The constant stream of information about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 can cause a lot of anxiety. Mental Floss created this semiweekly digest so you can peruse the news at your own pace—without feeling overwhelmed.
May 15, 2020
A French dairy trade group is urging cheese lovers in France to fromagissons—basically, “let us act for cheese!”—to help farmers during the coronavirus pandemic. Citizens can do their part by scarfing down cheese from the regions of Saint-Nectaire, Reblochon, Cantal, and Camembert that would otherwise go to waste. BRB, moving to France …
Quarantine fatigue is sweeping the nation. Inverse talks to three experts about what this special type of fatigue looks like and offers some options for getting through it.
One way to battle quar exhaustion that seems to be working for us: Looking at these adorable baby animals born during the pandemic. CNN has the scoop on a newborn zebra at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida, two blue penguin chicks at the Bronx Zoo, and baby bison at Custer State Park in South Dakota. Personally, I’m in love with Sami the porcupette and her mom, Samantha, who were rescued by workers at Newhouse Wildlife Rescue in April.
It’s like Sami knew today was special. She wouldn’t stop kissing her mom this morning ❤️ pic.twitter.com/DTr9IsYzf5
— Newhouse Wildlife Rescue (@NewhouseRescue) May 10, 2020
Apparently, a segment of the male population is not OK with wearing face masks, despite numerous cities and states mandating masks in public to slow the spread of COVID-19 and statistics showing men are more susceptible to the disease. According to a non-peer-reviewed paper on PsyArXiv, men more than women were likely to view wearing a mask as “shameful, not cool, a sign of weakness, and a stigma.” You know what’s also a sign of weakness? Not being able to breathe because your lungs are filled with fluid!
And one more cautionary tale to take you into the weekend: a woman in Italy found out the hard way that drinking hand sanitizer does not protect you from coronavirus infection. The unnamed woman sipped two teaspoons of alcohol-based sanitizer every day for more than three weeks, then had to go to the emergency room for extreme abdominal pain. Doctors found “corrosive injury” to her digestive system. A better idea: wash your hands.
May 12, 2020
A new, free online course from Johns Hopkins University teaches the basics of contact tracing—which involves interviewing COVID-19 patients and determining whom they’ve been around. It’s one of the most important tools for stopping the spread of the new coronavirus. Once they’ve earned their certificate of course completion, students will be primed to apply for one of the thousands of contact tracer jobs in U.S. cities. The Washington Post reports that up to 100,000 contact tracers will be required to fight the pandemic, with as many as 10,000 needed in New York City (and there, the gig pays $57,000 a year [PDF]).
If you live in New York, Maryland, or another state that has required people to wear face coverings in public, perhaps you’ve noticed the extreme variety in mask styles—from surgical masks to bandanas to homemade masks to hazmat respirators. NBC has some tips for choosing and buying a face mask, but the main thing to remember is that they won’t keep you completely safe from the new coronavirus. You still have wash your hands and practice social distancing if you need to leave home.
Last week, houseplant boutique The Sill teamed up with Frontline Strong Relief and the orchid brand Just Add Ice to donate 10,000 orchids to healthcare workers in New York City’s Mount Sinai Hospital Network. Noting the mood-boosting power of plants, The Sill founder and CEO Eliza Blank said the gift is their way of thanking the city’s essential workers as well as celebrating Mother’s Day in the midst of a global crisis.
Certain segments of the internet have been swooning over Dr. Anthony Fauci’s no-nonsense handling of the coronavirus crisis, but a steamy 1991 romance novel called Happy Endings was there first. Famed D.C. hostess and author Sally Quinn based her handsome NIH scientist who has an affair with the widowed first lady on Fauci, just as Fauci was at the NIH developing treatments for AIDS. Washingtonian has the details.
Finally, as if it didn’t already feel like we’re living in a science fiction dystopia, check out the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.
May 8, 2020
The FDA gave emergency-use approval to a new CRISPR-based test that can diagnose COVID-19 in one hour, much faster than the six to eight hours of some current tests, Emily Mullin reports in Medium. CRISPR is a gene-editing technology that uses a molecular “guide” to find and target DNA and remove it from its sequence. In the new test, developed by Sherlock Biosciences, the molecular guide is sent to find the novel coronavirus’s genetic signature in a nose or throat swab. If it locates the signature, the guide releases a signal indicating a positive result. Its developers say the test can be run using standard lab equipment.
Last week, several news outlets reported some younger COVID-19 patients developing serious blood clots or even having strokes while being otherwise healthy. It turns out that blood clots may not be such an unusual symptom of infectious disease, Roxanne Khamsi writes in WIRED. As far back as 1903, physicians noted the presence of clogged blood vessels in people with typhoid fever or bacterial diseases. So why is it so surprising now in COVID-19 patients? “It may be on account of our success at treating such [bacterial] infections,” Khamsi says.
