Posts made in March 2020

One ‘bad egg’: Woman deliberately coughs on $35,000 worth of food at market

March 20, 2020

One woman has proven herself to be “at the very bottom of the U.S. food chain” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her so-called prank at a Gerrity’s Supermarket in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, has cost the grocery store $35,000 in discarded stock, The New York Daily News reports.

On Wednesday, March 25,  the shopper deliberately coughed all over the store’s produce and on parts of the bakery and meat cases—forcing management to throw all of the contaminated merchandise away so that other customers would not be exposed to possibly contaminated food.

“Today was a very challenging day,” Gerrity’s Supermarket co-owner Joe Fasula wrote on Facebook.

According to Fasula, the woman responsible was known by police to be “a chronic problem in the community.” Although they do not believe that she actually was infected with the novel coronavirus, out of an abundance of caution they worked with the local health inspector to get rid of everything she coughed on.

After getting her out of the store and contacting authorities, more than 15 employees worked to clean and disinfect the areas she had  visited.

One thing is for sure, we will have the cleanest display and freshest produce anywhere in northeast[ern] PA,” Fasula wrote.

Research contact: @NYDailyNews

Hallmark gives away 1 million cards to help people connect and lift spirits

March 20, 2020

Greetings and salutations from Hallmark Cards, which announced on March 27 that, effective immediately, the company would donate one million cards to encourage people to send messages to friends, family,and others—who now, more than ever, need to feel loved and supported.

In a news release, the Kansas City, Missouri-based company said, “Whether it’s sent to a loved one, neighbor, senior center or a healthcare worker, a card is a small act of kindness that can make a big impact on someone’s day. In this time of uncertainty, staying connected is important. That’s why Hallmark is giving away one million free cards to anyone who wants to join them in putting more care in the world.”

Participating is easy: Anyone in the continental United States can go to Hallmark.com/CareEnough and sign-up to receive a free three-card pack, while supplies last. No purchase is necessary.

“Hallmark has been in the business of caring for more than 100 years, so lending a hand to help others connect is part of our DNA,” said Chief Marketing Officer Lindsey Roy. “During a time of unprecedented social distancing, we hope these cards will be shared across neighborhoods, towns and the country to help lift spirits.”

And finally: A paper hug. A special wish. What will your card spark? Share with Hallmark using #CareEnough.

Research contact: @Hallmark

Trump: Governors are begging for equipment that ‘I don’t think they will need’

March 30, 2020

As healthcare professionals—and state and local leaders—sounded the alarm over major shortages of equipment needed to provide life-saving care to COVID-19 patients, President Donald Trump on Mach 26 shrugged off their warnings because, as he put it, “a lot of equipment is being asked for that I don’t think they will need,” The Daily Beast reported.

With cases surging nationwide—turning the United States into the epicenter of the worldwide pandemic—officials dealing with the crisis on the ground estimated a shortfall in the millions of essentials; including test kits, gloves, respirators, gowns, ventilators, and hospital beds.

Calling into Fox News host (and unofficial presidential adviserSean Hannity on Thursday, Trump boasted about his administration’s response to the virus—although on his watch, he has failed to mitigate or moderate the spread.

Asked by Hannity about his general refusal to enforce the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of needed supplies, the president insisted it hadn’t been necessary because there’s been “tremendous spirit” from corporations that he says have stepped up. This prompted him to then take some pointed shots at Democratic governors who’ve criticized the federal response.

“Remember, we are a second line of attack,” he exclaimed. “The first line of attack is supposed to be the hospitals. and the local government and the states.”

The president first took aim at Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, calling him a “failed presidential candidate” who is “always complaining” and “should be doing more” for his state. He then proceeded to attack Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who he said was “not stepping up” and “has not been pleasant.”

Claiming he gets along well with most of the other governors, the president then suggested they are asking for unnecessary supplies from the federal government while also insisting that the states should take on the majority of the burden.

Hannity, who began his program by blasting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for desperately declaring his state’s need for 30,000 ventilators, went on to say the governor’s request annoyed him. Moments later, Trump suggested the state didn’t need nearly that much equipment.

