An open or shut case: CDC refuses to revise school reopening guidelines

July 10, 2020

Pandemic experts at the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not agree with President Donald Trump’s “school of thought” on COVID-19. School administrators, teachers, staff, and students also are on the fence.

Indeed, the CDC is refusing to cave under intense pressure from the White House to allow K-12 educational facilities nationwide to reopen quickly and cheaply, without following the agency’s strict guidelines.

During an appearance on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America on Thursday, July 9, CDC Director Robert Redfield asserted that the agency will not revise its guidelines for reopening schools, despite calls from the White House to do so.

Instead, additional reference documents will be provided, Redfield said, noting, “Our guidelines are our guidelines, but we are going to provide additional reference documents to aid basically communities in trying to open K-through-12s. It’s not a revision of the guidelines; it’s just to provide additional information to help schools be able to use the guidance we put forward.”

The comments risk further adding to a sense of confusion about how best to reopen schools as the new academic year approaches amid a surge in confirmed coronavirus cases.

According to a report by CNN, “The president has vehemently called for schools to reopen— one of the keys to restarting the economy and getting the country back to a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy— calling the existing guidelines “very tough and expensive,” and going so far as to threaten to cut off school funding, though the federal government’s ability to do so is limited.”

During a press briefing on July 8, Vice President Mike Pence said the CDC would issue new guidance on reopening schools next week. Both he and Redfield said the agency’s recommendations should not be viewed as a barrier to returning children to classrooms.

In response to comments about the guidelines being too tough or impractical, Redfield said Thursday this depends on how the guidelines are put together.

“Right now, we’re continuing to work with the local jurisdictions to how they want to take the portfolio of guidance that we’ve given to make them practical for their schools to reopen,” he said.

Current CDC guidelines for schools to reopen rely on extensive protocols to keep children safe. They call for desks to be placed six feet apart, when feasible; and for children to face in the same direction on one side of tables, as well as use cloth face coverings.

The CDC suggests the closing of communal areas, such as dining rooms and playgrounds; and the installation of physical barriers like sneeze guards, where necessary. It proposes that staff who are at risk of COVID-19 complications because of health conditions could telework or be assigned other duties while children with medical conditions could learn online.

Given such advice, it was not clear how the CDC guidelines could be eased without raising the risk that the return to school could cause infections. The current guidelines say the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission could come with full-size classes, a lack of social distancing and with children mixing between lessons.

Research contact: @CNN

Look it up: Regardless of what you think, ‘irregardless’ is a word

July 9, 2020

Merriam-Webster —which has been tracking and defining the American-English lexicon since 1828raised the hackles of stodgy grammarians last week when it affirmed the veracity of “irregardless,” NPR reports.

The word’s definition, when reading it, would seem to be: without without regard.

 “Irregardless is included in our dictionary because it has been in widespread and near-constant use since 1795,” the dictionary’s staff wrote in a “Words of the Week” roundup on Friday, July 3. “We do not make the English language; we merely record it.”

Merriam-Webster defines irregardless as “nonstandard” but meaning the same as “regardless.” “Many people find irregardless to be a nonsensical word, as the ir– prefix usually functions to indicates negation; however, in this case it appears to function as an intensifier,” the dictionary writes.

It’s not a real word. I don’t care what the dictionary says,” author Michelle Ray, who teaches English in Silver Spring, Maryland, told NPR.

“You say ‘regardless.’ Regardless of the fact,” she exclaimed on the radio network’s Morning Edition. “Irregardless means not regardless. And that’s not what you’re trying to say at all. So why, in what context, would irregardless make sense? I can’t understand it.”

The brouhaha regarding the word seems to have started last week when a popular Twitter user took umbrage at Merriam-Webster’s listing, decrying the death of the English language.

But irregardless was first included in Merriam-Webster‘s Unabridged edition in 1934, a spokesperson tells NPR. What’s more, other dictionaries—among them,  Webster’s New World College DictionaryThe American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, and the Cambridge Dictionary—all recognize irregardless as a word.

