Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Expert says studies on risk of virus transmission through surfaces don't reflect real world

Alexandra Mae Jones writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2020

TORONTO -- Is it necessary to wear gloves outside, or wipe down groceries or mail to keep yourself safe from potential COVID-19 exposure?

It’s a question that has been posed since the beginning of the pandemic.

Numerous studies have been carried out over the past few months to measure how long the virus can live on surfaces, looking at its lifespan on different materials and how infectious it remains for longer periods of time. Some studies have found the survival rate to be a matter of hours, while others have found that the virus, under some circumstances, can survive for days on surfaces.

Emanuel Goldman, Professor of Microbiology, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics at the New Jersey Medical School, wrote in a comment published in the scientific journal The Lancet last week, that he believes the risk of virus transmission through infected surfaces has been “exaggerated.”

A “comment” does not present new data found through experiments or studies, but simply provides scientific commentary.

Goldman believes the results of all of these studies on the lifespan of the virus on surfaces have been used to direct courses of action for the general public that the data itself doesn’t call for.

“It’s not that the studies are wrong, it’s that they’re the wrong studies,” he told in a phone interview.
“So the belief that there was a risk from inanimate objects and surfaces stems from experiments that were done where virus was placed on surfaces, and then at intervals of times subsequent to doing that, the amount of virus that was left was measured. Well and good, but the problem with those experiments was that the amount of virus that they started with was much, much orders of magnitude larger than what you’re going to find in the real world.”

He said some of the studies measured the lifespan of the virus on surfaces by placing as much as “a hundred thousand to 10 million virus particles on a small surface area” -- which he believes is far higher than the amount of virus particles that would be present in the average sneeze.

He had not come across any scientific literature that specifically measured how many virus particles that caused COVID-19 were in a sneeze, but stated that similar research regarding the common flu found that there are around 10-100 viral particles within a droplet from an influenza patient.

Goldman emphasized that he doesn’t think these studies on the surface life of the virus are a problem themselves, but said the way their results have been interpreted and applied is.

“The supermarkets won't take returns of anything that you buy now because of this. You have to pack your own bags because they're worried about this. And it’s, in ways little and large, it's directed behaviour in a way that's not justified by the data,” he said.

“And even worse, it distracts and takes people away from what really protects you against this virus and that’s the masks. That's where the emphasis has to be. That's what's going to save us.”

He said that while it’s “not impossible” to contract COVID-19 in the grocery store by handling something that had recently been coughed on by an infected person, “there’s so many steps that would have to happen.

“First, someone infected would have to deposit the virus on the thing you bought, then you'd have to buy it right after. And after touching it, then you'd have to touch your mouth, your nose, [or] your eyes, and all that within a relatively short period of time.”

This means a person could handle a cereal box with virus particles on it and still remain safe if they were following the main public health recommendations -- wearing a mask in a grocery store and washing their hands at home before touching their face at all.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, also told that transmission of the virus through surfaces was not “the main mode of transmission,” but said he doesn’t believe there’s an issue with being extra cautious by doing things such as wiping down groceries.

“If that's what gets people through the day, if that's what enables people to go get groceries, if that’s what enables people to open their mail, so be it, that's totally fine,” he said. “I think the pendulum is swinging away from that, but I would certainly not shame people for doing that at all.”

He said no one study alone is able to pinpoint an exact risk of transmission, and that one needs to look at the big picture to get an idea of the risks.

“At the end of the day, the data that's emerging now, when we sort of take a step back and look at who's getting infected, where are they getting infected and how are they getting infected -- this is generally people who are in close contact with one another, typically in indoor settings, when people are in close contact with one another for prolonged periods of time,” he said. “That’s who's getting the infection.”

New infection rates are also significantly lower in Canada than in countries such as the U.S., contributing to a lower risk of encountering surfaces that were coughed or sneezed on by an infected person within an hour or two of another person touching that surface.

Goldman acknowledged that disinfecting surfaces and tools and wearing gloves are things that are necessary in a hospital setting. But his worry for the general population is that the surface transmission discussion is a “distraction,” and that people might actually be less likely to follow any health guidelines if they feel overwhelmed by instructions to wipe down everything.

“You see now people not using masks, partly because it was such an overriding concern with including the surfaces. It just gets to be too much,” he said.

“Just use common sense and focus mostly on protecting your airways and your breathing.”

Coronavirus: Oxford study finds face masks and coverings work





Wednesday 8 July 2020, 12:03am
As of late April, mask-wearing was up to 84% in Italy, 66% in the US and 64% in Spain.Credit: PA Images

Face masks are effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19, according to a new study by the University of Oxford.

The study, published by Oxford's Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, found that cloth face coverings, even homemade masks made with the correct material, are effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 for the wearer and those around them.

The study's key findings are:

Cloth face coverings are effective in protecting the wearer and those around them.

Behavioural factors, including how people understand the virus and their perceptions of risk, trust in experts and government, can adversely affect mask wearing.

Face masks are part of 'policy packages' that need to be seen together with other measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene.