The military is temporarily banning recruits who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 from joining any of the armed forces, according to a Pentagon memo reported by The New York Times. Military officials may reconsider the guidance in the future, once more facts are known about the virus’s long-term effects in patients.
Let’s end on a positive note, shall we? The World Naked Bike Ride will go on, despite the pandemic—at least in Portland, Oregon. While other cities have canceled the event, Portland’s organizers are encouraging nude cyclists to participate on June 27 while maintaining proper social distancing.
May 5, 2020
With so many families unable to visit loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes, some folks are getting creative with their means of connection. When his mother couldn’t visit her 95-year-old father in a Toronto hospital, Avi Minkowitz asked his friend to drive his cherry-picker truck to the facility. His mom got into the bucket and was hoisted up three stories so she could see her beloved dad outside his third-floor window. Read more in this heartwarming essay.
New York City officials began distributing 7.5 million free masks to residents last weekend after the mayor said hospitals and health care workers were adequately supplied with PPE. People can pick up the masks in parks, schools, and food distribution centers (check here for a map of giveaway points in parks). All New Yorkers are required to wear a face covering in public, especially in scenarios where social distancing is difficult.
Tracy Wilk wanted to help out on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, but she’s a chef, not a doctor. So she launched a campaign, Bake It Forward, while furloughed from her job as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Wilk creates batches of delicious cookies and gives them to nurses, physicians, and hospital staff who need a little pick-me-up. “A lot of those health care workers have been working overtime. I’ve done those days before in the kitchen,” Wilk told Good Morning America. “A cookie isn’t going to change it, but it’s going to help workers on the front lines, and those little bits of joy are what makes the day better.”
As we learn more about the novel coronavirus, “COVID toes” is emerging as a possible new symptom. Some people have exhibited reddish lesions on their toes and then tested positive for COVID-19 without showing the typical signs of infection, such as a fever or dry cough. According to the Cleveland Clinic, those with “COVID toes” or unexplained rashes should contact their doctor and seek a coronavirus test.
Finally, are you feeling cooped up? Commiserate with the casts of these single-location movies (like my favorite on the list, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope).
May 1, 2020
People quarantining at home are feeding their sweet tooths (or is it teeth?). Sales of Kellogg’s breakfast cereals, which include Special K, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Pop Tarts Cereal, and many more, increased 3 percent in its latest earnings report thanks to the pandemic, the company said. Frozen food sales jumped 9 percent.
Stressed-out, home-bound parents are turning to Zoom babysitters when they need a break from working, teaching, and childcare. One sitter told The Washington Post that the most difficult part of the job was getting kids back in front of the screen when they wander off.
An NIH study of more than 1000 COVID-19 patients showed that the antiviral drug remdesivir reduced hospital stays to average of 11 days compared to 15 days for patients who received a placebo. The death rate was not reduced significantly. While the results of the study were modest, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that “it is a very important proof of concept, because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.”
Could drive-in movie theaters make a comeback? With traditional cinemas closed across the country, drive-ins offer the thrill of a summer blockbuster in the sanitized safety of your vehicle, with a dash of mid-century nostalgia thrown in. About 300 still exist, including the Family Drive-In Theatre near Winchester, Virginia, which has recently sold out its weekend shows of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Finally, if you’re bored with your cereal-based isolation diet, plug in your Instant Pot and try making these nine concoctions.
April 28, 2020
The CDC added six symptoms to its list of common signs of possible COVID-19 infection. Along with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, the new list includes chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and loss of smell or taste. NPR reports that the expanded list of symptoms might allow more people to qualify for coronavirus testing, since people generally need to show signs of infection to be tested. One scary potential symptom is not yet included: blood clots that are leading to strokes in younger, otherwise mildly symptomatic COVID-19 patients. The Washington Post has that story.
Preliminary results from an Oxford University-based effort to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus are promising, The New York Times reveals. Six rhesus macaque monkeys were given an experimental vaccine, exposed to copious amounts of the virus, and remained healthy. Human trials are next.
N95 masks have been in short supply since the pandemic began, so a group of Boston-based researchers set about finding a simple way to decontaminate masks for reuse. In a not-yet-peer-reviewed paper appearing on the preprint server medRxiv, they suggest that steaming a mask in the microwave over a dish of hydrogen peroxide effectively removed viral particles. While the method hasn’t been tested on a large scale, it could present a way for individual healthcare workers to reuse previously worn masks.