And they have done so for a long time: In 1859, The Baltimore Sun wrote that a man “had endeavored to discharge his duty fearlessly in this case, irregardless of those who may consider this discourse discourteous to the ‘Plugs.’ ”

 That same newspaper once again published the word in editor John McIntyre’s commentary on Saturday, July 4: ” ‘Irregardless’ is too a word; you just don’t understand dictionaries.

“People get upset about the dictionary because they think it is some sort of official document,” he tells NPR. “And it’s not. It’s just lexicographers identifying words that people use and trying to find out, well, how are they spelled? How are they pronounced? What meanings do they have? Where did they come from?”

The dictionary’s recognition “doesn’t enroll a word as correct in the English language,” McIntyre says. “It just says this is a word that a lot of people use in English. And here’s what we know about it.”

So it’s a word, but its use is still discouraged in formal writing. In 2016, NPR’s standards and practices editor at the time told staff to “just say ‘regardless.’ ” The AP Stylebook calls it a double negative.

And Ray says she’s still planning to mark “irregardless” as incorrect on her students’ work.

Still, there’s no need to send angry letters and tweets to the folks at Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries.

McIntyre’s solution: “You don’t like it? Don’t use it.”

Research contact: @NPR

It’s a dog’s life: Supermarket security guard goes viral for shielding pooch from rain with umbrella

July 8, 2020

Ethan Dearman, who patrols the parking lot of the Morrison’s grocery store in Gaffnock, Scotland is being hailed as an “everyday hero” after he was photographed holding an umbrella over a dog’s head in the rain, the Good News Network reports.

Since the sweet moment was captured and posted to Twitter by 25-year-old Mel Gracie last week, it has racked up thousands of tweeted responses, lauding Dearman for his kindness.

When Dearman was asked about the umbrella, he simply told Gracie: “You never know how dogs feels about the rain.”

This is apparently not the first time that Dearman has taken the time to show some love to his canine friends. After the photo was posted to social media, the dog’s owner came forward to identify the dog as Freddie and praised Dearman for his enduring kindness towards him and his family.

“Thanks to security man [Ethan Dearman] for putting the umbrella over Freddie when it started to rain!” tweeted Freddie’s owner David Cherry. “So kind! He’s always so nice to my brother Stuart, my dad, and our Freddie!”

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork

Keeping a cool head: Some companies are making safe summer face masks without a ‘sweat factor’

July 7, 2020

As a pastry chef who spends her workdays in a surgical-style mask next to hot ovens, Leigh Omilinsky is no stranger to the face mask “sweat factor”—and she has little patience for those griping about the sticky irritation of covering up during a steamy Chicago summer.

 “This has to be more comfortable than a ventilator,” Omilinsky, 35, of Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, recently told The Chicago Tribune.

When health officials began recommending that people wear masks in public places to slow the spread of COVID-19, they turned to whatever was available, be it a hand-sewn fabric mask, cut up T-shirt, or winter balaclava. Now they’re often required, in places where social distancing is a challenge. As Illinoisans cautiously return to more activities put on hold during the pandemic, some are looking for masks that are tolerable for more than a quick grocery run.

Big brands like Under Armour, New Balance, and Uniqlo have announced designs using breathable fabrics, and Chicago mask-makers are experimenting with new styles as well.

There’s no magic bullet, the Tribune points out: Things that make a mask effective at containing droplets that can spread the virus causing COVID-19, like multiple layers of tightly woven fabrics, also tend to make them steamy on hot, humid days. Still, a mask that’s comfortable enough to keep on your face is more effective than one that spends most of its time dangling under your chin, experts said.

“That’s the Catch-22,” said Alan Spaeth, co-founder of Chicago-based PrideMasks. “You make it lighter and more breathable, and it’s not doing its job, which is keeping your particulates close to your face.”

While the Illinois Department of Public Health advises using a cloth face covering, the agency does not specify the type of material. It recommends that the mask be breathable while covering the wearer’s nose and mouth; fit snugly and comfortably against the side of the wearer’s face; and have multiple layers of fabric.

PrideMasks opted for a two-layer design with an inner layer of cotton and an outer layer of athletic microfiber fabric to help control moisture, Spaeth said. PrideMasks also started selling neck gaiters, and both styles offer sun protection.