Clear and consistent policies and public messaging are key to the adoption of wearing face masks and coverings by the general public
Oxford University Credit:

The evidence is clear that people should wear masks to reduce virus transmission and protect themselves, with most countries recommending the public to wear them. Yet clear policy recommendations that the public should broadly wear them has been unclear and inconsistent in some countries such as England.Professor Melinda Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre

However the study found that some coverings are not as effective as others.

Loosely woven fabrics, such as scarves have been shown to be the least effective.

Professor Melinda Mills says: "We find that masks made from high quality material such as high-grade cotton, multiple layers and particularly hybrid constructions are effective. For instance, combining cotton and silk or flannel provide over 95% filtration, so wearing a mask can protect others."

As of late April, mask-wearing was up to 84% in Italy, 66% in the US and 64% in Spain, which increased almost immediately after clear advice was given to the public.

Figures suggest wearing a face mask in the UK has had a very low uptake of around 25% as of late April 2020.
Republican Voters Against Trump release striking campaign video

"I’ve seen some strong political ads in my time" but "this is brilliant!" - Alastair Campbell.

by Jack Peat July 8, 2020 in Politics

A video released by Republican Voters Against Trump has been described as “one of the most effective political ads ever seen” by commentators as the presidential campaign heats up.

Using a speech by Ronald Reagan – known as the voice of modern conservatism – they cast modern images of Trump’s first administration against the highly evocative prose.

The ‘Shining City on a Hill’ speech promoted America as a prosperous, free, and virtuous model for the nations of the world – a dream that seems to be crumbling at the hands of Trump.
A coalition of Republicans, former Republicans, conservatives, and former Trump voters who can’t support Trump for president this fall make that clear in a newly released campaign video which has been described as “one of the most effective political ads I’ve ever seen” by Jonny Geller.

Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell also said:

“Wow! I’ve seen some strong political ads in my time. This is brilliant! It was brilliant, tho I hated to admit it at the time, when Reagan did it. And it is even better now. That Trump could not utter one word that Reagan does is all you need to know about how awful he is for USA.”

The best political ad ever made

It’s not the first time Republican Voters Against Trump have made the headlines for their campaign videos.

An advert using the President’s political ally Lindsey Graham made the rounds on social media as it showed the senator dissing the president along the campaign trail in 2016.

“He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” he says. “You know how you make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”


June polling numbers for the US election released by Gallup earlier this week showed the largest gap between Democrat and Republican support for the president recorded.

Gallup’s poll showed 91 per cent of Republican’s support Donald Trump, where as Democrat support sits at an abysmal two per cent.

The 89 point difference between the two parties is the largest recorded this year.

Trump has also recorded loss of support in every major voting group.

The only group that supports President Trump is white voters without college degrees, who from May to June went from 66 per cent support to 57.

His most shocking drop in support comes from the East of the US, with 40 per cent support at the start of the year dropping to 27 per cent.

Despite Trump’s emphasis on the South, he also lost support among voters: January saw 53 per cent support the president in the South, whereas June sees support at 48.
Facebook promises to do better after independent civil rights audit

Facebook said Tuesday that it would do better at enforcing policies against hate after a civil rights audit and amid a climate of protests against racism. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Tuesday that the company would do a better job enforcing polices to fight the spread of hate after an independent civil rights audit.

Sandberg said in a Facebook post that the final report of the civil rights audit, which reviewed its policies for two years, will be published Wednesday, but the company has already made changes based on it.

"It has helped us learn a lot about what we could do better, and we have put many recommendations from the auditors and the wider civil rights community into practice," Sandberg said.

At the beginning of her her post, Sandberg focused on enforcement of the social media company's policy's against hate as an area where it can "get better and faster."

She added that she would meet with organizers of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign Tuesday, along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other employees. They would also meet with other civil rights leaders, including Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Laura Murphy, the social media company's civil rights auditor.

"We meet in the context of what may be the largest social movement in U.S. history, and our nation's best and latest chance to act against racism that has pervaded our country since before our independence," Sandberg said. "It's a big moment for all of us, especially now. Much more than words, people, organizations and companies need to take action -- and we at Facebook know what a big responsibility we have."

Murphy led the civil rights audit along with Megan Cacace, partner in civil rights law firm Relman Colfax.

Sandberg said that Facebook is the first social media company to go through such an audit.

"While the audit was planned and most of it carried out long before recent events, its release couldn't come at a more important time," Sandberg said.

On June 17, the Stop Hate for Profit campaign asked companies to halt advertising on Facebook and Instagram for one month to force Zuckerberg to address hateful groups and voter suppression efforts on its platform.

RELATED Reddit bans pro-Trump group for violating hate speech policies

"We are making changes -- not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do," Sandberg said Tuesday. "We have worked for years to try to minimize the presence of hate on our platform. That's why we agreed to undertake the civil rights audit two years ago."
Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg Disappoint Once Again

Tae Kim Bloomberg July 7, 2020

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Facebook Inc. still doesn’t get it.

