of every support system we have. Our diet is one of the simplest ways to improve our health and take control over our lives. And yet, nutrition is roundly downplayed in the medical community. Many medical students receive less than 25 hours of training in nutrition.
We need to deploy a health care system in which farmers and physicians work together to inform a prevention-based approach to human and environmental health. Regenerative healthcare is the only path forward.
We must combine what we know about the power of food with our knowledge of nutrition and our bodies, working to prevent disease through an organic, whole-foods, plant-forward diet that begins on farms that work in harmony with nature.
For more than 70 years, Rodale Institute has been researching the benefits of regenerative organic agriculture. From the beginning, our mission has been to support healthy soil that grows healthy food, feeding healthy people.
Results from Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial, a 40-year side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain cropping systems, has shown conclusively that organic systems are not only comparable to conventional systems in terms of yields, but can yield up to 40 percent higher in years of inclement weather like drought. Organic systems also use 45 percent less energy, reducing carbon emissions. Consumers clearly understand that organic food is healthier, as organic grocery sales and CSA memberships have skyrocketed since the pandemic took hold.
A shift in our medical system away from pharmaceutical-based disease management towards an integrative system founded on lifestyle medicine -- supported by organic, nutrient-dense whole foods -- could dramatically alter the trajectory of chronic disease and create a healthier future.
Let us agree, we cannot forget the critical role our food plays in protecting our health. Though the everyday threat of COVID-19 will eventually be a memory, the decisions we make about our food will always affect us. Take the first steps to protect your health now. You won't regret it.
Interested in more solutions? Rodale Institute, with our partners at The Plantrician Project, have released a new scientifically documented white paper that brings together, for the first time, doctors, scientists, and farmers to analyze the ways our food system has failed us, and, more importantly, solutions for a new path. "The Power of the Plate: The Case for Regenerative Organic Agriculture in Improving Human Health" is available for download at RodaleInstitute.org/poweroftheplate.
Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs
July 17, 2020
From Johns Hopkins Medicine:
ew information is emerging every day on how the new coronavirus spreads and the best ways to protect against COVID-19. The most effective protections include washing your hands frequently with soap and water and practicing physical distancing. However, wearing cloth face masks or coverings in public when physical distancing can't be observed does offer protection against spread of COVID-19.
Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H., an expert in infection prevention, provides guidance based on Johns Hopkins Medicine policy.
Should I wear a face mask or covering for coronavirus protection?
Yes, if you are in a public place where you will encounter other people, you should wear a mask.
How do you properly wear a face mask?
Your mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin. It should be loose fitting but still secure enough to stay in place. Make sure you can talk with your mask on and that it doesn't irritate you, so you are not tempted to touch it or pull it out of place, which could put you at risk from touching your face or limit its effectiveness.
Can a face mask prevent coronavirus from spreading?
Face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Because it's possible to have coronavirus without showing symptoms, it is best to wear a face covering even if you think you are healthy. A mask helps contain small droplets that come out of your mouth and/or nose when you talk, sneeze or cough. If you have COVID-19 and are not showing symptoms, a face mask reduces your chance of spreading the infection to others. If you are healthy, a mask may protect you from larger droplets from people around you.
Different levels of masks are appropriate for different situations and needs. At Johns Hopkins Medicine, we currently require everyone entering our facilities to wear a mask, with the exception of children under 2.
Here is how masks help prevent spread of COVID-19.
Masks for the Public
According to the CDC, recent studies indicate a significant portion of people who have COVID-19 don't show symptoms, and the virus can spread before they realize they are sick. This research -- combined with the fact that the coronavirus can spread through close proximity to others, often by speaking, coughing or sneezing -- led to their recommendation for the general public to wear cloth masks in public, especially in situations where physical distancing may be difficult, such as grocery stores or on public transportation, and in areas where there is a significant amount of community transmission.
Some states now require face masks in retail stores and on public transportation. In Maryland, face masks or coverings have been required in retail stores and on public transportation since April 18.
People with risk factors for severe consequences of COVID-19: This would include people over age 65 and those living with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic lung disease, immunity problems or cancer.
