Does your homemade mask work?Simon Kolstoe, University of Portsmouth
If a surgeon arrived at the operating theatre wearing a mask they had made that morning from a tea towel, they would probably be sacked. This is because the equipment used for important tasks, such as surgery, must be tested and certified to ensure compliance with specific standards.
But anyone can design and make a face covering to meet new public health requirements for using public transport or going to the shops.
Indeed, arguments about the quality and standard of face coverings underlie recent controversies and explain why many people think they are not effective for protecting against COVID-19. Even the language distinguishes between face masks (which are normally considered as being built to a certain standard) and face coverings that can be almost anything else.
Perhaps the main problem is that, while we know that well-designed face masks have been used effectively for many years as personal protective equipment (PPE), during the COVID-19 outbreak shortages of PPE have made it impractical for the entire population to wear regulated masks and be trained to use them effectively.
As a result, the argument has moved away from wearing face masks for personal protection and towards wearing “face coverings” for public protection. The idea is that despite unregulated face coverings being highly variable, they do, on average, reduce the spread of virus perhaps in a similar way as covering your mouth when you cough.
But given the wide variety of unregulated face coverings that people are now wearing, how do we know which is most effective?
The first thing is to understand what we mean by effective. Given that coronavirus particles are about 0.08 micrometres and the weaves within a typical cloth face covering have gaps about 1,000 times bigger (between 1 and 0.1 millimetres), “effectiveness” does not mean reliably trapping the virus. Instead, much like covering our mouths when we cough, the aim of wearing cloth coverings is to reduce the distance that your breath spreads away from your body.
The idea is that if you do have COVID-19, depositing any virus you may breathe out on either yourself or nearby (within one metre) is much better than blowing it all over other people or surfaces.
So an effective face covering is not meant to stop the wearer from catching the virus. Although from a personal perspective we might want to protect ourselves, to do so we should be wearing specially designed PPE such as FFP2 (also known as N95) masks. But, as mentioned, by doing so we risk creating mask shortages and potentially putting healthcare workers at risk.
Instead, if you want to avoid catching the virus yourself, the most effective things to do are avoid crowded places by ideally staying at home, don’t touch your face, and wash your hands often.
Two simple tests
If effectiveness for face coverings means preventing our breath travelling too far away from our bodies, how would we go about comparing different designs or materials?
Perhaps the easiest way, as demonstrated by several increasingly shared pictures or videos on social media, is to find someone who “vapes” and film them breathing out the vapour while wearing a face covering. One glance at such a picture dispels any suggestion that these face coverings stop your breath escaping.
Instead, these pictures show that your breath is directed over the top of your head, down onto your chest, and behind you. The breath is also turbulent, meaning that although it does spread out, it doesn’t go far.
In comparison, if you look at a picture of someone not wearing a face covering, you will see that the exhalation goes mostly forward and down, but a significantly further distance than with the face covering.
Such a test is probably ideal for examining different designs and fits. Do coverings that loop around the ears work better than scarves? How far under your chin does a covering need to go? What is the best nose fitting? How do face shields compare to face masks? These are all questions that could be answered using this method.
But, in conducting this experiment, we should appreciate that “vaping” particles are about 0.1 to 3 micrometres – significantly bigger than the virus. While it is probably fair to assume that the smaller virus particles will travel in roughly the same directions as the vaping particles, there is also the chance that they may still go straight forward through the face covering.
To get an idea of how much this might happen, a simple test involving trying to blow out a candle directly in front of the wearer could be tried. Initially, the distance coupled with the strength of exhalation could be investigated, but then face coverings made from different materials and critically with different numbers of layers could be tried. The design of face covering that made it hardest to divert the candle flame will probably provide the best barrier for projecting the virus forward and through the face covering.
Without any more sophisticated equipment, it would be difficult to conduct any further simple experiments at home. However, combining the above two tests would provide wearers with a good idea about which of their face coverings would work the best if the aim was to avoid breathing potential infection over other people.
How we found coronavirus in a catWillie Weir, University of Glasgow
Since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the potential role of animals in catching and spreading the disease has been closely examined by scientists. This is because the virus that causes COVID-19 belongs to the family of coronaviruses that cause disease in a variety of mammals.