A widely anticipated meeting on Tuesday between the social media giant and the civil rights groups behind the recent Facebook ad boycott — including the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and Color of Change — did not go well. The New York Times reported CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg met for about an hour on a video-conference call, but offered little in terms of concessions related to their policies for managing content on their social networks.

A negative response came swiftly. “It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” the groups said in a statement. “Instead of actually responding to the demands of dozens of the platform’s largest advertisers that have joined the #StopHateForProfit ad boycott during the month of July, Facebook wants us to accept the same old rhetoric, repackaged as a fresh response.”

The representatives said Facebook offered to address just one of the groups’ 10 demands — the company was willing to create a position focused on promoting civil rights — but it didn’t promise to do so at the asked-for C-suite level. Otherwise, the company did not give an inch for the other nine demands, according to the groups.

Frankly, Facebook’s inaction is not a surprise. The company has gone to this “hunkering down” playbook many times in the past. The old aphorism that says incentives often drive behavior seems to hold true for this tech giant. And on a pure dollars-and-cents level, the company is incentivized to do as little as possible.

We all know the worst types of content — such as hate speech, misinformation and false conspiracies, along with the outrage surrounding them — tend to be more viral and generate more page-views for social media firms. The upside for Facebook in elevating such engaging content is obvious, but the downside to society as a whole is vast — from mental-health issues to giving rise to scientifically discredited ideas such as the anti-vaxer movement. The brains of millions go down these poisonous rabbit holes.

Given Facebook’s recent stock performance, Zuckerberg may feel even less pressure now. After a brief decline late last month, amid the frantic coverage of advertiser pledges to pull ads from Facebook’s platforms, the shares are now back near all-time highs again. At the end of it all, the boycott was mainly about headline risk, not significant sales risk for Facebook. Last week, I argued Facebook should act on the back of a sea-change in perception and beliefs after the recent wave of protests over racial injustice, adding the true risk for the company was the prospect of future political blow-back, not a near-term revenue hit. That view still stands.The strange thing is, meeting the civil rights groups’ demands isn’t such a big lift for a company with Facebook’s resources. Most of them are simply common sense. Following the meeting Tuesday, the civil rights groups reiterated them. Here’s a brief selection:

Provide audit of and refund to advertisers whose ads were shown next to content that was later removed for violations of terms of service. Isn’t that just good customer service? Wouldn’t that assuage Facebook’s advertisers worried about brand safety placement, giving them confidence Facebook will take content moderation more seriously?

Stop recommending or otherwise amplifying groups or content from groups associated with hate, misinformation or conspiracies to users. Not a big ask.

Enable individuals facing severe hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee. That’s just a question of being willing to spend some money for something worthwhile.

Unfortunately, it looks like Facebook will keep disappointing its critics. Last week, Zuckerberg told his employees that advertisers will eventually return and they will not change their policies under duress, according to The Information. “I tend to think that if someone goes out there and threatens you to do something, that actually kind of puts you in a box where in some ways it's even harder to do what they want because now it looks like you're capitulating,” the executive reportedly said.

For now, he may feel a sense of vindication. But instead of focusing on how it looks and establishing bad precedent, perhaps Zuckerberg should instead reassess his thinking and come to terms to this reality: The moral fabric of our society is fraying amid the disinformation propagated on his platform.

There may be a ray of light, however, small. Facebook said it will release its independent civil rights audit report on Wednesday after a two-year review of its policies and practices. Sandberg explained in a blog post the company has heeded some of the recommendations from the report already, but won’t make all the changes they asked for.

There is still room for real action. Let’s hope Facebook decides to do the right thing.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tae Kim is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Barron's, following an earlier career as an equity analyst.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
A Kennedy toppled a South Jersey political machine and will now take on party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew

by Amy S. Rosenberg, Posted: July 8, 2020


Amy Kennedy, a South Jersey school teacher who married into a storied American political family, toppled the region’s most powerful political machine Tuesday to claim an unlikely victory in the Democratic primary for New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District.

Kennedy, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, will now bring the Democratic bona fides of her own family — her father was an Atlantic County freeholder — and that of her in-laws to bear against freshman U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a former longtime Democrat who switched parties last year and memorably pledged his “undying support” to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

“My message to Jeff Van Drew tonight is: We have had enough and we demand better,” Kennedy told supporters gathered in the parking lot of her campaign headquarters on in Northfield, not far from the Northfield Community School, where she was once a history teacher. “We have had enough of you and Donald Trump.”

The understated Kennedy, 41, her five children eating cupcakes nearby, smiled broadly after taking off her cloth face mask to cheers and a rousing introduction by Gov. Phil Murphy, who introduced her by saying Democrats had “won the lottery” in Kennedy.

Murphy had endorsed Kennedy, who handed the governor a victory in his long-running battle to disarm the power of South Jersey insurance executive and Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III, who backed Kennedy’s opponent, Brigid Callahan Harrison. The Norcross-affiliated General Majority PAC spent almost a half-million dollars advertising on behalf of Harrison, who was also endorsed by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

“We know Jeff Van Drew, what stripes he showed,” Murphy said. “This is now a contrast unlike any I can remember in my political life. You got that guy, who cut and run. and you got Amy Kennedy, who is the real deal.”

