Take cover: Are face shields even better than masks at preventing COVID-19 infection?

June 8, 2020

If you wear a face mask when you leave your home, you’re probably not doing it out of a sense of style Masks are awkward and uncomfortable, and they can be difficult to use correctly: If they aren’t applied and removed with clean hands, they can actually transmit infection rather than prevent it, Self magazine reports.

A growing number of researchers think there’s a better way. Face shields—which cover a person’s face with a clear curved plastic panel—are more comfortable, easier to put on and take off, reusable, and simple to clean.

But most importantly, “we feel face shields are far more effective,” Eli Perencevich, M.D., a professor of Internal Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, recently told Self in an interview. In April, Dr. Perencevich published a commentary in JAMA in favor of face shields with two of his colleagues.

Research on face shields is limited but promising. In a 2014 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene study, researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health placed a face shield on a breathing robot and had another robot 18 inches away “cough out” flu virus. The shield prevented the breathing robot from inhaling 96% of the virus within five minutes. In additional tests, the shield’s effectiveness varied based on the size of droplets expelled, but the overall indication was that shields can protect their wearers from other people’s germs.

No studies have yet addressed whether face shields protect other people from your germs, however, and this makes some scientists wary. “We don’t have the research to say that they will offer protection for those around you, should you be sick,” Saskia Popescu, Ph.D., an infection prevention epidemiologist at George Mason University, tells Self.

But face shield proponents argue that based on the laws of physics, shields will likely protect others. Everything that flies out of your mouth is “going forward, and it’s hitting a giant piece of plastic,” Dr. Perencevich says. “It just physically can’t go through.”

Dr. Perencevich and others are now designing studies to help address this issue, but he says it’s difficult for research like this to get funded. “We’re more interested as a society in treatment than we are in prevention,” Michael Edmond, M.D., a hospital epidemiologist at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, who co-authored the JAMA commentary with Dr. Perencevich, said in an interview with the magazine. “There’s never money to do this kind of work. It’s never been prioritized.”

Some people are skeptical of shields because they are open on the sides and bottom. But these openings may not pose much of a problem. Research suggests that the coronavirus usually spreads via large droplets expelled out of a person’s mouth or nose, which are pulled down by gravity within a radius of six feet. (Hence the six-foot rule.) Shields prevent close-by expelled viruses from hitting another person’s face before they fall.

To get in through the shield’s openings, the virus would need to linger around in the air in smaller particles known as aerosols and eventually meander around the shield’s sides. But “the patterns of spread of [COVID-19] suggest that aerosol is unusual,” David Fisman, M.D., an Infectious Disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, believes. Some studies have found that the virus can linger in the air, but epidemiological findings—such as surprising data suggesting that people often do not get sick even when other members of their household have the coronavirus—suggest that aerosol transmission is uncommon.

Still, for those who are concerned about the potential role of aerosols, or who might be at high-risk for complications from the coronavirus, one solution might be to wear shields and masks at the same time, suggests William Lindsley, Ph.D., a bioengineer with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, who co-authored the 2014 robot coughing study. When robots wore both shields and masks in his study, the shields blocked 97%t of the virus from landing on the masks, keeping them much cleaner.

Research contact: @SELFmagazine

Kennedys invite all Americans to nominate COVID-19 frontline heroes for ‘Profile in Courage Award’

June 5, 2020

President John F. Kennedy’s daughter Caroline Kennedy, 62, and her son, Jack Schlossberg, 27, are asking for nominations from the American public of heroes who served their communities during the coronavirus crisis for this year’s Profile in Courage Award, NBC’s Today show reports.

Multiple nominees will be chosen as recipients of the prestigious award at a ceremony that will be held when it’s safe to have large gatherings in person, according to the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

“What happened this year is we realized that we are seeing courage all around us in the in the extraordinary demonstration of people putting their own lives at risk to help the rest of us stay safe and healthy,” Kennedy told Savannah Guthrie of Today.

People can submit stories about those who have demonstrated courage during the pandemic on the JFK Library website or on social media using the hashtag #COVIDCourage. Nominations will be accepted through the end of August and the recipients, who are chosen by a committee, will be announced in the fall.

Schlossberg explained on Today that he nominated his friend Paul Wasserman on Instagram for his work at Fire Station 410 in Fairfax, Virginia, where he serves as an emergency medical technician in an area that has been hard hit by the coronavirus.