The evidence suggests that this virus arose in bats and my colleagues at the University of Glasgow have recently determined that the sub-type of coronavirus to which the virus belongs has been circulating in the bat population since the 1940s.
So it makes sense for researchers to ponder whether the virus can be transmitted to companion animals, whether these animals can show symptoms of infection, and whether they may play any role in the epidemiology of the disease.
Cats are the UK’s most popular pet – a 2019 survey revealed there are almost 11 million felines in households across the country. Public concern about felines was initially raised when tigers and lions at the Bronx Zoo in New York were found to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
So, could our domestic cat population be somehow involved in this pandemic here in the UK? We decided to find out.
Searching for coronavirus in UK cats
In early May, my colleagues and I were given ethical approval to retrospectively test cats for SARS-CoV-2 and work soon began screening routine respiratory samples taken from cats throughout the UK. We also launched an appeal to veterinary surgeons asking for samples from suspect cases.
After screening hundreds of samples, this collaborative effort eventually resulted in the detection of a cat with SARS-CoV-2 in the south of England, which had been sampled in mid-May. Further samples submitted to our veterinary colleagues at the Animal and Plant Health Agency revealed that this cat had developed an antibody response to the virus, demonstrating that it had indeed experienced a genuine infection and confirming it was not a simple case of sample contamination.
Circumstances indicate that the cat contracted the virus from its owners, who had previously tested positive for COVID-19.
At this point, the World Organisation for Animal Health was notified by the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and the press was alerted. We are currently preparing a paper on our findings for publication.
Should I be worried about my cat?
So, what does this case tell us? Our research coincided with the UK COVID-19 outbreak, focusing on cats experiencing respiratory symptoms. Our finding of a single infected individual among the hundreds screened tells us that infection in cats is relatively uncommon. This is reinforced by the fact that the other cat in the household never became infected, either by the owners or the infected cat.
Although the cat had been experiencing mild symptoms, including runny eyes and a snotty nose, these signs were consistent with feline herpesvirus infection, for which this cat also tested positive. There is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was making this cat ill and thankfully, the cat and its owners have all made a full recovery.
It is important to appreciate that while, to date, about 18 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, only a handful of infected cats have been detected around the world.
All available evidence suggests, therefore, that cats are not involved in spreading COVID-19. However, the importance of this type of animal surveillance work is clear, considering that a million mink have recently been culled in the Netherlands and Spain as they have been implicated in disease spread.
Our suspicion in the case of cats is that feline infections simply represent a “spill over” from the human epidemic, and we are currently analysing the genome sequence of the virus from the case we found to investigate this hypothesis.
Our results and those from other studies, such as work in the US showing experimentally infected cats were only transiently infected, can provide reassurance to the pet-owning public.
It’s very unlikely your cat has coronavirus, and if it does, it probably won’t be involved in spreading it any further.
Facebook Conversation Today
A friend posted this:
Can anyone tell me why shipping of small parcel/packages to Australia has been discontinued by all our shipping services? Only express mail ( the expensive version) is an option now. Before small packages for 16 Euro up to 1 Kilo were possible. But as of yesterday it's almost 40 Euro for anything up to 1 kilo. It doesn't matter if DHL or UPS or the german post office, apparently there is no other option!
My comment on her post:
Not just Australia, not just parcels, but the entire postal service to EVERYWHERE outside the EU, including letters is again out of order!
Even if you pay premium for EMS, the running time and tracking is also screwed up. Absolutely nothing goes through. In June I had to resort to tricks to get my Canadian tax forms in on time, which can only be mailed. The trick was to send them as PDF to a Canadian friend, and he printed it out there and mailed it for me. I got parcels for my family in Canada sitting since April waiting for a "open window" to send. From Austria, you can't even send a simple letter or postcard! I imagine it is the same from Germany.
Most of my POD business is located in the US, which means NOTHING can be ordered.
On a Canadian friends wall I read that even delivery of goods within Canada is near impossible. His Ikea order cannot be delivered until late September, so he writes: "....... Only other option for me is to travel 159 km (318 km total) to pick it up myself at the store...."
Addendum: I have additional Information to add, since I posted this earlier today. You will find it as UPDATE at the end of this blog.