If your wedding has been scaled back or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic—and if you really, really love Miller High Life—have we got a contest for you. The beer brand is giving away “doorstep” weddings to three couples, which include the services of an officiant and photographer and $10,000 for a sometime-in-the-future honeymoon. See the company’s website for details about entering.
We’re still anticipating the return of toilet paper to store shelves. Now, Business Insider reports that the supply of disinfectant wipes and other cleaning products might not come back to pre-pandemic levels until late summer. Brush up on these tips for disinfecting your home while you wait.
Finally, if you’re running out of ways to entertain—I mean educate—your kids at home, try these fun and informative science experiments.
April 24, 2020
Doctors and nurses have self-isolated in RVs and hotel rooms to avoid bringing the new coronavirus into their own families. But one doctor in Texas may be having a slightly more fun time that most in quarantine: He’s camping out in his sons’ treehouse, conveniently located within shouting distance of his actual home. ER doctor Jason Barnes told the Corpus Christie Caller Times that his wife cooks meals for him and leaves them on a table outside, where he “[grabs] it before the dogs can get it.”
You might be wearing your mask wrong. If your mask only covers your mouth or hangs around your neck while you talk on the phone, you’re not using it properly. The Huffington Post has some tips to get the most out of your cloth face covering—and also offers hints about the best fabrics for making your own. And, NPR reports on a not-yet-peer-reviewed study that suggests wearing a nylon stocking over your cloth mask keeps the mask tighter on your face and more effective at restraining your spittle.
Walmart and grocery stores are putting one-way traffic signs in their aisles to help shoppers move in a single direction throughout the stores, which is meant to encourage social distancing. At least two Mental Floss editors have recently witnessed very little adherence to the rules, though. Maybe the stores need to hire crossing guards.
A study highlighted last week in this digest found that cats were more susceptible to the virus than other mammals and birds. Now, the USDA is reporting that two pet kitties in different areas of New York State have tested positive for the coronavirus after visiting their vets with respiratory symptoms. There is still no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from their pets. Fortunately, the two cats are expected to make a full recovery.
Finally, you may be sitting on a hoard on quarantine-related nonperishables right now, but those canned goods won’t last forever. Just look at what happened to this one.
April 21, 2020
You may be feeling stir-crazy after a few weeks of home quarantine, but you have probably had it easier than six tourists in India who were found self-isolating in a cave. The visitors—from France, Turkey, Nepal, Ukraine, and the U.S.—had run out of money for their hotel rooms. Officials took them to a nearby ashram and told them to quarantine for another two weeks.
Schoolkids in Britain can take a virtual geography class with naturalist extraordinaire Sir David Attenborough. The dulcet-voiced narrator of Blue Planet II and Seven Worlds, One Planet will teach pupils about mapping, animal behavior, and oceanography on the BBC’s Bitesize Daily.
Should you disinfect your deliveries? The New York Times offers useful tips on when or if to treat common surfaces, like cardboard boxes, your shoes, and your hair, with antiviral solutions. Bonus: The Times’s how-to guide for washing your clothes at home.
There are many things we still don’t know about the novel coronavirus, including how well it is spread by different methods. Words like airborne and aerosol get thrown around a lot, but their meanings aren’t always clear. Check out this explainer on some coronavirus terminology you should know.
Finally, a Colorado indie bookstore is helping readers discover new novels and authors during lockdown. For $50, Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder will deliver a mystery bag of four to six books (plus a packet of tea or coffee beans) based on the customer’s preferred literary genre. Here are some more ways to help local bookstores stay afloat.
April 17, 2020
A 99-year-old World War II veteran in Britain vowed to raise money for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) by walking 100 laps around his garden. On April 16, Captain Tom Moore completed his mission and raised a whopping £13 million ($16 million) for the public health service. Moore had started out on April 8 with a goal to raise £1000—but when supporters donated £70,000 in the first 24 hours, he upped his objective to £1 million. As The Guardian reports, Moore completed the last 25 laps on live television accompanied by a guard of honor from the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, Moore’s own regiment in the war. Now, his supporters are asking Queen Elizabeth II to give him a special commendation. And he turns 100 on April 30!
Another enterprising senior, quarantined 93-year-old Pennsylvania resident Olive Veronesi, put a plea in her window: “I need more beer!” Coors Light answered the call and promptly delivered 150 cans. “I was on my last 12 cans, I have a beer every night, you know what, beer has vitamins in it, it’s good for you, as long as you don’t overdo it,” Veronesi told KDKA. Similarly, 82-year-old Ontarian Annette Muller implored her daughter to run to the store with a sign in her window reading “need more wine.”
In more feel-good news, a Michelin-starred Copenhagen restaurant that usually features a $700 tasting menu is feeding the city’s homeless population instead.