“At the center of VA’s outbreak, these people have gone above and beyond to meet the moment,” Schlossberg wrote on Instagram. “In addition to working full time at the DoD, Paul’s volunteering as an EMT on long overnight and weekend shifts to help the career staff during the pandemic, who he says are the real heroes.”

Kennedy and Schlossberg believe people like Wasserman embody the spirit reflected by previous recipients of the Profiles in Courage award.

The award was created 31 years ago to honor President Kennedy’s birthday on May 29 and his commitment to public service. It’s named in honor of his famous 1957 book, “Profiles in Courage,” which tells the stories of eight U.S. senators who took principled stands for unpopular positions at the risk of their careers.

Former recipients of the award include Presidents Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford; and members of Congress-among them, John McCain, Gabrielle Giffords and John Lewis. Last year’s recipient was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Research contact: @TODAYshow

‘Small fry-er’: One-year-old chef Kobe is the Internet’s newest culinary star

June 4, 2020

The Food Network had better get ready, because there’s a new celebrity chef on the scene—and he can’t even talk yet. The pint-sized cook is already whipping up gourmet meals for his parents.

Kobe, a one-year-old food lover and culinary star known to his fans as “Chef Kobe,” has quickly become a very popular presence on social media, thanks to his adorable (and practical) cooking videos, the NBC-TV Today show on reports.

The hands-on chef, who seems to enjoy playing with his food as much as he does eating it, prepares everything from classic comfort foods, like macaroni and cheese and pizza; to decidedly more complex dishes, including lamb chops and Thai beef bowls with basil.

With a little help from his parents, Kobe has quickly amassed a following of 1 million people on Instagram within the last few months. To put that in perspective, chef Jose Andres (whose restaurants have been awarded prestigious Michelin stars) has 514,000 followers. Guy Fieri has 1.4 million followers.

Chef Kobe’s mom, Ashley Wian, told Today Food that cooking is just one of the many practical things her son does at home, but it’s something in which he’s already taken a big interest.

“He has so much fun doing it and such a big, animated personality, I decided to record it to share originally with friends and family,” Wian said. “I wanted them all to see his excitement in the kitchen and also illustrate all the things he’s learning.”

When it comes to the types of cuisine the little chef prepares, he already has an affinity for a wide array of foods.

“Kobe had 100 different foods by the age of one. People loved seeing him try new foods when we started at six months, so it then evolved into him preparing those foods,” Wian told Today.

At the moment, his absolute favorites are blueberries and bananas.

While Kobe will happily try anything once, he particularly enjoys recipes made with cheese for the very relatable reason that “he gets to eat it” while he cooks, his mom said.

Kobe also enjoys preparing new recipes suggested by his followers, like a Turkish dish called menemen, made with eggs, tomato, green peppers and spices such as black pepper and red pepper, which he just tried for the first time.

Wian said the reactions to her son’s videos have been incredibly positive and she’s so happy to hear he “puts a smile on so many faces all over the world during such a difficult time.”

“I love that this quality time with my son turned into something inspiring for the world. These silly videos of us cooking together turned into something we never imagined!” she said.

Wian said she’s also heard from other parents who say these videos are inspiring them to get their own kids involved in the kitchen. It also inspiring people to take the time to sit down together as a family and enjoy a meal together, something Wian said is “extremely important” in her home.

“There are so many benefits to cooking … so many lessons, practical skills—and memories can be made,” she said.

Research contact: @TODAYshow

It’s a puzzlement: Try these eight challenges from Harvard’s most popular class

June 3, 2020

After too many long days of home confinement, you may feel unable to tackle yet another jigsaw or crossword puzzle. Fear not. Harvard University’s most popular course, Computer Science 50 (CS50), offers the challenge you are seeking, Fortune Magazine reports.

CS50 has become a phenomenon within and beyond the university—taught simultaneously at Yale (a first); and offered for free on the EdX education platform, where it’s the number-one course.

The EdX version recently held its fifth annual Puzzle Day (which actually is four days long), Fortune reports—inviting teams from around the world to solve eight puzzles, none of which involve programming. Perhaps because so many people are stuck at home, the number of participants jumped 49% from last year to 13,427.

The eight problems that entrants are invited to solve are challenging. Really challenging. But they aren’t computer problems.