If interested, the Facebook post that started all this is posted public, and there are by now some interesting treads on it - CHECK IT OUT HERE:
To put this into context with the overall problems with shipping:
Covid-19 Forcing Shipping Industry into Crisis
CPC Consultants posted about this May 7, 2020
As the virus continues to spread, it remains immensely difficult to forecast the medium to long-term implications, yet the short-term consequences are clear: demand and freight rates are dropping and continue to drop as the uncertainty of Covid-19 is impossible to forecast. Demand is slowing from consumers that have resulted in reduced shipping requirements with all modes within the transportation industry. Simple, supply and demand drive the industry requirements.
The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on global shipping, which could initiate another crisis in what has been a struggling industry. To prevent the spread of the virus, a number of ports and shipping companies have implemented preventive measures leading to cancellation and delays which is causing severe disruptions within the industry. No surprise as most industries have implemented policy to protect the employees and customers.
About mail service
this had been posted February 13, 2020 in Transportation News, and it is still a topic up to this day:
Coronavirus Is Wreaking Havoc on Global Mail Delivery
Some critical documents, such as bills of lading and letters of indemnity, aren’t getting to mainland China, and ship owners are unwilling to release cargoes to their buyers without them, according to three traders in the physical copper market, who asked not to be named discussing commercial issues.
It’s another example of the challenge posed by the coronavirus in physical commodity markets and shows the problem of relying on hand-delivered paper documents in a complex, global supply chain.
Are there limitations in international postal services?
International postal services are currently available to a very limited extent only.
For some destinations, we are currently unable to accept letter mail items or parcels.
There is a link to the current exclusions about letter and parcel services which is constantly updated. I had downloaded these lists regularly, since they change frequently. There seem to be some short windows of opportunity for a few days, but then they close again. The bottom line is that services from Austria outside the EU are basically restricted to expensive EMS. Right now at this date of writing, the situation with the postal service seems to be worse than what it was back in April, at the height of the pandemic.
How is the situation in Canada?
Delivery Service Alerts
While currently I cannot send mail from Austria to Canada, it appears that the reverse is not tue - checking the link above, I find the following (quote from the text on the Canada Post site):
Date posted: July 10, 2020
International Destinations (excluding U.S.A.)
Postal services have been suspended to many international destinations at the request of the receiving Postal Operator or due to the lack of available transportation. The tables below indicate the following:
Service available: Canada Post is still accepting letters and parcels for these destinations. ** Indicates only partial service availability. See PDF list for details.
Suspended service: Canada Post no longer accepts any letters or parcels for these destinations.
For destinations where service is still available, expect significant and unpredictable delays of 7 to 14 days or more. Consumers and business shippers should consider the additional delivery time when making commitments to recipients. Delays are the result of both limited air transportation and changes in the way Postal Operators deliver. Like Canada Post, many international Postal Operators have introduced changes to eliminate customer interactions at the door and support social & physical distancing. These changes may delay delivery and signature will not be available on some items.
**Our goal is to continue providing timely and reliable service. But in light of the current challenges, we have suspended the Money-back Guarantee for XpresspostTM-International and PriorityTM Worldwide service until further notice.
To see the full list of destinations in PDF, click here.
Scrolling down I find that service to Austria is available!
So this seems to be a one-way street!
Conducting research, I found this informative site:
The postal world can experience disruptions that prevent mail from traveling on some international routes. On this page you can find mail suspensions that we are aware of.
You need to check this out, there is a long list with menus for each country.
SAME DAY UPDATE REGARDING THE POST SERVICE IN AUSTRIA :
At the top of this blog I mentioned mail to Canada, and my trick to send PDF to a friend there who then mailed it for me within Canada. It was a last-ditch attempt to get my tax papers in on time. This did happen in June, but unsuccessful mail per EMS happened already in May. To this day, the "official" tracking is stuck at "Handing over to Postpartner". Inquiring with Austria Post on their Facebook page I got an answer that I could not get through their official channels, even after several emails. My EMS mail was eventually delivered after a more than 3 weeks delay. Apparently the Postpartner was DHL, and the person who handled my Facebook query found the DHL tracking that somehow does not show on the Austria Post website.