Mr. Pink’s—a mask-making offshoot of Chicago-based Bangtel, which rents properties in Chicago and New York for vacations and bachelorette parties—originally designed a mask with three layers of fabric and a pocket for a filter. It’s still the most popular, but Mr. Pink’s is constantly experimenting, said owner and founder Liz Klafeta.

There’s also a two-layer option for people worried about overheating. Another has a stiff outer layer that stands away from the wearer’s face, keeping fabric off their mouth. Customers can choose between masks that loop around their ears or tie behind the head. Some styles also offer a choice between an all-cotton mask or one with an inner flannel layer that’s softer against the skin.

Soon Mr. Pink’s will carry a see-through mask with a clear vinyl window along with a line of bachelorette and wedding-themed masks.

“We’ll do it for as long as people need it or are requesting them,” Klafeta told the Tribune. “It feels good to be doing something a little different that can bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Companies also are adding sizes. Chicago-based menswear maker The Tie Bar, which makes a two-layer, all-cotton mask with room for a filter, added kids’ sizes and an extra-large size after hearing from men who grew “big COVID beards,” said CEO Allyson Lewis.

That said, finding masks breathable enough to wear while working out can be more of a challenge. Chicago requires people wear masks while exercising at indoor gyms. Even for those running outdoors, keeping faces covered on sidewalks and trails where people could encounter others is smart as a safety measure and show of respect, said Chicago Area Runners Association Executive Director Greg Hipp.

Many runners use neck gaiters that can be worn around the neck for easier breathing when a runner is alone, or pulled up over the mouth and nose when others are near, Hipp said.

Under Armour said its “Sportsmask,” designed for athletes, sold out within an hour when it was introduced in June. The mask has structured fabric designed to sit off the wearer’s mouth and nose for better airflow. There are three layers; the one that sits closest to the skin has an anti-microbial treatment and is designed to feel cool.

The company worked with health experts when designing a mask for workers in hospitals near its Maryland headquarters, and used what it learned to make the Sportsmask, according to Kyle Blakely, Under Armour’s vice president of Materials Innovation.

Another athletic brand, New Balance, has said it plans to sell an “athletics-ready face mask” in the coming weeks.

But you pay for what you get: Higher-tech masks can come with a higher price tag. Under Armour’s Sportsmask is $30 — the same price The Tie Bar charges for a pack of five. Masks from Zensah and PrideMasks cost $18 and $15, respectively. Gap sells three-packs for $15.

Research contact: @chicagotribune

You’re too close to Grandma! American families can’t agree on reopening protocols

July 6, 2020

When shelter-in-place restrictions eased in May in Gurnee, Illinois, Laura Davis’ first thought was: When are people coming over? The teacher’s mother and two sisters live within driving distance, she said, and her backyard can accommodate social distancing.

It turned out that wasn’t going to be easy, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Davis, 38, landed and her older sister could not agree on get-together terms. Her sister and mother have health conditions that put them at risk for complications from the new coronavirus and said they would come only if they could sit outside, if no one ate, and if everyone wore masks—including all nine children.

That might sound fairly reasonable, but Davis couldn’t understand why food she prepared would be riskier than food delivered from restaurants. Her sister and mother wouldn’t budge.

“It’s been a weird balancing act,” she told the Journal. “I’m trying to understand them, but I’m also trying to push them a little bit. You can’t do this for two years until there’s a vaccine.”

The question of how to resume aspects of normal life months after the first known U.S. coronavirus death is confounding businesses and roiling state and national politics. It is also straining relations among friends and relatives.

What’s more, the recent surge of newly confirmed cases in many states has made the question more urgent—upending reopening plans, and prompting several states to reverse course or hit pause. Disagreement among federal officials, governors and mayors has led to shifting official messages and rules about how to stay safe.

Behind all the confusion are thousands of conversations and arguments every day in households across America about how to do the right thing—with disagreements on what that is.

Behavior one friend or relative deems essential around other people—mask-wearing, for example—is considered excessive by another. Differences over safety measures split some families on partisan lines, much as they divide parts of the country.

Summer is especially fraught, with vacation plans suddenly a subject of debate. The Journal spoke to Dani Duncan of Jacksonville, Florida, whose 12-year-old daughter traditionally spends a month with her in-laws in Daytona Beach each summer.