Amy Kennedy steps forward as she declares victory in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary, with her husband, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, and their five children.

Despite the uncertainty of the mostly vote-by-mail election, Kennedy appeared to easily defeat Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, and Will Cunningham, an attorney and former congressional oversight investigator whose progressive views and emotional appearances at Black Lives Matter protests won him a late surge of endorsements and attention.

“While this is a tough moment for me, tonight was a great moment for the Democratic Party,” she said in a YouTube video. “Because tonight, after a primary that has been tough for all of us, we stand together. South Jersey stands united that Jeff Van Drew must go.”

Kennedy managed to win the backing of the powerful Atlantic City Democratic Committee and rode a surge of vote-by-mail turnout in Atlantic County. She is now one step closer to an elected position once held by her husband, a former congressman from Rhode Island and the son of former Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy.

Patrick Kennedy, who stood off to the side with their children, said after his wife’s victory speech that the resounding win should worry Van Drew. And he chided a state ballot system in which candidates get favorable ballot position according to county parties’ endorsements.

“The people of the 2nd District chose and voted for her even though they had to go all the way over to column F to find her name,” Patrick Kennedy said. “It just is a validation for democracy.”

Amy Kennedy, winner of #nj02 Democratic congressional primary; “My message to Jeff Van Drew tonight is we have had enough and we demand better ... We’ve had enough of you, and Donald Trump.” #njprimary— Amy S. Rosenberg (@amysrosenberg) July 8, 2020

Harrison, 55, of Longport, a Montclair State University political science professor, had the backing of six of eight county Democratic chairs in the district. It was Harrison who vowed to run against Van Drew in a Democratic primary if he did not vote to impeach Trump.

Van Drew, a former state senator from Dennis Township in Cape May County, switched parties late last year after his opposition to Trump’s impeachment enraged Democrats. Trump traveled to Wildwood for a raucous rally in January to cement their political embrace.

The district, the largest by geography in the state, includes Atlantic City and County, Vineland and Bridgeton, much of the Jersey Shore communities, all of Cumberland and Salem counties, and parts of Camden, Gloucester, Ocean, and Burlington counties.

It was represented by Republican Frank LoBiondo for two decades before Van Drew, who long built a reputation as a conservative Democrat, captured it in 2018. The district voted for Barack Obama twice before swinging to Trump.

The mission of unseating Van Drewquickly reunited Democrats in the district Tuesday. Even Norcross was on board.

“Congratulations to Amy Kennedy, who has won a strong victory in today’s primary,” he said in a statement. “As I said months ago, I look forward to supporting the Democratic nominee in the general election.”

President Donald Trump rubs the back of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew at a campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J., on Jan. 28, 2020.
Digital reconstruction shows Saint Thomas Becket's shrine in stunning detail

Researchers used a combination of historical documents and archaeological artifacts to create a CGI reconstruction of Thomas Beckets shrine. Photo by John Jenkins

July 6 (UPI) -- No one has seen the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket since the 1538, when it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, a Reformation decree issued by King Henry VIII.

A team of historians has digitally reconstructed it, one of the most important medieval shrines. The reconstruction, published Monday, shows what it might have been like to visit at the height of its splendor.

After its completion during the early 13th century AD, the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral's Trinity Chapel became the most important pilgrimage destination in medieval England.

Becket became a martyr after he was murdered by the knights of his former friend, King Henry II, who was attempting to weaken the legal powers of the Catholic Church in England.

RELATED Researchers find hidden door, room in London House of Commons

"What makes the shrine particularly special is that for 400 years, between 1220 and 1538, it was the foremost pilgrim shrine in England, and the only English pilgrim destination which was popular throughout Europe," John Jenkins, who led the digital reconstruction efforts, told UPI in an email.

"In 1489 it was one of four pilgrimage sites in Europe that pilgrims from India traveled specifically to see," Jenkins said.

The new CGI reconstruction was informed by a combination of historical documents and artifacts recovered from the site of the long-lost shrine. Researchers began by recreating the shrine's marble base, having analyzed fragments and studied depictions of the base on medieval pilgrim badges.

RELATED Archaeologist finds Bronze Age monument in British forest

According to Jenkins, the shrine's marble base was most likely to constructed at the same time as the Trinity Chapel -- and by the same masons, using the same marble.

"This is the first reconstruction to take that idea of its unity with surroundings as the starting point, and the first to incorporate the shrine fragments," said Jenkins, a researcher with the Center for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York. "We also were the first to notice that the shrine would have been surrounded by iron grilles."

Jenkins and his colleagues found corrosion marks on remnants of the marble pillars, signatures left by the ancient iron grilles.

RELATED Paris' historic Notre-Dame Cathedral saved from 'total destruction'

The shrine's splendor is referenced in dozens of historical documents and first-person accounts. Written sources suggest the shrine featured one of the most expensive collections of gold and precious stones in Medieval Europe.

"Writers at the time were unanimous in recording how lavishly decorated the golden shrine casket was," Jenkins said.