On May 20th I posted a blog on the Hive Blockchain about this ordeal (at that time, the issue was not yet resolved) - it was posted to the HIVE AUSTRIA group in German:
The HIVE blog is in German, I also linked to a conversation with Austria Post on their Facebook page, which is also in German - CHECK IT OUT HERE - Date May 19th, the day before my blog.
Additional stuff to think about, because in these situations it is more than just ironic: the slogan for a ad for the Austrian Post was unveiled 10 years ago:
"Wenn's wirklich wichtig ist, dann lieber mit der Post" English: "If it's really important, then better by post". This is good for a laugh when you read the comments on this article by the Standard. COVID-19 excuses for poor service today? It has always been poor service according to comments posted a decade ago! But the problems then pale in comparison with the problems today.
I like to mention something here about myself: when it comes to Logistics, I am not a layman. This was my first job qualification and diploma I earned from the Handelskammer in Vienna. I have a good understanding of the industry, as well as related experience working for the railway in Canada.
Air pollution exposure linked to higher COVID-19 cases and deaths – new studyMatt Cole, University of Birmingham; Ceren Ozgen, University of Birmingham, and Eric Strobl, Université de Berne
The global death toll from COVID-19 has now passed half a million. To slow the spread of the disease, we need to better understand why some places have higher numbers of cases and deaths than others.
One factor that could partially explain this is air pollution. Research has shown that long term exposure to pollutants such as fine particulate matter (often called PM2.5, as these are particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres), nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) and sulphur dioxide (SO₂) can reduce lung function and cause respiratory illness. These pollutants have also been shown to cause a persistent inflammatory response even in the relatively young and to increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.
The pathogen that causes COVID-19 – SARS-CoV-2 – is one such virus. Several studies have already suggested that poor air quality can leave people at greater risk of contracting the virus, and at greater risk of serious illness and death. A study of the US found that even a small increase in PM2.5 concentrations of 1 microgram per cubic metre is associated with an 8% increase in the COVID-19 death rate. Our new research looked at the relationship between COVID-19 cases and exposure to air pollution in the Netherlands and found that the equivalent figure for that country could be up to 16.6%.
The unusual case of the Netherlands
After analysing data for 355 Dutch municipalities, we found that an increase in fine particulate matter concentrations of 1 microgram per cubic metre was linked with an increase of up to 15 COVID-19 cases, four hospital admissions and three deaths.
The first confirmed COVID-19 case in the Netherlands occurred in late February and by late June over 50,000 cases had been identified. The national spread of COVID-19 cases shows a greater number in the south-eastern regions.
Unusually, these hotspots of disease transmission are in relatively rural regions where there are fewer people living close together. The Dutch media offered one potential explanation. In late February and early March each year, these areas hold carnival celebrations which attract thousands of people to street parties and parades – 2020 was no exception, so does that explain the rapid spread of COVID-19 there?
While it’s likely that the carnival celebrations played a role, the pattern of cases across these regions suggest other factors may be at least as important.
The south-eastern provinces of North Brabant and Limburg house over 63% of the country’s 12 million pigs and 42% of its 101 million chickens. Intensive livestock production produces large amounts of ammonia. These particles often form a significant proportion of fine particulate matter in air pollution. Concentrations of this are at their highest in air samples from the south-east of the Netherlands.
The correlation between these indicators of air pollution and cases of COVID-19 is clear to see, but is it just a coincidence?
Pollutants associated with COVID-19
Our analysis used COVID-19 data up to June 5 2020, capturing almost the entire known course of the Dutch epidemic. The relationship we found between pollution and COVID-19 exists even after controlling for other contributing factors, such as the carnival, age, health, income, population density and others.
To put our results in context, the highest annual average concentration of fine particulate matter in a Dutch municipality is 12.3 micrograms per cubic metre, while the lowest is 6.9. If concentrations in the most polluted municipality fell to the level of the least polluted, our results suggest this would lead to 82 fewer disease cases, 24 fewer hospital admissions and 19 fewer deaths, purely as a result of the change in pollution.
The correlation we found between exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 is not simply a result of disease cases being clustered in large cities where pollution may be higher. After all, COVID-19 hotspots in the Netherlands were in relatively rural regions. Still, region-level data can only get us so far. Within regions, pollution levels and COVID-19 cases can vary considerably from place to place, making it hard to estimate the precise relationship between the two.