However, this year, the Duncans didn’t think it was safe and said no. Her in-laws took offense, she told the news outlet: “They were like, ‘You don’t trust us with her.’ ” Her husband replied, “Obviously, we do,” said Dani, 49. “It became personal.”

Her father-in-law suggested a weekend trip instead of a month, but she wasn’t OK with that, either. Her daughter was upset about the change of plans, she said, and her in-laws felt at a loss.

In America, who takes what position in the family debate over COVID-19 safety precautions is sometimes drawn by party lines. Some within families say the  threat has been overblown by political liberals and the media; others say politically conservative Americans have unwisely played down the threat.

Indeed, a June survey by the Pew Research Center found that political partisanship—more than race, geography, gender or age—was the biggest factor in determining comfort levels with various activities. The partisan difference widened since Pew conducted a similar survey in March, with Republicans significantly more at ease than Democrats about going to places like restaurants, salons and friends’ houses.

Mary Ellen Carroll, 48, who lives in Huntington, West Virginia, has barely left home since March. Her husband, Mike Carroll, plays golf several times a week and has been sitting outside on the country-club patio with fellow players after rounds—six feet apart, he said.

“I don’t want him to go because he’s 70 years old,” she said. “There have been arguments.” Her husband fudged it: “There’s been discussions,” but “we don’t really argue.”

They also disagree over whether their disagreement falls along partisan lines. The politically conservative Mike Carroll wears a mask only in the grocery store, he said. May Ellen Carroll wears a mask when she goes out and said she gets dirty looks from people—her mask says “Ridin’ With Biden,” she said, but she also gets negative reactions in a pink knitted one without a slogan.

“You know conservatives don’t believe in quarantine and masks,” she said. But the Carrolls have achieved an uneasy truce, and intend to go on in the same fashion.

And back in Gurnee, Illinois, the Davises have come to an understanding. Katie Clark, 41, the sister with diabetes, told the Journal that her sister, Laura, had misunderstood her objections. She said Laura’s inference that she didn’t want home-cooked food was a misunderstanding: She didn’t want people eating because they would have to take off their masks, which she didn’t think was safe..

Laura  “thinks I’m far too cautious, and I don’t think I’m too careful,” said Katie, a librarian. “We decided if we could be one person we’d handle COVID perfectly.”

Their mother, Kathy Clark, 70, said she’s coming around and has started spending time with the family indoors—six feet apart, wearing masks. “It’s just like anything,” she said. “The more you do the new thing, the more you get comfortable.”

Katie’s parents-in-law presented another dilemma. When she had them over in June, everyone agreed on the plan: Precautions included bring-your-own water bottles, mask-wearing, six-foot distancing.

But her 8-year-old and twins, 6, hadn’t seen their grandparents in months and had a hard time staying away. Her mother-in-law is immunocompromised. Katie could see her father-in-law getting anxious. “He kept saying, ‘Boys, you’re too close to Grandma,’ ” she said. “You could tell it was too much.”

Her mother-in-law, Linda Davis, 71, of Lake Forest, Illinois, told the Journal that she and her husband plan to see their grandchildren in a few days—outdoors, where the risk seems to be low.

“It makes me wonder what’s gonna happen in the fall,” she said. “But for right now, I’m happy to have that chance.”

Research contact: @WSJ

Petition calls for Cleveland statue of Christopher Columbus to be replaced by Chef Boyardee

July 3, 2020

A trending online petition is calling for a statue of Christopher Columbus in Cleveland, Ohio, to be replaced with a figure honoring the life of Chef Boyardee, Fox News reports.

Once hailed as the explorer who discovered America in 1492, Columbus is now considered to be a controversial figure in U.S. history—both for his treatment of the indigenous communities and for his role in violent colonization of the new world at their expense.

The recent Change.org appeal is urging the Cleveland City Council to remove the statue of the controversial explorer located in Tony Brush Park, in the Little Italy neighborhood of the city, and in its place, to erect a statue of Ettore (Hector) Boiardi —his real name, which was spelled phonetically for the commercial enterprise. The pitch has since received over 2,600 signatures.