A goal of the event is to emphasize that “computer science isn’t about programming but about problem-solving more generally,”  the course’s professor, David Malan, told the news outlet. And they aren’t impossible; teams comprising 46% of participants submitted answers, and nearly all those teams answered at least some of the problems correctly.

Yes, there is an answer key, but we’re not giving it to you. You’ll fight longer and be more likely to solve a problem if finding the answer isn’t convenient. And if you eventually must surrender, you can at least take pride in finding the answer key online—although it isn’t all that hard.

Research contact: @FortuneMagazine

Fashionistas mock SpaceX’s ‘half-finished Power Ranger’ space suit

June 2, 2020

On Saturday afternoon, May 30, in a first for U.S. private industry, SpaceX, launched a pair of NASA astronauts into the thermosphere—about 200 to 240 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The Elon Musk-led space company put on a big show. Clad in futuristic space suits courtesy of SpaceX, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley got the red carpet treatment as they made their way to a NASA logo-adorned Tesla Model X that drove them to the historic launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

However, Futurism reports, while the technology was flawless—and the flight docked without a hitch with the International Space Station on Sunday— the astronauts weren’t properly dressed for the occasion, according to fashion mavens.

“A boxy white top with minor detailing, paired with boxy white pants with minor detailing?” GQ Contributing Writer Tyler Watamanuk wrote in a recent article for the men’s lifestyle magazine—condemning SpaceX’s design choices.

This is the International Space Station, not Everlane!” Watamanuk added, pointing out that “in some ways, the design feels deliberately trend-adverse, paying no mind to contemporary style or even the larger world of design.”

“It looks like car upholstery,” Gizmodo staff reporter Whitney Kimball wrote in a post that Futurism picked up. “It looks like Tron. It looks like a half-finished Power Ranger. It looks like a Tesla-sponsored NASCAR tracksuit.”

Other fashionistas were kinder to the design.

“Actually, what the SpaceX suits evoke most of all is James Bond’s tuxedo if it were redesigned by Tony Stark as an upgrade for [‘Star Trek’ captain] James T. Kirk’s next big adventure,” Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times, wrote in a Thursday commentary piece.

“They do not have the dangling hoses, knobs, and wires of the traditional suits,” she added.

According to Futurism, the suit’s designer is Jose Fernandez, a Hollywood costume veteran who worked on movies including “The Avengers” and “Batman v Superman.” The flashy design was reverse-engineered to meet space travel requirements—not the other way around.

But speaking of dangling hoses and knobs, NASA’s own take for its upcoming Artemis missions to the Moon looks strikingly different. The agency’s Orion Crew Survival System suit features a traffic pylon-orange design with NASA-blue trim.

The boots look like a pair of futuristic Adidas. The helmet evokes the Apollo missions. And the gloves could basically be worn snowboarding, from a purely aesthetic point of view, Futurism notes. It’s liquid cooled, custom-fitted to each astronaut, and features a survival kit including a life preserver, rescue knife, flashlight, whistle, and light sticks.

In short, the Orion design is  a freakin’ space suit that’s ready for anything. Function takes precedence over form; it was designed to look like a space suit—not a tuxedo.

Research contact: @futurism

The spirits are willing: Business is up 140% for psychics during the pandemic

June 1, 2020

With a pandemic, a lockdown, painful personal losses, a spiraling economy, fewer jobs, stress on relationships, and literally nowhere to go, who can blame Americans for wanting to know what will happen in the “foreseeable future”?

Since the beginning of March, astrologers, spiritual guides, tarot card readers, and psychics have seen an uptick in business, Salon reports.

. According to Google search trends, Google searches for “psychic” jumped to a one-year high during the week of March 8—when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began issuing some guidance on COVID-19.

Business review and aggregator site Yelp posted an Economic Impact Report that noted that its “Supernatural Readings” business category was up 140%, as more Americans turned to tarot card readers, mediums and psychics.

Leslie Hale has been offering astrology readings since the late 1990s. She joined Keen.com, an online “spiritual advisor network” in 2001, and told Salon that currently her business is up about 30%. (Likewise, Keen.com told Salon they are experiencing a vast increase in traffic as of late.) Hale said usually she had from ten to 15 calls a day, but during the pandemic it’s been anywhere between 20 and 30. She charges $3.53 a minute.

“There has never been a time like this,” Hale told Salon of her 21-year astrologer career. “I think everybody wants to know if their life is going to go on, and if there’s anything in the future they have to look forward to.”