Being able to study this link among individual people would allow us to more precisely eliminate the influence of age and health conditions. But until this kind of data is available, the evidence of a relationship between pollution and COVID-19 can never be conclusive.
Matt Cole, Professor of Environmental Economics, University of Birmingham; Ceren Ozgen, Assistant Professor in Economics, University of Birmingham, and Eric Strobl, Professor of Economics, Université de Berne
I had blogged about air pollution already on April 6th 2020
A VIRAL LANDSCAPE
Bats are hosts to a range of viruses but don't get sick – why?Keith Grehan, University of Leeds
Bats harbour many diverse viruses, including coronaviruses. Indeed, Sars, Mers and COVID-19 – which are all caused by coronaviruses – are thought to have emerged from bats. These diseases can be deadly to humans, yet bats seem to be unaffected by them.
Like all animal species, bats possess their own range of pathogens – viral, bacterial and fungal. Organisms are part of an interconnected system of other living things that evolved to exploit and be exploited in turn. Bats have therefore evolved with a set of viruses that infect them and continuously circulate through the bat population.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is a member of a family of viruses called the coronaviridae (coronaviruses). Coronaviruses, or “CoVs”, infect a variety of animals, with human infections ranging from HCoV-229E, which causes some cases of the common cold, to MERS-CoV, which is fatal in up to 30% of cases.
Since the original SARS-CoV outbreak in 2002, coronaviruses closely related to SARS-CoV have been discovered in bats from countries all over the world. Scientists in China studying Chinese horseshoe bats in 2013, identified several SARS-like CoVs that use the same ACE2 receptor to bind to cells as the current SARS-CoV-2. These viruses were similar enough to SARS-CoV that they were termed SARS-like coronaviruses. New viruses have been added to this group since then. So there is a significant diversity of coronaviruses circulating in bats, which may increase the probability that one of these viruses has the potential to become a zoonotic infection – in other words, can jump to humans.
Bats are excellent hosts for viruses in general and coronaviruses as a group have been particularly successful at infecting and diversifying within bats. The highly social nature of many bat species leads to the constant exchange of viral pathogens between bats – and this may act to drive viral diversification within a population.
Unique among mammals
With so many potentially dangerous viruses circulating among them, why do the bats themselves not die off from these constant infections? Clearly, bats can maintain a balance between control of a viral infection and the excessive inflammatory response that can kill other hosts. Perhaps the answer lies in their unique feature among mammals – flight.
The physiological requirements of flight have affected the bat immune system. Flight causes bats to have elevated metabolic functions and raises their core body temperature about 38°C. This means that bats are often in a state that, for humans, would be considered a fever. Researchers in the UK have suggested that this may be a mechanism to help bats survive viral infections.
Viral infections can harm the host, in part, by causing an out-of-control inflammation response called a “cytokine storm”, which can be a fatal complication in several respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. If bats adaptation to flight also allows them to tolerate high body temperatures better, it means they can tolerate at least some potential damaging effects of the inflammation response better than other mammals.
In addition to traits that allow bats to tolerate a high body temperature, bats may also have other adaptations that mark their immune system as unusual or unique among mammals.
A sting in the tale
In 2018, scientists in China and Singapore identified a mutation in a gene that helps to control the antiviral response in bats during a viral infection. The mutation is in a gene called the stimulator of interferon genes (STING), which is common to all mammals and has a crucial role in triggering the inflammation response during a viral infection.
The mutation identified in bats has been shown to reduce the production of specific inflammation-causing proteins, called interferons, during a viral infection.
It may seem counter-intuitive that reduced production of an antiviral component could be better for the host, but it appears that damping down the inflammation response may allow the bats to avoid the damage caused an excessive immune response – the previously mentioned cytokine storm.
Adaptation to flight and mutation in STING both serve to control and tolerate inflammation. But these changes are probably only part of how bats have adapted to persistent viral infections in a way that other species have not.
Although we have known for a long time that bats are a potential source of novel viruses, research into bat immunity remains at the cutting edge of science, and new research is emerging all the time. It is likely that further discoveries will be made and that each new piece of data will enhance our understanding of bats, viruses and provide insights into our own immune systems.