While physical distancing and frequent handwashing are the best ways to protect against COVID-19, you should check with your doctor about the best option for you. Johns Hopkins Medicine offers these directions for a homemade mask and child-size masks, intended for use in non-patient care settings.
Masks for COVID-19 Patients and Their Caregivers
In order to protect from the spread of droplets, a surgical or cloth mask should be worn in a home setting by those with COVID-19 when they are around others. If the person who is ill is unable to wear a mask, their caregiver should wear one. Patients being treated in hospital settings will follow hospital guidelines.
Many websites offer guidelines on how to make a cloth mask. Johns Hopkins Medicine offers these directions for a homemade mask and child size masks for non-patient care settings.
Masks and Other Protective Equipment for Health Care Workers
Health care workers testing and treating patients for COVID-19: Anyone interacting directly with people ill or suspected to be ill with COVID-19 need professional respirators, such as N95 respirators, which are designed for medical use. N95 respirators fit the face snugly and filter the air to stop respiratory droplets from getting through or around the device. In addition, our care teams treating patients with COVID-19 wear added protective gear, including face shields that protect the eyes, nose and mouth from contamination from respiratory droplets, along with masks or respirators.
Health care workers in patient areas, but not working directly with COVID-19 patients: Procedural, surgical and cloth face masks are being used to help guard against the possible spread of COVID-19. These masks don't have a tight seal and are made of different types of materials.
Similar to influenza and other respiratory viruses, the virus that causes COVID-19 appears to be transmitted primarily through large respiratory droplets. Surgical or procedural masks provide protection against respiratory droplet spread.
While cloth masks are not medical-grade, they may be helpful in non-patient settings to contain coughs and to remind people to not touch their face, but they are not suitable for providing medical care to patients.
HOw to Spot the Comet NEOWISE
July 16, 2020
From Sky & Telescope:
An unexpected celestial newcomer, after falling toward the Sun for more than 3,000 years, is making a lovely appearance in our skies right now. You can see it for yourself very low in the northeast as dawn begins to brighten -- and in the evening after sunset less than a week now -- but you'll need to know exactly where and what to look for, and binoculars will help.
Comet NEOWISE is named for the NASA infrared space telescope that discovered it on March 27th. Officially designated C/2020 F3, it passed just 27.4 million miles from the Sun (inside the orbit of Mercury) on July 3rd and has emerged into view low over the horizon in the early dawn.
It's well positioned for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes (including most of the United States, Canada, and Europe) for the mornings of July 10th through 14th. The farther north you are, the better. "The comet was easily seen by eye on the morning of July 9th," reports Sean Walker, associate editor for Sky & Telescope. "I could see the curve of the tail without optical aid, about 3° long."
Find the Comet: July 10th to 14th
To spot Comet NEOWISE, first find a location that has a nice open view very low to the northeast. Then be prepared to be outside and searching no later than 1 hour and 50 minutes before your local sunrise time. The eastern sky will already be starting to show the first signs of the coming dawn.
Venus will be shining low and brilliant off to the right, in the east-northeast. In your northeast direction will be one bright star. That's Capella, your starting point.
"Look far to Capella's lower left, by somewhat more that the width of your clenched fist at arm's length," suggests Diana Hannikainen (pronounced HUN-ih-KY-nen), Sky & Telescope's Observing Editor. That's where Comet NEOWISE will be hanging out. Look for a faint, fuzzy little "star" with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it.
This tail consists of dust and gas that have been driven off the comet's solid core, or nucleus, by the Sun's heat. Astronomers estimate that the nucleus is about 3 miles across, typical for one of these icy bodies. If you have them, binoculars will show the comet's coma, the cloud of dust and gas that surrounds the nucleus, and its tail more easily.
The comet will be very low at your starting time. It will gradually rise higher into better, clearer view as the minutes pass, but the sky will be brightening too. At some point you'll catch the best balance between the comet being too low and the sky being too bright.
That's for the morning of July 10th. Each morning after that, the comet will be a little farther to the left. By July 14th it will be two fists at arm's length to Capella's lower left.
Comet NEOWISE is gradually fading as it draws away from the Sun, but meanwhile it's edging nearer to Earth. The comet will be closest to Earth, 64 million miles away, on July 23rd.