It makes sense that average people are seeking clarity in uncertain times.. According to Pew Research data from 2018, an estimated 60% of  American adults accept at least one “New Age belief,” a list that includes psychics.

While in the past, spiritualism meant looking for connection with the dead, today it is more about seeking assurance. Alicia Butler, a 38-year-old freelance writer, usually turns to tarot card readings for comfort. She told Salon during the pandemic they’ve been especially helpful.

“It’s definitely a source of comfort right now,” Butler, who is quarantining with her parents, told Salon. “If things don’t reopen and we don’t have a vaccine or something, am I going to just be 13 again and living with my parents, and not growing emotionally or professionally ever again?”

“I mean, it’s basically somebody telling you that everything’s gonna be okay,” Butler added.

Nathalie Theodore, JD, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Chicago, told Salon it makes sense that some would turn to psychics or tarot card readers during this time.

“Uncertainty is something that many of us struggle with and, for some, it can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety,” Theodore said. “Fear of the unknown can send us into a downward spiral of negative thinking and imagining worst case scenarios.”

Theodore added that one of the hardest parts of this pandemic is not knowing how long it will last or what our lives will look like once it ends.

Hale, the psychic, said the number one question she gets from clients is when they will find a romantic partner.

“The biggest concern of most of the people who call me is still their relationship,” Hale said. “People want to know, ‘when I am going to be able to go out and meet someone special again?'”

She believes that inquiry is tied to loneliness.

“During this time of social isolation, I think people are lonely . . . . of course we have technology but that’s not the same thing as sitting across the table from someone,” Hale said.

Sara Kohl, who does “remote viewing” for Keen.com, said many people are wondering about their job security, too. “I’ve had a lot of my clients get furloughed,” Kohl said. “And so they’re calling… wondering if they’re going to be going back to work, and when.”

Fortuitously, Kohl is one of those rare people who is unconcerned about job security right now.  “It’s been the busiest I’ve ever seen,” she said. “People are calling in droves.”

Research contact: @Salon

Latest buzz: Mosquitoes don’t carry coronavirus

May 29, 2020

Mosquito season is upon us and—considering that these bloodsuckers are known to transmit diseases—people are concerned: Even with the lockdowns lifting, is it safe to go outside? Do mosquitoes carry the novel coronavirus? And if so, can they transmit it to humans and infect a person with COVID-19?

The short answer, according to a report by Health: It’s unlikely. Official guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that there is no information or evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted through mosquito bites. 

For starters, the coronavirus is a respiratory virus, and the main mode of transmission is by viral droplets released into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. For a mosquito to become infected with a virus, it must be present in the blood the mosquito feeds on.

“SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is a respiratory virus that is almost exclusively contained within the lungs and respiratory tract of infected people, and rarely gets into the blood,” Emily Gallichotte, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Microbiology,Iimmunology, and Pathology at Colorado State University, told Health during a recent interview.

Plus, for a virus to pass to a person through a mosquito or other kind of insect bite—such as a tick bite—the virus must be able to replicate inside the mosquito or tick. Neither the new coronavirus nor any other type of coronavirus has been shown to do that.

“It’s quite a complex process,” former US Navy entomologist Joseph M. Conlon, who has extensive worldwide experience in mosquito control and is technical advisor to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), said during an interview with the news outlet“First of all, the mosquito would have to pick up the requisite amount of virus during its bite. The virus must then not only survive the digestive process, but replicate within the mosquito and pass through the gut wall to the coelom (main body cavity) of the mosquito. From there it must make its way to the salivary glands and be expressed by the mosquito as part of its salivary secretions.”

Furthermore, mosquitoes are very genetically different from humans. “This makes it challenging for viruses to have the ability to infect both of us,” says Gallichotte. “We have different receptors on the surface of cells and different replication machinery inside our cells.”

Relatively few human viruses have the ability to infect both humans and mosquitoes. “The vast majority of human viruses (such as influenza, HIV, and herpes) have been infecting humans for a very very long time, and even though many of these end up in our blood, they are still unable to infect mosquitoes,” says Gallichotte. “Conversely, there are many mosquito viruses that are unable to infect humans, or any mammals. There are no known coronaviruses that can infect mosquitoes.”