“I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they are going to be,” he asserted. “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go to major hospitals, sometimes they have two ventilators. ”

The Daily Beast reported that the death toll from COVID-19 in New York City. alone has topped 365 on Friday. The city’s entire healthcare system, meanwhile, is on the brink as more and more patients flood the hospitals. At its current pace, FEMA estimated that the city’s intensive care units would be filled by March 27.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Wash fruit, vegetables with soap: Virologist confirms COVID-19 survives on supermarket produce

March 27, 2020

An apple a day only will keep the doctor away if you wash it with soap and water, much as you would your hands: A virologist has confirmed that “every surface is a hazard” when it comes to COVID-19—and  he cautions supermarket customers to be particularly mindful of the loose fruit and vegetables in the store, according to the Daily Mail UK.

Timothy Newson, an associate professor at the University of Sydney specializes in infection, vaccines, and virology, told the Daily Mail that, while the virus can live on most surfaces, grocery shoppers should be particularly wary of the fruit and vegetable aisle—where customers frequently pick up the produce to see how fresh and ripe it is, and put it down again.

“We have to remember that every surface is potentially contaminated. And like with any surface there is a risk,’ Newsome explained. ‘We don’t see it as high risk because that comes from sustained contact with other people, but nonetheless it’s important to be mindful.’

‘People working in the supermarkets should be picking all of the fruit and veg up and setting it back down with protection,” he said. Luckily he noted that a large proportion of shelf stackers and general workers have been wearing gloves and disinfecting their hands at every turn.

The best course of action is to wash your fruit and vegetables with soap as soon as you bring them home, not simply relying on the high heat of cooking them to “kill” the virus.

“Wash them with warm soapy water, just as you do your hands,” he said.

Research contact: @DailyMailUK

Udacity offers one month of free tech training during COVID-19 crisis

March 27, 2020

Online learning platform Udacity is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering free tech training to workers who have been laid off, furloughed, or are sheltering in place, due to the crisis.

On March 26, the Mountain View, California-based company announced on its blog that it will offer its courses—known as nanodegrees—free for one month. The average price for an individual signing up for a nanodegree is about $400 a month, and the degrees take anywhere from four to six months to complete, according to the company.

Gabe Dalporto, CEO of Udacity, told CNBC that over the past few weeks, as he and his senior leadership team heard projections of skyrocketing unemployment numbers as a result of COVID-19, he felt the need to act. “I think those reports were a giant wake-up call for everybody,” he says. “This [virus] will create disruption across the board and in many industries, and we wanted to do our part to help.”

Dalporto says Udacity is funding the scholarships completely and that displaced workers can apply for them at udacity.com/pledge-to-americas-workers .

Udacity will take the first 50 eligible applicants from each company that applies, and within 48 hours individuals should be able to begin the coursework. Dalporto says the offer will be good for the first 20 companies that apply and that “after that we’ll evaluate and figure out how many more scholarships we are going to fund.

The hope is that while individuals wait to go back to work, or in the event that the layoff is permanent, they can get training in fields that are driving so much of today’s digital transformation. Udacity’s courses include artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital marketing, product management, data analysis, cloud computing, autonomous vehicles, among others.

The company also announced this week that any individual, regardless of whether they’ve been laid off, can enroll for free in any one of Udacity’s 40 different nanodegree programs. Users will get the first month free when they enroll in a monthly subscription, but Dalporto pointed out that many students can complete a course in a month if they dedicate enough time to it.

Dalporto says. “The great irony in the world right now is that at the same time that a lot of people are going to lose their jobs, there are areas in corporations where managers just can’t hire enough people for jobs in data analytics, cloud computing and AI.”