Find the Comet: July 14th and after
From the 14th onward, the comet's motion will have shifted its best viewing opportunity to the evening sky. By then Comet NEOWISE might no longer be visible by eye, but the chance of glimpsing it improves if you can find a location that's free of light pollution.
Start looking about 1 hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness. Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to right.
Every evening thereafter the comet will be getting dimmer, but it will also be getting higher up as twilight ends. On the evening of the 23rd, when Comet NEOWISE is its closest to Earth, locate it by first noting the two stars at the bottom of the Big Dipper's bowl. Then draw an imaginary line through them and toward lower left to a point in the sky a little more than one fist away. But by that date you'll almost certainly need binoculars or a telescope.
Want to try taking take pictures? Bring a tripod and a camera that can take time exposures several seconds long. Unfortunately, even the best phone cameras will give mediocre results. What you really want is a DSLR camera with a telephoto lens.
High Levels of Weedkiller Found in Hummus, Chickpeas
July 14, 2020
From the Environmental Working Group:
Independent laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found glyphosate, the notorious weedkiller linked to cancer, in more than 80 percent of non-organic hummus and chickpeas samples, and detected at far lower levels in several organic versions.
Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world. It was sold for decades by Monsanto, now Bayer AG, under the brand name Roundup. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and the state of California lists it as chemical known to cause cancer.
One-third of the 27 conventional hummus samples exceeded EWG's health-based benchmark of 160 parts per billion, or ppb, for daily consumption, based on a 60-gram serving of hummus (about four tablespoons). The Environmental Protection Agency's woefully inadequate legal limit for glyphosate in chickpeas, known as a tolerance level, is 5,000 ppb, or more than 30 times EWG's benchmark.
The conventional hummus product with the highest level of glyphosate - more than 2,000 ppb in Whole Foods Market Original Hummus - was nearly 15 times the EWG benchmark. Overall, 10 hummus samples exceeded EWG's benchmark for glyphosate: three samples of Sabra Classic Hummus; Sabra Roasted Pine Nut Hummus; two sample of Whole Foods Market Original Hummus; Whole Foods Market organic-label Original Hummus; Cava Traditional Hummus; and two samples of Harris Teeter Fresh Foods Market Traditional Artisan Hummus.
EWG also tested 12 samples of organic hummus and six samples of organic chickpeas. All but two contained detectable concentrations of glyphosate. Although glyphosate levels in organic samples were much lower than those of their conventional counterparts, one dry chickpea sample had the highest glyphosate concentration of all samples tested in the study.
"Beans, peas and lentils are a nutritious, affordable source of protein and an important part of the American diet," said Olga V. Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG's vice president for science investigations. "These excellent foods would be much better without glyphosate. Toxic weedkiller should never be allowed to contaminate these products, or any other foods, that millions of American families eat every day."
The beans and bean-based products such as hummus tested in the study were purchased online or at major food retailers in the Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas, including Aldi, Costco, Giant, Harris Teeter, Safeway, ShopRite, Target, Trader Joes, Walmart and Whole Foods grocery stores.
Glyphosate was first brought to market in 1974, but its use exploded after 1996, when Monsanto introduced genetically modified "Roundup Ready" crops that were resistant to the herbicide. For consumers, most worrisome is use of the chemical on beans and grains as a drying agent just before harvest. This spraying can lead to high levels of glyphosate in beans, hummus, oat cereals and other foods.
By law, organic farmers are not allowed to spray Roundup or other toxic pesticides to grow and harvest crops. The detections of glyphosate on the organic samples may be due to pesticide drift from conventional crop fields or contamination at processing and packaging facilities.
"Organic foods, including organic hummus and chickpeas, remain a better choice for consumers," said EWG Toxicologist Alexis M. Temkin, Ph.D. "EWG testing of both conventional and organic bean products for glyphosate helps increase the transparency in the marketplace and protect the integrity of the Department of Agriculture's organic certification."
Hummus and chickpeas, as well as other beans, offer multiple nutritional benefits, and are an important part of a healthy diet. EWG's findings show the need for a ban on pre-harvest uses of glyphosate, a much stricter EPA standard, and increased testing by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration for this cancer-causing chemical in the American diet.