Viruses that can be spread to humans by mosquitoes include West Nile virus, the virus that causes dengue fever, and chikungunya virus, all of which circulate in the blood of infected people. “West Nile virus is able to infect a mosquito to the point where the virus load is abundant in the salivary glands,” Melissa Doyle, scientific program manager at the San Gabriel Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District (SGVMVCD), tells Health. “When the mosquito bites a person, the virus is able to travel from the salivary glands into the human body.”

So it’s pretty clear that COVID-19 is the last thing you should be worrying about if a mosquito has been feasting on your leg. Keep swatting them away, though. “Due to the heavy focus on COVID-19, many people may forget that disease threats may already be buzzing right outside their window.” SGVMVCD Public Information Officer Levy Sun told Health.

Conlon points out that mosquitoes can factor into the severity of COVID-19, meaning it’s crucial to maintain robust measures to reduce their numbers. “Studies have shown that factors contributing to potentially serious or fatal outcomes attendant to COVID-19 infection involve underlying medical issues, such as neurologic conditions that weaken the ability to cough or an already stressed immune system due to concurrent infection by mosquito-borne viruses,” he says.

Mosquitoes or no mosquitoes, it’s still crucial to keep following healthy coronavirus protocol to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Clean your hands frequently, practice social distancing, stay home if you’re sick, and avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.

Research contact: @health

On the waterfront during COVID-19: Keeping safe this summer

May 28, 2020

Hot weather is here—and with it, the promise of a refreshing dip at nearby pools, beaches, hot tubs, and water parks. But before you catch a wave, or make a splashdown, you might want to check on whether “freestyle” water sports will be safe this season, The Huffington Post reports.

But there is some good news at the start of the season: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionno evidence has emerged to suggest that you can contract the coronavirus from the water, itself.

“There is no data that somebody got infected this way [with coronavirus],” Professor Karin B. Michels, chair of UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology, stated in a recent interview with The Los Angeles Times.

“I can’t say it’s absolutely 100% zero risk, but I can tell you that it would never cross my mind to get COVID-19 from a swimming pool or the ocean,” agreed Paula Cannon, a professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. “It’s just extraordinarily unlikely that this would happen.”

That said, the HuffPost notes, some safety measures and health warnings should still be kept in mind before you take a dip. Here’s what you should know:

Some experts suspected at the beginning of the pandemic that the coronavirus could dissipate in the warmer months, similar to the flu and other viruses. However, that’s yet to be determined.

The CDC states that hotter temperatures—those above 75 degrees—do not kill the virus. The disease can also still spread in warmer, humid climates. So don’t use sunbathing at the pool or the beach as an excuse to not practice healthy habits or follow pandemic guidelines.

Being outside and in the water is not completely risk-free, although it is better than staying in a more confined space. The CDC advises that you should avoid “group events, gatherings, or meetings both in and out of the water if social distancing of at least six feet between people who don’t live together cannot be maintained.”

Exceptions to this rule only include emergency evacuations and cases where someone is rescuing a distressed swimmer; or providing medical help or first aid, the HuffPost reports.

What’s more, all high-touch surfaces—such as handrails and chairs—should be regularly disinfected. If you’re swimming in your own pool or a family pool, you should make sure to wipe those areas down regularly.

Proper water maintenance also is important. The regular amount of chlorine used to treat pools should be enough to inactivate the virus, The Los Angeles Times reported.

There’s a chance that the virus can be spread when an infected person—even those who are asymptomatic―expels respiratory droplets onto surfaces and then someone else touches the same surface. (Although how easily the virus can spread when touching surfaces has been called into question recently, it’s better to assume right now that you could be susceptible to transmission in such a manner.)

It’s best to limit contact where possible, which means you should absolutely not share items like floats, masks, googles, snorkeling equipment (even with people who are in your own house). Bring or use your own, and be sure to disinfect them regularly.

Pool operators and people who will be in close proximity to others outside of the water are encouraged to wear a maskaccording to the CDC. Take it off once you get in the water—swimming with such a face covering can make it difficult to breathe.

With those safeguards, for now, you can dive on in. The water’s fine.

Research contact: @HuffPostLife

No joke: Scientists believe cannabis might help block and treat coronavirus

May 25, 2020

Okay, we can’t resist it: A team of Canadian scientists has ‘high hopes.” They believe they have found strong strains of cannabis that could help prevent or treat novel coronavirus infections, The New York Post reports.