The new digital reconstruction was released to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the creation of the shrine, and researchers hope it will provide context for the many pilgrims who continue to visit Trinity Chapel.

"One of the things we hope the models will do, especially in their use at Canterbury Cathedral as part of the visitor experience, is help modern-day pilgrims and visitors not only see what medieval pilgrims would have seen -- the sumptuous golden shrine -- but also through the animated videos to understand how they interacted with it," Jenkins said.

"They give an idea of the authentic medieval pilgrim experience, and this helps visitors and pilgrims today understand how they fit into a long tradition of finding meaning and comfort in England's cathedrals," Jenkins said.
25% of racial minorities report COVID-19 discrimination, survey finds

Asian, black and Latin Americans are more likely to face discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey has found. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- One in four minority Americans in the United States face racial discrimination over fears they have been infected with the new coronavirus, according to the findings of a survey released Tuesday by the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research.

Roughly 33 percent of black, Asian and Latin Americans say they have experienced at least one incident of discrimination related to COVID-19, the researchers found.

"The early spike in the percentage of people who experienced COVID-related discrimination was attributable -- in part -- to discriminatory reactions to the growing number of people wearing masks or face coverings at the early stage of the pandemic," Ying Liu, a research scientist with the center, said in a press release.

"Asian Americans were the first group to experience substantial discrimination, followed by African Americans and Latinos," she said. We also found that in some earlier weeks of the pandemic, people who were heavy users of social media were more likely to report an experience of discrimination."

The Understanding Coronavirus in America Study regularly surveys nearly 7,500 people throughout the country to learn how COVID-19 impacts their attitudes, lives and behaviors, according to the USC researchers.

To measure incidents of discrimination, respondents were asked if people feared, threatened or harassed them, or treated them poorly, because of concerns that they had COVID-19, the researchers said.

The percentage of people who experienced a recent incident of COVID-related discrimination peaked in April at 11 percent and steadily declined to 7 percent at the beginning of June, they said.

RELATED U.S. school safety report addresses mental health, discrimination

In early June, Asian Americans were more than 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to experience a recent incident of COVID-related discrimination, while black and Latin Americans were nearly twice as likely, according to the researchers.

As of early April, about 70 percent of the country thought people who had COVID-19 were dangerous and nearly 30 percent thought formerly infected people were dangerous, the researchers said.

By early June, the percentage of Americans who considered infected people to be dangerous had dropped to under 30 percent, while only 5 percent thought people who had recovered from the virus were dangerous, they said.

"As growing numbers of people knew family members, friends and coworkers who were infected with COVID-19, we saw a decrease in the stigma associated with the virus," dsif Kyla Thomas, a sociologist at the center.

"We also saw a steep decline in the percentage of people who perceived coronavirus infection as a sign of personal weakness or failure," she said.

Adults aged 18 to 34 were three times as likely as seniors 65 or older to report a recent incident of coronavirus-related discrimination, the USC researchers found.

Data from the study, which is supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is updated daily and available to researchers and the public at

A separate survey, conducted by the American Heart Association and also released Tuesday, found that approximately 90 percent of older adults -- age 60 and older -- with a history of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or stroke are more worried that, because of the pandemic, health will limit their experiences. That compared to less than 60 percent of people without those conditions.

Healthier school meal programs helped poorer kids avoid obesity

Changes to school lunches in the 2012-2013 school year translated to an estimated 500,000 fewer obese poor American children, researchers report. Photo by Tim Lauer/USDA/Wikimedia
Just how healthy has the introduction of healthier new meals at America's schools been for kids? A new study ties the policy move to about a half-million fewer obese U.S. children.

The study covered kids aged 10 to 17. It found that after the introduction in 2012-2013 of school meals with less fat and sugar, and more whole grains, the risk of obesity fell by 47 percent among kids from low-income families.

All of that has translated to an estimated 500,000 fewer obese poor American children, according to the research team.

"Students growing up in families with low incomes participate the most in school meals, so it stands to reason that they would benefit the most," researcher Erica Kenney, an assistant professor of public health nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, said in a news release from the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, or RWJF.

RELATED Federal court strikes down Trump's school nutrition rollbacks

"These students are also at highest risk for obesity, food insecurity and poor health. Our study shows that the healthier nutrition standards are working as intended for these students," she said.

In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to upgrade nutrition standards for schools, and those standards went into effect in 2012-2013.

Poorer kids were especially impacted, because the new health-oriented policies "included the National School Lunch Program, which affects 30 million students nationwide, and the School Breakfast Program, which affects 14 million students nationwide," Kenney's team noted.

RELATED Children prefer fruit juice over more nutritious whole fruit, milk at school

Some of the changes included providing "nutritionally adequate meals during the school day" boost the amount of fruits and vegetables in meals while lowering starchy vegetables -- such as French fries -- serve only fat-free or low-fat milk and increase the amount of whole grains in meals.

Even vending machines were affected: the Smart Snacks program "eliminated most sugary beverages and reduced the sugar and calorie content of food products for sale," Kenney's team reported.