EWG's research on beans and hummus builds on EWG's tests of oats and oat-based products for glyphosate, which found the weedkiller in nearly every sample of cereal and breakfast bars tested.
World Health Organization Chief Delivers Emotional Speech
July 10, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the world - and humanity is failing because of a lack of leadership and unity, the head of the World Health Organization declared in a passionate speech Thursday.
"How is it difficult for humans to unite and fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately?" WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked at a briefing in Geneva, his voice rising with emotion.
"Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy?" he asked.
The world's lack of solidarity -- not the coronavirus -- is the biggest threat we face, Tedros said, adding that divisions among countries and people give an advantage to a virus that has been holding the world hostage for months.
The WHO director-general spoke about the lack of leadership two days after President Trump began the formal process of pulling the U.S. out of the World Health Organization. That move is expected to become final next June.
Trump has frequently targeted WHO during the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the international body of withholding information and having an overly close relationship with China. WHO officials said they have shared data about the health emergency as soon as possible.
"Please don't politicize this virus," Tedros said in April after Trump threatened to halt U.S. funding for WHO. Using a pandemic to score political points, he said, would only result in "many more body bags."
COVID-19 has killed more than 550,000 people worldwide - and the global total of reported cases has surpassed the 12 million mark, according to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University.
When Tedros declared the disease a pandemic on March 11, some 4,000 people had died and there were fewer than 120,000 confirmed cases worldwide. But the WHO chief warned that the numbers would go higher.
In the months since, Tedros has repeatedly called for countries to fight the pandemic with unity and common cause. He has also criticized governments for failing to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Here is the full section of Tedros' remarks that prompted his show of emotion:
"My friends, make no mistake. The greatest threat we face now is not the virus itself.
"Rather, it's the lack of leadership and solidarity at the global and national levels. That's why I said earlier, each and every individual should reflect. This is a tragedy that is forcing us to miss many of our friends and lose many lives. And we cannot defeat this pandemic as a divided world.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is a test of global solidarity and global leadership. The virus thrives on division, but is thwarted when we unite.
"How is it difficult for humans to unite and fight a common enemy that is killing people indiscriminately? Are we unable to distinguish or identify the common enemy? Can't we understand that the divisions and the cracks between us are an advantage for the virus. I think I do not need to remind you because we all know that these are the basics.
"My hope is that the defining crisis of our age will likewise remind all people that the best way forward - and the only way forward - is together. These are the basics, but the time-tested truth. 'Together' is the solution unless we want to give the advantage to the enemy, to the virus, that has taken the world hostage, and this has to stop.
"I thank you."
States Shouldn't Force Schools To Reopen If Virus Is Surging
July 9, 2020
President Trump issued a forceful call this week for America's K-12 schools to reopen full time for all children in the fall, suggesting that Democrats want to keep schools closed ahead of the November election and even threatening to cut off federal funding to schools if they don't fully reopen (something he cannot do). In this push, the administration has a powerful ally: the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Last week, the AAP issued a forceful policy statement, echoing the administration's sense of urgency to get children back into brick-and-mortar buildings:
"The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality. Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and families."
On Tuesday, the president of the AAP, Dr. Sally Goza, attended a White House roundtable where Trump and other administration officials reiterated their desire for schools to reopen quickly and repeatedly praised the AAP's guidance.
On Wednesday, Goza spoke with Morning Edition host David Greene about that guidance and whether she's concerned that schools may be pressured into reopening too quickly.
Below is that interview, edited for length and clarity.
[In Florida] the virus is spiking: The number of new cases daily has been alarming, as is the case in some other states. Schools are being ordered to open in-person five days a week as early as next month in Florida, so just talk me through what the argument is for a decision like that right now?
So our guidelines reflect what we know right now about COVID-19 and its effects on children, as well as our own expertise and understanding of the benefits of in-person education for children's mental, emotional and physical health. And we reevaluate these guidelines regularly, since the pandemic changes so rapidly.
But our latest guidelines articulate that our main goal is for students to be physically present at school this fall. But we also recognize that COVID-19 remains a very real, active threat to community health. And we really believe that decisions on when and how to reopen need to consider a variety of factors, but a big one is the level of virus in the community.