Researchers from the University of Lethbridge say that a study they conducted in April showed at least 13 cannabis plants were high in a form of CBD that appeared to affect the ACE2 pathways—which are gateways to cells—that the virus uses to access the body.

“We were totally stunned at first, and then we were really happy,” one of the researchers, Olga Kovalchuktold CTV News on April 21. Indeed, she and her husband, Igor—both of whom have been working with cannabis since 2015—believe that, while clinical trials still need to be done, the data they have collected show promise that some cannabis extracts may be used to effectively block and address the symptoms of COVID-19.

The results, posted in the online journal, Preprints, indicate that hemp extracts high in CBD may help block proteins that provide a “gateway” for COVID-19 to enter host cells.

Igor Kovalchuck is optimistic that the forms of cannabis that he and Olga have identified will be able to reduce the virus’ entry points by as much as 70%. “Therefore, you have more chance to fight it,” he told CTV.

“Our work could have a huge influence—there aren’t many drugs that have the potential of reducing infection by 70% to 80%,” he told the Calgary Herald.

Cannabis even could be used to “develop easy-to-use preventative treatments in the form of mouthwash and throat gargle products,” the study suggested, with a “potential to decrease viral entry” through the mouth.

“The key thing is not that any cannabis you would pick up at the store will do the trick,” Olga told CTV, with the study suggesting just a handful of more than 800 varieties of sativa seemed to help.

All were high in anti-inflammatory CBD—but low in THC, the part that produces the cannabis high.

The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, was carried out in partnership with Pathway Rx, a cannabis therapy research company; and Swysh, a cannabinoid-based research company.

The researchers are seeking funding to continue their efforts to support scientific initiatives to address COVID-19.

“While our most effective extracts require further large-scale validation, our study is crucial for the future analysis of the effects of medical cannabis on COVID-19,” the research said.

“Given the current dire and rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, every possible therapeutic opportunity and avenue must be considered.”

Research contact: @nypost

Compassionate texting system enables you to exchange kind messages with frontline heroes

May 22, 2020

As armies of courageous healthcare workers continue to help Americans to combat the COVID-19 crisis, an ingenious startup service is enabling those of us who are sheltering in place to exchange unconditional messages of love and support with frontline heroes, the Good News Network (GNN) reports.

The #Text For Humanity switchboard, created by telecommunications provider Sinch in partnership with Mental Health America (MHA)originally launched in January to combat online negativity and promote the sharing of positive messages between strangers.

To date, GNN reports, more than 83,000 messages of positivity have been exchanged across 85 countries.

As the world moves into the next phase of the crisis, #TextForHumanity now enables people choosing to participate to identify themselves as either a frontline worker, or someone living in isolation. In turn, senders can choose the group they would like to send a personalized message of thanks and support. Frontline workers include anyone from nurses and doctors to delivery drivers and grocery store staffers—people performing the vital jobs that are keeping society going.

There is no charge for the service; neither Sinch nor MHA profits from #Text For Humanity.

However, MHA’s screening numbers have been growing since the start of the pandemic. MHA has seen a 70% increase in the number of people taking an anxiety (GAD-7) screen and a 64% increase in the number of people taking a depression (PHQ-9) screen between January and April.

“These are worrying times for many people and psychological well-being is severely impacted,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “Prolonged isolation can increase incidences of poor mental health, particularly for the most vulnerable in society. And then there’s the incredible burden placed on brave frontline workers. People putting their own lives at risk while saving others, and keeping society safe and functioning. We see Text For Humanity as an important route to engage them.”

Text For Humanity is now enabled by WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and regular text messaging—so it’s easy for anyone with even the most basic phone to join. This is particularly important for the elderly who are among the least likely to own a smartphone.

To join the service, text JOIN to 37352 (U.S. only) or +1 833-421-4726 (additional international number options and links to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are available through the platform’s website). The service will ask for a couple of simple details including whether you are a frontline worker or living in isolation. As before, all data is stored securely, and no personal or identifying details will be known or shared.

You can then write a short message that gives a frontline worker or someone in isolation a smile. Once you’ve sent the message, Text For Humanity will share it with a fellow human somewhere in the world. Not only that, you will then receive a positive message from a stranger on your own phone. Messages you receive can also be transformed into vibrant and personalized artwork that can be easily shared from a smartphone on social media.

The service is currently run in English language only. You can opt out at any time by simply replying STOP to the service, says GNN.

Research contact: @goodnewsnetwork