How COVID-19 is Affecting the Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation is a territory in the southwest of the United States.  It exists in portions of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and is larger than several US states.  It has an area approximately the size of New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined (also comparable to the size of West Virginia).  The Navajo Nation is the largest area of land still maintained by an indigenous population in the United States, and has a population of approximately 350,000.

If the Navajo Nation were considered a state by the US government, it would be the state with the third highest rate of COVID-19 infection.  This was a shocking fact to me, as I had heard little to nothing about it in the news.  How can it go unnoticed that the Navajo Nation is just behind New Jersey in cases per-capita?  In the short month since the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in the Navajo Nation, more than 2,373 people have been infected and 73 have died.

One article suggests that this rapid spread was enabled by the mistrust of western medicine and healthcare providers among the Navajo Nation.  After extensive history of genocide and intentional misinformation against the Navajo community, mistrust is greatly understandable.  Despite these things happening years ago, their effects are still present and visible today; the Navajo Nation is greatly suffering during this pandemic due to the high poverty, poor healthcare access, limited clean drinking water (US uranium mines poisoned water supply) and neglect from the US government.

The outbreak in the Navajo Nation has been traced back to a March 9th rally at a local evangelical church.  This seemed to spike the mistrust in the Navajo community, reminding the natives of the colonization of their people.  Rumors began to spread that the virus was intentionally brought to their community by white Christians; obviously stemming from the mistreatment and genocide of Native Americans seen throughout history.  As seen in states across the US, the Navajo Department of Health put a stay-at-home order on March 20th, however, some have disobeyed these orders because they are reminded of white government officials trying to force rules on their community.

Unfortunately, contact tracing has been very difficult for the Navajo Nation as well.  The fast rate of infection makes it difficult to trace where every infected person has been.  There have also been some complications due to the lifestyle of many of the Navajo people; many do not have phones and it can take hours to drive to a single house.

This is not the first time we have seen higher rates of infection among native and indigenous communities; in 2009, Native Americans and Alaska Natives were reported to die at rates four times higher than all other racial and ethnic groups from the H1N1 flu.  Unfortunately, lack of clean running water makes hand washing difficult, and hospitals are hard to come by in the near 27,000 square mile reservation.

Government officials of the states encompassing the Navajo Nation have been working to increase funding and aid for the Navajo, and even celebrities have been working to raise awareness for Navajo Nation COVID-19 relief.

Sources:

Navajo Nation Is Behind Only New York and New Jersey in Rates of COVID-19 Infection. What Happened?

Navajo Nation Sees High Rate Of COVID-19 And Contact Tracing Is A Challenge

Why the Navajo Nation has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in America

Mark Ruffalo, Ellen DeGeneres, More Stars Team Up to Help Navajo Nation Ask for COVID-19 Relief

The TMT and the Canary Islands

The TMT, or Thirty Meter Telescope, is an ambitious project which receives major push back from the people of Hawaii.  Reading about the constant protests of its construction on Mauna Kea has had me thinking; why not move to the secondary location?

The TMT International Observatory took many factors into consideration when choosing the TMT’s primary and secondary sites.  Obviously, Mauna Kea is favored for its extremely high elevation, dry climate, and dark skies.

The TIO considered several sites as a secondary location, two sites in Chile, one in Mexico, and one on Spain’s Canary Islands.  The team wanted to keep an even distribution of ELTs across the globe for projects like the Event Horizon Telescope, and taking other factors into consideration, the TIO decided that the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos in La Palma, on the Canary Islands as the secondary site for the TMT.

Roque de los Muchachos Observatory

La Palma has a law conserving the dark skies in the area, and is considered a Starlight Reserve.  It hosts twelve other telescopes since El Roque de los Muchachos Observatory is above a “sea of clouds” which allows for less turbulent observing.

View of Night Sky at Roque de los Muchachos Observatory

Night Skies in the Canary Islands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the area seems like a perfect fit for the TMT, it seems that moving the project to La Palma would be easier said than done.  While originally thought that the Canary Islands would gladly accept the TMT, several environmentalist groups of the islands think otherwise.

Ben Magec – Ecologistas en Acción, an environmentalist group based on the Canary Islands believes that building the TMT at its secondary location would push the mountain over capacity.  They state that the Islands have “already paid a high price for astronomical science”.  While the Spanish government supports the TMT project, the environmental group has pledged that if the TIO decides to build in a “legally protected area”, they will take any legal action necessary to stop it.

No matter where the TIO decides to construct the TMT, at this point, we can only hope that they do it in a way respectful to the people and landscape of the area.

 

Sources:

Hawaii News Now: 1, 2

tmtlapalma.org

tmt.org

New Concerns Over Antibody Test

As COVID-19 antibody tests become more widespread across the US, quite a bit of doubt and uncertainty about whether or not the antibody tests provide the security we originally expected from them.

When antibody tests first became available in the US, many were excited about the prospect of a test that could help figure out if the subject had antibodies that gave them immunity from the virus.  That excitement has since faded, as news of inaccurate antibody tests giving false results has made its way into the public eye.  The FDA has been quite lenient in its restrictions of these antibody tests, supposedly in order to make antibody tests more widely accessible to the public, allowing those with immunity to return to the workforce more quickly and allow the country to reopen more smoothly.  Some of these tests however have had such wide inaccuracies that some health providers are actually advising against using the antibody tests as a deciding factor in whether or not to diagnose a patient with COVID-19, or to assume that the patient has immunity to the virus.