Well, let me just ask about that -- the level of virus in the state of Florida -- we saw 7,000 new cases in a single day this week. I mean, would you encourage schools to open today if that decision had to be made based on the numbers you're seeing?
The way the numbers are looking in Florida right now are concerning. The level of the virus is really high. And so a statewide mandate to reopen [schools] without consideration of community spread really goes against our recommendations.
So you think that this was not a good idea for officials in Florida to come out [Tuesday] and say, "You all have to reopen this fall?"
We know that COVID is still a dangerous virus, and it's circulating throughout the country. And there are definitely hot spots, and Florida is one of them. And so all decisions really have to be made with public health and the school officials looking at that as part of their decision-making on whether they can reopen safely.
You were at the White House [Tuesday], and the president came out and made his point of view very clear. If you see numbers in the coming weeks in places like Florida, in places like Texas and elsewhere that do not start going down, would you go back to the president and say to him, you know, that you and your organization believe that he should get back behind the microphone again and say that this is probably not a good idea?
We will be sticking to what our guidelines say -- that if it does not look safe in your community to open schools, that we need to really have that looked at. We also need to make sure that schools have the needed resources to reopen safely so that a lack of funding is not a reason to keep students home, which we're hearing in a lot of communities -- to do what we're asking people to do to make schools safe is not really financially feasible in some of these communities.
There have been some estimates that school systems need more than $200 billion to reopen safely. Very little, maybe $13 billion, has been made available so far by Congress. So if something dramatic does not happen and more money is not available, you would say that this was not a good idea to reopen across the country?
We know that reopening schools in a way that maximizes safety, learning, the well-being of children, staff and teachers will clearly require new investments in our schools. And we really call on our leaders: Provide the resources necessary to ensure that funding does not stand in the way of safely educating and keeping our children safe.
Some of the thinking around reopening is that the coronavirus does not affect young children as much as others. But children will be going home after school to family members who could be at serious risk. How concerned are you that if schools are open five days a week, that exposures might take place and that family members could really be at risk here?
Pediatricians and educators, we all share the same goal of wanting children to return to school. But we know that it has to be safe, and we know that we have to try to decrease that transmission as much as we can. We do know that children are less likely to get the infection. They're less likely to show symptoms. Children do get the disease. And so we do have to really look at that and be very aware.
You know, there will be some families who, in talking to their pediatricians and talking to the educators, may feel like it's best for their children to have in-home learning. And I think that is an option that all parents should have.
World has six months to avert climate crisis, says energy expert
July 7, 2020
From The Guardian:
The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world's foremost energy experts has warned.
"This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.
Governments are planning to spend $9tn (£7.2tn) globally in the next few months on rescuing their economies from the coronavirus crisis, the IEA has calculated. The stimulus packages created this year will determine the shape of the global economy for the next three years, according to Birol, and within that time emissions must start to fall sharply and permanently, or climate targets will be out of reach.
"The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond," Birol told the Guardian. "If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages."
Carbon dioxide emissions plunged by a global average of 17% in April, compared with last year, but have since surged again to within about 5% of last year's levels.
In a report published on Thursday, the IEA - the world's gold standard for energy analysis - set out the first global blueprint for a green recovery, focusing on reforms to energy generation and consumption. Wind and solar power should be a top focus, the report advised, alongside energy efficiency improvements to buildings and industries, and the modernisation of electricity grids.
Creating jobs must be the priority for countries where millions have been thrown into unemployment by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. The IEA's analysis shows that targeting green jobs - such as retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, putting up solar panels and constructing wind farms - is more effective than pouring money into the high-carbon economy.
Sam Fankhauser, executive director of the Grantham Research Institute on climate change at the London School of Economics, who was not involved in the report, said: "Building efficiency ticks all the recovery boxes - shovel-ready, employment intensive, a high economic multiplier, and is absolutely key for zero carbon [as it is] a hard-to-treat sector, and has big social benefits, in the form of lower fuel bills."
He warned that governments must not try to "preserve existing jobs in formaldehyde" through furlough schemes and other efforts to keep people in employment, but provide retraining and other opportunities for people to "move into the jobs of the future".
Calls for a green recovery globally have now come from experts, economists, health professionals, educators, climate campaigners and politicians. While some governments are poised to take action - for instance, the EU has pledged to make its European green deal the centrepiece of its recovery - the money spent so far has tended to prop up the high-carbon economy.