But did any of this actually boost kids' health?

RELATED Kids make better food choices online than in school lunch lines

To find out, the Boston team looked at obesity data for kids aged 10 to 17 from the ongoing National Survey of Children's Health.

Family income seemed key, the study found. Although the healthier food program didn't affect obesity overall, among children living in poverty, the predicted percentage of children with obesity in 2018 was 21 percent, but without the introduction of healthier school meals and snacks, it would have been 31 percent -- a 47 percent reduction, the researchers said.

The authors pointed out that -- even among kids -- obesity can raise the risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Katrina Hartog is clinical nutrition manager at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. Reviewing the new data, she agreed that changes to school meals have been a success and "no other legislation was passed that could explain the positive decline in obesity prevalence during this period."

Kenney's team warned, however, that Trump administration efforts to roll back Obama-era changes in school nutrition could threaten these advances.

For example, the study authors pointed out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has sought to rescind parts of the program with moves such as the reintroduction of flavored milk, a weakening of the whole grains requirements and delays on limits on salt in school meals.

The agency has also tried to cut one million kids from free meals programs and allow schools to serve less fruit, fewer whole grains, fewer varieties of vegetables, and more starchy vegetables, such as French fries, Kenney's group said.

That's the wrong direction for kids, Hartog believes.

"We ought to be maintaining or strengthening these standards versus weakening them. Healthy children are more likely to develop into healthy adults and continue to pass these habits to future generations," Hartog said.

According to Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer at the RWJF, "Healthier school meals have been an unqualified success." She also believes the coronavirus crisis has made it tougher on low-income families to ensure their kids get good nutrition.

"To provide some certainty during the ongoing pandemic, USDA should allow schools to serve free meals to every student during the coming school year -- universal free school meals -- and Congress should appropriate any necessary additional funding to cover the full cost of all meals served," Bussel said in the news release.

The report was published July 7 in the journal Health Affairs.
Lawmakers urge Pentagon to stop buying F-35 parts from Turkey

The active-duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted an F-35A Combat Power Exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in January. A group of bipartisan lawmakers has urged the Pentagon to more quickly stop buying parts for the jet from Turkey. Photo by R. Nial Bradshaw/U.S. Air Force/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week asking the Pentagon to more quickly end its F-35 partnership with Turkey.

Sens. James Lankford, R-Okla., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Thom Tillis-R-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., wrote that the Pentagon's plans to continue buying F-35 parts into 2022 hampers the United States' ability to put pressure on the country over its ties to Russia.

"As you know, we have worked together in the Senate on issues of US-Turkey relations for several years and remain concerned about the direction Turkey is taking under the leadership of President Erdogan. From human rights violations in Syria to arbitrary arrests of Americans in Ankara to defense cooperation with Russia, Turkey is not behaving like a responsible actor or working collaboratively with the West at the level we expect from a NATO ally," the letter said.

The U.S. formally removed Turkey from the international F-35 partnership in 2019 after it received delivery of a Su-35 Russian missile defense system, which the U.S. has warned could compromise the F-35.

But in January Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said the Pentagon would allow prime F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin to honor existing contractual obligations with Turkish manufacturers for F-35 components.

Turkish manufacturers have been involved in building more than 900 parts for the F-35, and while Pentagon officials have found replacement suppliers for most, the shift could cost more than $500 million.

More than 1,000 faith leaders call for halt to federal executions

The federal government is scheduled to execute Daniel Lewis Lee on Monday. File Photo courtesy of Doug Smith/Florida Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons

July 7 (UPI) -- A group of more than 1,000 faith leaders on Tuesday called on President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to halt four federal executions scheduled over the next two months.

The leaders from a variety of faiths said that with the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis and systemic racism in the justice system, the country should be focused on "protecting and preserving life, not carrying out executions."

"As an evangelical, I am heartbroken to see our country return to killing its citizens. We have seen so much death in recent months and people are hurting. Restarting executions during a pandemic should be the farthest thing from our minds," said Carlos Malavé, executive director of Christian Churches Together.

Among the leaders to sign the statement were Bishop Joe Wilson of the United Methodist Church in Georgetown, Texas; the Rev. Lisa Enders Tunstall of McCarty Memorial Christian Church in Los Angeles; Bishop Richard Pates, the apostolic administrator of the Joliet Catholic Diocese in Illinois; and Shane Claiborne, founder of Red Letter Christians.

RELATED Buddhist adviser sues to stop execution citing COVID-19 risk

The federal Bureau of Prisons scheduled the executions of four death row inmates in June as part of Barr's yearlong effort to resume federal executions. Among those scheduled were Daniel Lewis Lee (Monday), Wesley Purkey (July 15), Dustin Lee Honken (July 17) and Keith Dwayne Nelson (Aug. 28).

Barr ordered the federal government to resume capital punishment in July 2019, 16 years after the last federal execution. He told the Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five death row inmates starting in December 2019, but a number of injunctions delayed the dates until this month.