Amid these concerns, some say that we will not know if COVID-19 antibodies provide immunity for months, rendering the antibody tests useless for that purpose.  On Saturday, the WHO stated that currently there is no evidence that antibodies provide immunity from the virus.  After receiving concerns, they clarified stating that though there is no evidence of immunity, it does not mean there is no chance of immunity, just that studies have not been conducted.

As of now, the main takeaway is that antibodies does not ensure immunity.  Those with positive antibody tests should be protecting themselves and others as if they do not have the antibodies.  The only way of truly knowing if antibodies provide immunity is by doing studies of those who have positive antibody tests after contracting the virus to see if they are reinfected.

Sources:

NBC

Politico

WHO

For more information on COVID-19 immunity, see this video from SciShow

Arctic Ozone Hole Largest Ever Reported

While people have been saying the Earth has been healing itself during this time of self-isolation and social distancing, a new concern has made itself visible; the largest arctic ozone hole ever reported opened up over the north pole.

The ozone is the protective layer, or ‘blanket’, that prevents the sun’s harmful UV rays from reaching the Earth’s surface.  This layer of our atmosphere is, however, vulnerable to human-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, which cause the ozone to thin, and eventually tears holes in the ozone.

Each spring, the Antarctic experiences an opening in the ozone, initially caused by the use of the chlorofluorocarbons, however it is quite unusual to find a hole in the ozone above the North Pole.  This arctic ozone hole measures 205 Dobson units, which is 40 units lower than the typical value for the ozone layer above the arctic in March.  Despite this being a record low for the arctic, it is still nearly double the lowest levels found in antarctic holes.

Atmospheric scientists have noted that this particular hole in the arctic ozone is caused by unusual weather patterns, which include freezing temperatures that allow for stratospheric clouds that interact with industrial chemicals and eat away at the ozone layer.  These weather conditions are very rare in the arctic however, which makes this ozone depletion in the arctic much less common than in the antarctic.  The last comparable drop in ozone levels in the arctic occurred in 2011.

The use of chlorofluorocarbons was phased out in 197 countries after the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 (though there is a chance that some are going against this), we have only recently seen a direct connection between the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons and ozone recovery.  It will take decades for actual repair of the ozone to be complete.  The arctic ozone hole, however, will slowly close up as temperatures rise come summertime.

Though this arctic ozone hole does not pose any particular threat to the Earth at the moment, it reminds us of the damage that human activity can create.  As we just read in Naomi Oreskes “Merchants of Doubt”, the same people who denied that the depletion of the stratospheric ozone is caused by human activity are the people that influence the climate change denial movement.  We’ve seen clear evidence here that human activity has negatively impacted our planet, yet there is somehow still doubt.

For daily updates on the Earth’s ozone, click here!

 

Sources:

NASA Earth Observatory

NASA

CNN

CBS News

Oreskes, “Merchants of Doubt”

COVID-19 Antibody Blood Test Approved by FDA

Being a firefighter, my father is deemed an essential worker during this global crisis.  Not an essential worker in terms of those running restaurants, and grocery stores, but a first responder, on the front lines, aiding and transporting those who are sick.

In order to ensure that he and his coworkers are not unknowingly spreading the virus, some precautionary measures have been put in place at his station and others throughout the Worcester Fire Department.  Along with cleaning thoroughly and monitoring their general health, before each 12 hour shift, firefighters are required to have their temperature taken and those with temperatures over 100°F or any symptoms related to COVID-19 are required to leave and immediately report to UMass Medical Center to be tested.

Even with these precautions, there is risk in this method.  Since we know COVID-19 can incubate for up to 2 weeks in the body, along with the several day wait for results of the test, there is a risk that even those at the station without symptoms could have the virus and be spreading it to the patients and citizens they deal with each day.

Luckily, just a few days ago, the F.D.A. approved the first coronavirus antibody test in the U.S. which with only 15 minutes and a simple prick of the finger gives results of if the subject has been exposed to the virus and has built up antibodies that could provide them with some immunity to the virus.  Those with immunity, especially those on the front lines of the fight against the virus, can more easily and quickly return to work, and prevent extended precautionary quarantines.

This particular test, made by a company Cellex, tests for immunoglobulin M and G; M shows signs of the body’s reaction to an infection and G is produced specifically to neutralize the invading virus.

What really impresses me is the speed at which these types of tests are being created and approved.  Antibody tests are already used in places such as China and Singapore, and are quickly being produced in different forms and approved by the F.D.A.  Increasing the production of these tests and making them widely available across the U.S. will reduce the stress that this global crisis is causing and allow more workers to feel confident returning to work, knowing if they have some immunity to the virus.

Ideally these tests should be mass produced, and should be available to the everyday person rather than just to those who have essential jobs such as doctors, nurses, and first responders.  One company, Scanwell, is trying to do just that, by creating a test that can be done through a smartphone, however this particular version has not been approved by the F.D.A just yet.

https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/home-fingerprick-blood-test-may-help-detect-your-exposure-coronavirus-n1176086