At least $33bn has been directed towards airlines, with few or no green strings attached, according to the campaigning group Transport and Environment. According to analyst company Bloomberg New Energy Finance, more than half a trillion dollars worldwide - $509bn - is to be poured into high-carbon industries, with no conditions to ensure they reduce their carbon output.
Only about $12.3bn of the spending announced by late last month was set to go towards low-carbon industries, and a further $18.5bn into high-carbon industries provided they achieve climate targets.
In the first tranches of spending, governments "had an excuse" for failing to funnel money to carbon-cutting industries, said Birol, because they were reacting to a sudden and unexpected crisis. "The first recovery plans were more aimed at creating firewalls round the economy," he explained.
But governments were still targeting high-carbon investment, Birol warned. He pointed to IEA research showing that by the end of May the amount invested in coal-fired power plants in Asia had accelerated compared with last year. "There are already signs of a rebound [in emissions]," he said.
Climate campaigners called on ministers to heed the IEA report and set out green recovery plans. Jamie Peters, campaigns director at Friends of the Earth, said: "A post-Covid world must be a fair one. It will only be equitable if the government prioritises health, wellbeing and opportunity for all parts of society. As if the case was not compelling enough in a dangerously heating planet, it is even more urgent post-Covid."
Putting the IEA's recommendations into action would boost the economy, added Rosie Rogers, head of green recovery at Greenpeace UK. "Government putting money behind sustainable solutions really is an economic no-brainer. It can see us build a recovery that both tackles the climate emergency and improves people's lives through cleaner air and lower bills."
Investors were also keen to put private sector money into a green recovery, alongside government stimulus spending, said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief executive of the Institutional Investor Group on Climate Change, representing funds and asset managers with $26tn in assets. "The IEA has shown [a green recovery] is not only desirable, but economically astute. Investors are fully committed to playing their part in this process."
Inspired By Injustice, Wynton Marsalis Reflects On His Music
July 7, 2020
From NPR's Jazz Night in America:
Wynton Marsalis has always been deeply engaged in the subject of American race relations. The issue was a crucial part of his education as a young musician in New Orleans, and it has been a core preoccupation of his own work going as far back as Black Codes (From the Underground), a trailblazing album from 1985.
"Our racial problems have been so documented that we have a tendency to not realize that we're all on this same boat," Marsalis told Good Morning America in 1997 after he became the first jazz artist to win a Pulitzer Prize for his oratorio Blood on the Fields. "When I write the music, it's not just the history of Blacks, it's an American story."
In this episode of Jazz Night, Marsalis expands on that idea and more in a conversation with our host, Christian McBride. Reflecting on our current wave of protests and the removal of public monuments, they connect this moment with a historical struggle. We'll also hear some of the music Marsalis has made to this end, from Black Codes to Blood on the Fields to a small-group work, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary.
Officials Urge Caution Over July 4th Weekend
July 3, 2020
From The Washington Post:
As the holiday weekend approaches, health officials are warning the public to remain vigilant amid concerns that the Washington region could see an increase in coronavirus cases as numbers skyrocket nationwide.
The District, Maryland and Virginia reported 1,062 new cases Thursday, on par with the region's daily average in mid-June, while marking the highest daily total since June 20. The daily caseload in the Washington area has flatlined in recent days after a steep drop that began in late May.
Officials urged residents to avoid large crowds, wash their hands, practice social distancing and wear masks during celebrations over the Fourth of July weekend. After warnings to take similar precautions amid demonstrations over police brutality, officials say holiday gatherings pose the latest threat to keeping a lid on coronavirus case numbers.
While many local fireworks displays have been canceled this year, the Mall will host a 35-minute fireworks display, as well as flyovers by the Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels jet demonstration teams.
Federal officials urged social distancing and said 300,000 cloth face coverings will be available to visitors. But D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said conditions will be favorable for the spread of the virus as he urged residents to avoid the Mall on Saturday.
At a news conference, Newsham said it would be unwise to gather in large crowds, noting that a 53-year-old police officer died last month of covid-19 complications.