The four inmates who were originally scheduled to be executed in December -- Lee, Purkey, Honken and Alfred Bourgeois -- mounted a legal challenge against Barr's efforts.
RELATED Texas death row inmate asks Supreme Court for stay citing his age at time of murder

At issue was the Justice Department's plan to institute a uniform lethal injection protocol rather than follow the individual protocols used by each state, which the law requires. Barr proposed using a single drug, pentobarbital, rather than the common three-drug cocktail used in many state executions.

Under a 1994 statute, all federal executions must be carried out in a "manner prescribed by the law of the state in which the sentence is imposed." Government attorneys had argued the drugs used in the protocol are irrelevant, since the method of execution -- lethal injection -- is the same.

The District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction in April, giving Barr the green light to reschedule the executions.
RELATED Federal death row inmate with Alzheimer's seeks stay

In 2014, former President Barack Obama ordered then-Attorney General Eric Holder to review the use of the death penalty in the United States, effectively implementing a moratorium on executions.

The last federal execution was that of Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. in March 2003 for the rape and murder of a fellow soldier, Pvt. Tracie McBride in 1995.

Jones admitted kidnapping the young female recruit at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, but his lawyer sought clemency by arguing Jones suffered behavior-altering brain damage from exposure to nerve gas during the Gulf War that gave him uncontrollable, violent urges.

RELATED Poll: Record share of Americans say death penalty 'unacceptable'
Lee, the first federal death row inmate scheduled to be executed next week, was sentenced to death for his role as an accomplice in the murders of William Mueller, his wife Nancy Mueller, and his stepdaughter Sarah Powell in 1996.

Family members of the murder victims on Tuesday filed a motion asking for Lee's execution to be postponed due to the coronavirus. They said the pandemic "ravaging the federal prison population" would put them at risk if they attended the execution, especially those family members considered to be medically vulnerable.

"There is no legitimate reason for [the government] to go forward with Mr. Lee's execution on July 13, 2020 as opposed to a later date," the complaint reads

UPI Reader Poll: Death penalty

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'Blackout Day' calls for black Americans to wield economic power
 composite image of a "Black Lives Matter" mural is pictured in Pittsburgh, Pa., last Friday. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

July 7 (UPI) -- Tuesday is designated as Blackout Day, a solidarity movement that calls for black Americans to demonstrate their economic influence as a measure to spur equality and justice nationwide.

Blackout Day asks black Americans to refrain from spending money on anything for one day -- and if necessary, to spend it at black-owned businesses, according to the Blackout website.
The movement to dedicate one day to support black-owned businesses has been around for decades, but ongoing outcry over police brutality and inequality has added significance to this year's observance.

"This is only the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of economic empowerment as a reality for all black people. United, we are an unstoppable force," organizers state on their website.

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Reshauna Striggles, an activist in Arizona, said buyers can make a statement against systemic racism by spending money only at businesses owned by blacks and Latinos.

"That's where you're going to spend money," Striggles said. "And don't spend money anywhere else."

Texas activist Calvin Martyr compares the movement to the 1950s public bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., after Rosa Parks was jailed for sitting in a seat reserved for whites. The boycott gave rise to the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. and an end to segregated buses in the city.

"If we get enough black people, all black people, we can unite like they did in Montgomery, Ala., where not one single black person rode a bus," Martyr said in a video posted to YouTube. "That right there is what caused the civil-rights legislation to come."

Black-owned OneUnited Bank in Los Angeles said Tuesday's movement is a way to bring attention to the economic challenges of black Americans.

"We need to use our power, both our spending power, our vote and our voice, to demand criminal justice reform and to address income inequality," OneUnited Chairman Kevin Cohee said in a statement.

Protesters march for social justice

The Surrogate's Court building exterior remains vandalized while Occupy City Hall protests continue outside City Hall in New York City on June 30. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
US Supreme Court upholds block on Keystone XL Pipeline construction

The Supreme Court on Monday dealt a blow to the Trump administration by maintaining a block on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo
July 6 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Monday denied the Trump administration's request to allow for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline to continue, upholding a lower court's decision to cancel a key permit on environmental grounds.

The order does allow for similar pipeline projects that were authorized under the same water crossing permit, known as Nationwide Permit 12, but were blocked by the Montana judge's decision to continue

No reason for its decision was given nor were dissenters named, as is the custom for such orders but it states the hold on the Keystone pipeline will be in place while the case proceeds through the appeals process.

"Today's ruling makes clear that the builders of Keystone Xl can't rely on a flawed, rubber-stamped permit to force the project's construction through our wetlands, streams and rivers," Cecilia Segal, an attorney at the National Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. "It's a resounding victory for the communities and imperiled species living along this pipeline's proposed route."

In April, U.S. Chief District Judge Brian Morris ruled in favor of a coalition of conservation and landowner groups, stating the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had unlawfully approved Nationwide Permit 12 to TC Energy's Keystone XL project by failing to properly analyze its effects on endangered species as necessitated by the Endangered Species Act. His ruling also blocked the construction of other pipeline projects.

In May, Morris upheld most of his original decision but narrowed it to allow some projects to proceed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit then ruled late May to leave the hold in place pending the appeal is granted.