Research contact: @CNBC

Absent clear federal guidance on COVID-19, the nation’s governors come to the rescue

March 27, 2020

The coronavirus crisis is a dark cloud, but even this modern plague has a silver lining: Americans at the state and local levels are finding ways to link arms and handle it themselves, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Indeed, absent a federal focus on the health of Americans, rather than on the vitality of the economy, the nation’s governors have taken up the cause. Among those who have assumed leadership during the U.S. emergency are two Republicans— Mike DeWine of Ohio and Charlie Baker of Massachusetts—and three Democrats—Andrew Cuomo of New York, Gavin Newsom of California, and J.B. Pritzker of Illinois.

Indeed, Cuomo is even being hyped as a shoo-in for the presidential nomination—replacing Joe Biden at a brokered Democratic Convention.

On March 22, for example, amid continuing mixed messages from the White House and Congress about the severity of the problem, a handful of governors took decisive action to effectively close bars and restaurants to slow the spread of the disease.

In the opinion of the Journal, “the most effective leader in the nation so far, in fact, may be … DeWine of Ohio”—chosen by the new outlet because, “He was among the first to ban large public gatherings and order schools closed. He declared that NCAA basketball tournament games scheduled for his state would have to be played without fans in the stands; within days, the NCAA followed by canceling the entire tournament.”

The Journal notes, “Initially, [Governor] DeWine appeared to be overreacting; today, he looks prescient.”

For his part, New York’s Governor Cuomo has relentlessly campaigned to receive funding and mandated manufacturing for the countless numbers of respirators, ventilators, and hospital beds that his state—the current U.S. epicenter of the virus—will need, if the healthcare community is not to be overwhelmed.

Citizens seem to have noticed. In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday, Americans were asked who they have confidence in to handle the coronavirus. About half said President Trump, 62% said the federal government and 72% said their local government. The largest share—75%—said they had confidence in their state government.

Meantime, other institutions also are helping fill the void. Churches are making their own decisions about telecasting services so their flocks don’t have to gather; mayors are setting policies on public gatherings; businesses are developing new workplace protocols.

Still, there are limits to this grassroots coping. Active as others might be, the coronavirus crisis also serves as a reminder that there remain vital tasks only the federal government can perform.

The most important voice in guiding state and local leaders in their decisions has come from Washington, D.C., the Journal says—but it is not the president. It belongs to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“Only the federal government can devise a plan to ensure that all Americans who need a test for the coronavirus can get one—a task that Dr. Fauci acknowledges it has failed at so far,” the Journal says.

Research contact: @WSJ

Flush with success: TP contest entrants may have created the world’s most in-demand wedding gowns

March 26, 2020

For the past 16 years, Charm Weddings of Boca Raton, Florida, has challenged professional and amateur designers nationwide to create stunning, wearable wedding dresses and headpieces made only of toilet paper, glue, tape ,and needle and thread.

Little did the owners—sisters Susan Bain and Laura Gawne—realize that this year’s coronavirus pandemic would ratchet up the value of those hip and inspired gowns in a world without Charmin, Cottonelle, Scott, Quilted Northern, or White Cloud.

Indeed, in a press release, the Charm Weddings owners say they now have an inventory from past Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contests of the most valuable wedding apparel in the world!

This would be the time of year when the contest would normally begin. However, the 2020 challenge has been temporarily postponed due to COVID-19 and will be rescheduled at an appropriate time, Bain and Gawne say.

“When the Covid-19 outbreak began, we didn’t realize the potential impact and how the availability of toilet paper would come into play!” comments Gawne.

Fans of the contest as well as all of the potential entrants can find updates on the company’s social media platforms and websites in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, the sisters are holding on to the Top 3 wedding dresses from 2019…they could be more valuable than gold.

Research contact: @CharmWeddings

Gap is dedicating factories to make masks, gowns, and scrubs for healthcare workers

March 26, 2020

Gap is the latest retailer to announce a commitment to use its resources to create personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, Business Insider reports.

The clothing and accessories manufacturer and marketer announced on March 25 via Twitter, “Our teams are connecting some of the largest hospital networks in Calif. w/our vendors to deliver PPE [personal protective equipment] supplies, while we pivot resources so factory partners can make masks, gowns & scrubs for healthcare workers on the front lines.”