"This is a dangerous situation," he said, echoing concerns expressed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) a day earlier. "I hope the residents of the District of Columbia will use their good judgment and watch the fireworks from home."
Newsham added: "Covid-19 is real. Real people can die because of our behavior. We urge you not to come down. Please don't come down to the Mall to the fireworks show."
In an interview Thursday on Fox 5, Bowser suggested that residents skip celebrations this Fourth of July and resume them next year. For those shunning fireworks and hosting a gathering in their home, the mayor cautioned that anyone who is positive for the virus could infect other guests.
"We're certainly in an unprecedented time with our response to the pandemic," she said. "I'm actually concerned about people having events at their home or going to family events. We want them to be super careful."
Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology at UVA Health in Charlottesville, said it will be critical to see how the public responds over the holiday weekend and whether case numbers stay in place.
"There's been a leveling off of cases," he said. "The question is, if we move too fast, are we at risk of backsliding?"
Sifri, who specializes in infectious diseases, said the trend of who is getting sick has changed in the Washington region.
Earlier outbreaks often originated in congregate settings, such as nursing homes, chicken processing plants and prisons, but those conditions have improved significantly with safety measures in place, he said. The region recently has seen virus transmissions through community spread as jurisdictions lift restrictions and more people venture into public settings.
Sifri urged leaders in the Washington region to monitor states in the South and West that have seen spikes in caseloads. Recent numbers nationwide have far eclipsed those recorded weeks ago -- surging above 50,000 the past two days.
"There is a risk for a rebound," he said of the Washington area. "The virus has momentum."
With more people likely to be out over the holiday weekend, Fairfax County sent text alerts to its residents Thursday, encouraging them to get tested if they are experiencing symptoms. The county said there are nearly 30 testing sites that will accept patients who don't have insurance.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday announced a new Maryland Department of Health order that instructs health-care providers to provide a coronavirus test for anyone who requests it, regardless of symptoms. The state also added testing sites in Ocean City and at Deep Creek Lake because of increased summer activities.
Montgomery County announced Thursday that it will open seven outdoor pools and three indoor aquatic centers to pass-holders beginning Monday. Swimming will require a reservation for a two-hour session with several safety protocols in place.
The District on Thursday recorded 25 new coronavirus cases and one death. Maryland saw 505 new cases and reported seven deaths. Virginia reported 532 cases and 30 fatalities -- the highest number of daily deaths in the state since May 27.
The positivity rate of tests in Virginia has also ticked up from 5.8 percent about a week ago to 6.2 percent -- a figure that stands at 7.8 percent in Northern Virginia.
The greater Washington region has recorded 142,548 known cases of the virus since the start of the pandemic, with the death toll reaching 5,582.
The number of daily hospitalizations on a seven-day average has been below 100 in the region since mid-June, while the average number of daily deaths has changed little since that time.
The pandemic continues to take an economic toll. More than 58,000 people filed for unemployment benefits in the District, Maryland and Virginia last week as parts of the region moved ahead with lifting additional restrictions.
Numbers released Thursday by the Labor Department show that 58,017 claims were filed in the three jurisdictions for the week ending June 27, down slightly from 60,915 claims filed a week earlier.
In the District, the number of claims hovered near 3,000 for the second week in a row. Marylanders filed 21,929 claims, down from 32,549 the week before. In Virginia, 33,062 claims were filed, up from 25,293.
Since the pandemic hit the Washington region and stay-at-home orders were issued in March -- forcing many businesses to shut their doors for weeks -- more than 1.5 million jobless claims have been filed in the region. After an initial surge in claims, the number of people seeking benefits has leveled off in recent weeks.
Nationally, 1.4 million people filed unemployment claims for the first time last week. It was the 15th consecutive week with more than 1 million unemployment claims nationwide.
In Queen Anne's County, Md., officials announced Thursday they will be restricting access to some beaches for the use of nearby residents to avoid overcrowding. The restrictions apply to Matapeake and Terrapin beaches, along with Ferry Point Park.
The county said in a statement it has been enforcing "capacity-only restrictions" to try to reduce crowds and will monitor crowd sizes over the holiday weekend, with no additional visitors allowed once capacity is reached.
Masks And The Outdoor Exerciser
July 2, 2020