For his part, Boirardi emigrated from Italy at age 16, later moving to Cleveland and opening a restaurant, Cleveland Channel 3/WKYC Studios reports. His sauce was so popular that he began bottling it for sale, which grew to become the Chef Boyardee brand of pasta and sauces today.

Boiardi’s company produced canned food rations for American soldiers in World War I a war effort contribution that earned the chef a Gold Star from the U.S. government in 1946. He lived in Northeast Ohio for the rest of his life, and passed away in 1985.

Now, the petition argues, the time has come to oust the Columbus statue and honor a more favorable Italian-American icon. “Columbus is not someone we should celebrate. He was a racist monster who initiated the genocide against indigenous Americans,” it claims.

The plea further praises Boiardi and his legacy as an “immigrant success story who enriched our community with his food and iconic mustache.”

Calls to remove statues, brands and imagery with problematic histories and racist connotations have swept the nation following the Nay 20 death of George Floyd in police custody, Fox News reports.

Elsewhere in the Buckeye State, a statue of Columbus was removed from the front of Columbus City Hall on Wednesday. The figure will reportedly be replaced by a piece of new art that better represents the city and its people.

Research contact: @FoxNews

Children think Dad is a better driver than Mom—but he steps on the gas too much and suffers road rage

July 2, 2020

Children think Dad is a better driver than Mom—but he steps on the gas too much and suffers road rage. In fact, when it come to cars and driving, most children would prefer to have their fathers behind the wheel, a new study of 1,000 kids, ages 6-16 by carmaker MG, has found, SWS Digital reports.

.A study by Amsterdam-based MG Motors —which looked at responses of 1,000 6-16 year-olds whose parents both drive—found that fully 43% named Dad as the ‘best’ behind the wheel, while only 29 per cent opted for Mom.

When rating how the parents function on the road, the children had definite opinions about who was best at what, as follows:

  • Fastest driver: Dad
  • Most road rage: Dad
  • Most likely to get lost: Mom
  • Most likely to bump the car: Mom
  • Best at parallel parking: Dad
  • Best at reverse parking: Dad
  • Best at parking in a tight space: Dad
  • Best at switching lanes on a highway: Dad
  • Best at hill starts: Dad
  • Best at doing three-point turn: Dad
  • Best at changing a tire: Dad

So, in nine out of 11 categories, Dad is rated as the most dexterous driver. However, SWS Digital notes that, despite this, 35% of youngsters prefer being in the car with their Mom, naming her as the parent most likely to join in with car games, such as I Spy, while on a journey.

Tiffany Wilcox, from MG, which commissioned the research to celebrate the family friendly model range, said: “The results paint an interesting picture of family car journeys and how kids see their parents.

“Everyone remembers family road trips from when they were younger, the discussions which are had, games that are played, and music choices.

It also emerged men are more likely to take the driving seat for family car journeys, according to 65% of the youngsters polled. But this may be because half of the respondents said their Mom is more susceptible to getting lost and having to ask for directions.

The study, carried out via OnePoll, also revealed that 31% of kids prefer being in dad’s car—with half of them stating this is because it’s bigger, while 27 per cent put it down to the fact it has more technology, such as Apple Car Play.

Research contact: @swsdigital

New urine test assesses whether your diet is right for your body in just five minutes

July 1, 2020

Many of us can’t help but be confused by the constant barrage of dietary advice emanating from friends and family, doctors and wellness sources, social media, and advertising. But now, there’s a new type of urine test—designed by researchers at Imperial College London—that may help us to determine just what kind of diet would be best specifically for our own bodies, Study Finds reports.

The test takes only five minutes and measures a variety of metabolites present in urine. These metabolites can reveal important information about our diet, including consumption of citrus fruit, fructose (fruit sugar), glucose, vitamin C, red meats, and chicken.

Another key piece of information that the test reveals is whether the patient has a health condition. For example, the test measures salt intake, which is linked to obesity and high blood pressure.

“Diet is a key contributor to human health and disease, though it is notoriously difficult to measure accurately because it relies on an individual’s ability to recall what and how much they ate,” explains researcher Joram Posma in a statement.

“For instance,” Posma notes, “asking people to track their diets through apps or diaries can often lead to inaccurate reports about what they really eat. This research reveals this technology can help provide in-depth information on the quality of a person’s diet, and whether it is the right type of diet for their individual biological make-up.”