The company—which opened its first store in 1969 in San Francisco, selling primarily jeans and LP records—said it would connect with hospitals in California to deliver the supplies.

In order to provide the crucial and urgently needed supplies to healthcare providers, Gap made the decision to temporarily close its company owned and operated stores across North America, including Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Janie and Jack, and Intermix brands. The closures were effective March 19.

Other retailers have announced similar initiatives to support healthcare workers as the coronavirus prompts a nationwide shortage of masks and other protective equipment. In California, hospitals have turned to Los Angeles seamstresses to make masks.

Nike also announced it was creating personal protective equipment such as face shields to support doctors and nurses in Oregon. Zara announced a similar initiative.

Research contact: @GapInc

Stimulus bill prohibits Trump family, lawmakers from benefiting from loan programs

March 26, 2020

The $2 trillion stimulus bill that the White House and Senate leaders were expected to sign off on this Wednesday prohibits either Congressional lawmakers or President Donald Trump’s family business from benefiting from loans or investments through its corporate liquidity program, The Hill reports.

“We wrote a provision, not just the president, but any major figure in government, Cabinet, Senate, congressmen — if they have majority, they have majority control, they can’t get grants or loans and that makes sense,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said in a CNN interview. “Those of us who write the law shouldn’t benefit from the law.”

Trump acknowledged on March 21 that the coronavirus pandemic is hurting his family business, The Hill said. Since the start of the U.S. outbreak, dozens of state and local governments have ordered nonessential businesses—such as hotels and resorts —to close.

“I wouldn’t say you’re thriving when you decide to close down your hotels and your businesses,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked about reports that Trump Organization properties are being adversely affected by COVID-19.

“But is it hurting me? Yeah, it’s hurting me, and it’s hurting Hilton, and it’s hurting all of the great hotel chains all over the world,” he added.

At a Saturday morning White House press briefing, Trump was asked if he would accept stimulus money from the stimulus package meant to counter some of the damage the pandemic has done to the economy.

“I don’t know,” Trump said. “I just don’t know what the government assistance would be for what I have. I have hotels. Everybody knew I had hotels when I got elected. They knew I was a successful person when I got elected, so it’s one of those things.”

However, before the 2016 election, Trump had promised that his children, Don Jr. and Eric, would run the Trump Organization and that he would keep his distance from the company. However, that has not happened.

The provision to ban lawmakers from benefiting from Treasury Department programs in the stimulus bill was among 19 items highlighted by Schumer in his letter to colleagues describing the contents of the bill.

“Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has secured a provision in the agreement that will prohibit businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs,” his office said in an email to reporters. “The children, spouses and in-laws of the aforementioned principals are also included in this prohibition.”

Research contact: @thehill

Brown University researchers find that Adderall and Ritalin don’t improve focus and attention

March 25, 2020

Alert the public! Adderall and Ritalin are frequently prescribed to ADHD patients—and are just as commonly swallowed and snorted as late-night study aids by college students—because they are widely believed to increased concentration and focus.

Except it turns out that these stimulants don’t work that way at all:  Indeed, research conducted at Brown University has determined that Adderall, Ritalin, and other, prescription stimulants interact differently in the brain and the body than previously understood, Fast Company reports.

“We’ve known for a long time that when you give people these types of stimulants, you get enhanced performance,” said coauthor Andrew Westbrook, a post doctoral research at Brown University, in a press release. “But is that due to an increased ability, or is it due to increased motivation? We didn’t know which of these two factors were contributing and to what degree.”

The key phrase is cognitive motivation. The study shows that the medications spike mental awareness of the benefits of completing a difficult task. They do this by increasing the amount of dopamine released into a part of the brain called the striatum. Dopamine moderates motivation, and so the mind downplays the costs and difficulties of a task, while increasing the apparent advantages. The researchers found no increases in ability, Fast Company said.

This is news to the more than 16 million adults who are prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin annually, and the 5 million more who misuse prescriptions, according to a 2018 study from the National Institutes of Health.

Research contact: @FastCompany