An anonymous donor bought each of the 549 households in Earlham, Iowa, $150 in gift cards to spend at local businesses—a present totaling more than $82,000. “I don’t believe ‘thank you’ is a big enough word,” Mayor Jeff Lillie told The Washington Post.
Finally, Facebook is directing users who have interacted with posts containing coronavirus misinformation to websites with facts from the World Health Organization. A Facebook official said in a blog post that 2 billion users have been directed and 350 million have clicked through to the factual sites. Here are some other companies doing their part during the crisis.
April 14, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. economy hard, but some small business owners are devising creative ways to help their staff. The owner of a Tybee Island, Georgia, bar spent three days un-stapling dollar bills—totaling more than $3000—from the walls and ceiling to give to her workers.
Speaking of workers: Some newly unemployed and furloughed folks are creating online communities to help their peers get through the labyrinth of state labor websites and unemployment benefits.
The Great Toilet Paper Shortage continues, but apparently some people are finding it at Walmart. The company’s CEO, Doug McMillon, told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on April 10 that Walmart consumers bought enough toilet paper in five days to give every American a roll. (That’s about 328 million rolls, or 328 billion individual squares if every roll had 1000 sheets.)
Cats can catch coronavirus. A Chinese study in the journal Science found that the novel coronavirus replicates easily in cats and ferrets (which often stand in for humans in respiratory studies), but not as well in dogs, pigs, chickens, or ducks. More research is needed, though.
By now you’ve probably heard your city’s or state’s recommendations for using a face covering or mask when you’re outside—and glasses wearers have surely discovered their lenses fogging up while wearing one. Here are a few tips for wearing a mask and glasses at the same time.
April 10, 2020
The toilet paper shortage is real—but your credit card company might be able to help you squeeze the Charmin. Finder.com reports that high-end credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the MasterCard Gold Card offer concierge services to help cardmembers make dinner reservations, travel arrangements, and other transactions. In a small experiment, three Finder.com staffers asked their card company’s concierge to find the nearest store with toilet paper on the shelves. Two concierges were able to call around and unearth the white gold.
A Marine veteran didn’t let the coronavirus pandemic interrupt her 104th birthday celebration, according to WMC Action News 5 in Memphis, Tennessee. Ruth Gallivan, believed to be one of the oldest female Marines, served in World War II. The veterans’ organization Honor Flight surprised her by putting together a drive-by car parade and wished her many happy returns.
Wondering how you can help essential workers during the pandemic, besides just staying home? Buy a meal for a medical professional during the pandemic through Feed the Frontlines, founded by a New York City restaurateur to make and deliver meals to hard-working doctors, nurses, and hospital staff (and to keep restaurants in business). You can also donate directly to NYC Health + Hospitals, where so many COVID-19 patients receive treatment.
Finally, your pantry staples might be running a little low after a month on lockdown. If you’re planning a run to the grocery store, follow these simple precautions to reduce the chance of bringing home the coronavirus along with your bread and dry beans.
April 7, 2020
Almost 24 million people watched Queen Elizabeth II deliver a personal televised message about the coronavirus pandemic on Sunday, April 5. The queen thanked healthcare workers and those staying at home for their continued efforts in battling the outbreak, and said this address reminded her of her very first TV broadcast in 1940, when she offered a message to children who had been sent overseas for their own safety at the beginning of World War II. “We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return,” the queen said. “We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.” The queen rarely gives televised speeches apart from her annual Christmas message—this broadcast was only her fifth in her 68-year reign.
A tiger at the Bronx Zoo in New York City tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The zoo’s chief vet Paul Calle tweeted that Nadia, a 4-year-old Malayan tiger, had tests confirmed at the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory after showing respiratory symptoms. Three other tigers exhibited the same symptoms, and zoo officials believe the big cats were exposed to the virus by an asymptomatic zoo employee. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, expects all the cats to fully recover. In a press release, the USDA said it’s unlikely that your pet cat could transmit the virus to you, but if you feel sick, it’s best to stay away from Fluffy as long as you have symptoms.
Oscar-winning actor and University of Texas at Austin professor Matthew McConaughey hosted bingo night (via Zoom) for a group of residents at The Enclave at Round Rock, a senior living community in a suburb of Austin. Along with his wife, mom, and kids, McConaughey called out the numbers while the quarantined seniors played along at home.
Should you be wearing a mask when you go outside? The answer is complicated, but New York City’s mayor has begun urging residents to wear a fabric face covering to reduce the chance the virus could spread through breathing or talking. Recent research suggests presymptomatic people could transmit the coronavirus more easily through aerosols than previously thought.
And finally, you may have a hard time finding hand sanitizer in stores these days, but if you do, check its expiration date.