The researchers believe that the new technology can provide an individual urine “fingerprint” which varies from person to person. This information can then be used by dieticians to tailor dietary recommendations. The fingerprint helps to create a personal score, known as a Dietary Metabotype Score, or DMS—for each individual.

In their experiments, the authors instructed a group of 19 people to adhere to one of four diets, which ranged from very unhealthy to very healthy. They then calculated DMS scores for each individual. While higher DMS scores correspond with healthier diets and lower DMS scores signal not-so-healthy ones, researchers report variations in scores among people who strictly followed the same diet. These findings suggest that people metabolize the same food in different ways, and that these differences affect DMS scores.

Looking ahead, the researchers plan to examine how DMS scores are related to the risk of health conditions such as obesitydiabetes, and high blood pressure.

“We show here how different people metabolize the same foods in highly individual ways. This has implications for understanding the development of nutrition-related diseases and for more personalized dietary advice to improve public health,” co-author John Mathers  of Newcastle University explains.

The study is published in Nature Food.

Research contact: StudyFinds

Near and dear: 60% of fathers say they are closer to their kids because of the COVID-19 lockdown

June 20, 2020

While some may say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, many American fathers who have been sheltering with their children during the COVID-19 pandemic would disagree: In fact, they say that they are more “in touch” with their kids—both psychologically and physically—than ever before.

In fact, the Good News Network reports, a pair of new studies reveal a silver lining amid the COVID gloom. The studies, released last week as part of Canadian Men’s Health Week, were conducted in May on behalf of the nonprofit Canadian Men’s Health Foundation (CMHF).

The first survey asked 1,019 Canadian fathers about the impact of the COVID lockdown on their roles as fathers. “Even though families have faced stressors and challenges with COVID-19, we recognize that fathers have been granted a golden opportunity to take time to slow down and connect with their children,” said Canadian Health Minister Adrian Dix.

“Many parents work full time and commute, and when that is taken away, they have more opportunities for togetherness, like a game of catch or going for a hike. Men’s health is impacted by their living situations, and getting a little more physical activity with their kids is a little thing that makes a big difference. We can learn from this pandemic in more ways than we think.”

As a result, the Good News Network reports, 40% of the respondents believe COVID-19 has had a positive impact on their role as a father; 52% are more aware of their importance as a father, and 60% felt closer to their children. Half of those surveyed have already decided to be more engaged as a father in the future.

According to the study, almost 66% of fathers have been providing companionship to their children more often during lockdown, and almost half pla60% felt n to continue doing so as restrictions are lifted. Likewise, 56% have been providing guidance to their children more often, with 46% planning to continue doing that as well.

“I’ve been off work since March and it’s been stressful, but the upside is I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my daughters,” Dal Watson of Burnaby, B.C., told the news outlet.“I’m a professional chef and I’ve been spending time in the kitchen at home teaching my kids how to cook. We’re also sitting down as a family and eating together, which was something that couldn’t happen very often when I was working. I’m grateful for the extra time I have with my family.”

As a follow up to the online survey, The Men’s Initiative (TMI) at UBC conducted virtual focus groups with 45 fathers from across Canada. Many fathers described a hectic family dynamic prior to COVID with busy lives focused on long work days with commuting, eating on the run, and catering to children’s schedules. With the sports, extracurricular, and social activities, the family members experienced lives that were lived in parallel with each other.

As the pandemic evolves, fathers have expressed concern that they will experience a tension between shifting back to the “old normal,” and a desire to create a new normal going forward.

“We know the active and positive presence of fathers in their children’s lives has a positive effect on those children’s mental and physical wellbeing, and reduces the frequency of their negative behaviors,” noted Dr. David Kuhl, a UBC Professor of Medicine and a co-founder of TMI.

“If the COVID-19 lockdown accelerates the movement of dads to be more engaged with their children, that could be a lasting benefit from a tragic public health crisis,”said Dr. Larry Goldenberg, the founding chair of CMHF. “It is clear, however, that men realize it will be a challenge to continue spending quality time with their families once the daily stresses of commuting and working long hours are reintroduced to their lives.”

Research contact: @CMHFoundation66% providing more