Upon completion, Keystone XL would to deliver 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the Canadian city of Hardisty, Alberta, to Steel City, Neb., where it would connect with TC Energy's existing infrastructure to carry it to Gulf Coast refiners.

The Sierra Club, which is a U.S. environmental organization that has been battling against the pipeline project, said Keystone XL is also facing a series of roadblocks, including other legal challenges, a low oil market and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's promise to scrap the project if elected.

"More than 10 years after it was proposed, Keystone XL is as far as it's ever been from being completed," said Sierra Club senior attorney Doug Hayes. "We're glad to see the court acknowledge that the Trump administration is not above the law and cannot just ignore critical environmental protections in pursuit of building this dangerous tar sands pipeline."
Federal judge shuts down Dakota Access pipeline

Little Bear, with the Lakota tribe, joined by people of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on March 10, 2017, in Washington, D.C. A federal judge Monday ordered a new environmental review of the pipeline along with it to be shut down. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 6 (UPI) -- A federal judge ordered the shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline until an environmental review can be completed, handing a blow to the Trump administration and victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order earlier in the year allowing for the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline after the Obama administration blocked it over environmental concerns

The pipeline has long been contentious in North Dakota because of its closeness to tribal lands. Supporters touted its safety and that it would create jobs for the local community.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said the pipeline must be closed within the next 30 days. He ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to re-examine the risks of the pipeline and prepare a full environmental impact statement.

RELATED Great Plains Indian reservations report 17% spike in COVID-19 cases

"Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline," Mike Faith, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said in a statement. "This pipeline should have never been built here. We told them that from the beginning."

Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the tribe, said the ruling is providing some justice for the group after four years of fighting.

"If the events of 2020 have taught us anything, it's that health and justice must be prioritized early on in any decision-making process if we want to avoid a crisis later on," Hasselman said.

The pipeline's owners, Texas-based Energy Transfer, has not immediately commented on the decision.

"The decision is likely to be enormously disruptive," Katie Bays, co-founder of Washington-based Sandhill Strategy LLC, noting it could take the Army Corps of Engineers 18 months to address problems in its environmental review.
Prescriptions for two malaria drugs more than doubled early in COVID-19 outbreak

 Photo by UPI | License Photo

July 6 (UPI) -- Prescriptions for chloroquine rose 159 percent across the United States in February and March, the early days on the COVID-19 outbreak, according to an analysis published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

Prescriptions for the companion drug hydroxycholoroquine increased by 86 percent over the same period, the researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The increases coincide roughly with endorsements of the drugs by President Donald Trump and other public figures.

To date, little scientific evidence exists to support hydroxychloroquine's use to treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

RELATED COVID-19: WHO discontinues trial on hydroxychloroquine

"In one month, approximately 300,000 additional patients received hydroxychloroquine from retail pharmacies," the study's authors wrote.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. National Institutes of Health have discontinued studies of the drug in COVID-19 patients over concerns regarding serious, life-threatening side effects.

The estimated number of Americans who received prescriptions for both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin -- the antiviral that has been paired with the malaria drug in COVID-19 studies -- increased 1,044 percent in February and March, the researchers said.

RELATED NIH halts hydroxychloroquine trial, study showed no harm or benefit

Overall, the estimated number of patients who received dispensed hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine increased for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., with the highest percentage increases in New Jersey at more than 190 percent; Florida, at 157 percent; Hawaii, at 130 percent; and New York, at 123 percent, they said.

The smallest percentage increases were reported in South Dakota, at 37 percent, and Iowa, at 44, they said.

"Evidence of efficacy in preventing or treating COVID-19 is limited," the CDC authors wrote. "Treatment guidelines found insufficient clinical data to recommend for or against hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine use and recommend against combining either with azithromycin, except in clinical trials."
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria may lurk in U.S. water, soil

Colonies of the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei, which causes melioidosis, are pictured after four days' incubation on Ashdown's agar. Photo by Gavin Koh/Wikimedia

A potentially deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria could be hiding in the dirt and water of the southernmost U.S. states, warns a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bacterial infection, called melioidosis, caused the lungs of a 63-year-old Texan to shut down in late 2018, forcing doctors to put him on a ventilator to save his life, the researchers said.

U.S. citizens who've caught melioidosis in the past typically picked it up in a foreign country, but this man had not recently traveled abroad, said Johanna Salzer, a veterinary medical officer with the CDC's Bacterial Special Pathogens Branch.

What's more, the bacteria that caused the man's melioidosis was genetically similar to two prior U.S. cases, one in Texas in 2004 and one in Arizona in 1999.

"We feel like this is evidence that it could be in the environment" in the United States, Salzer said. "We just need to find it."

Melioidosis is caused by the bacteria Burkholderia pseudomallei. Humans pick up the bacteria by inhaling dust or tiny droplets of water, or by dirt or water getting into an open wound, Salzer said.

There are an estimated 160,000 cases of melioidosis every year around the world, and 89,000 deaths, "which is really high for a disease a lot of people don't know about," Salzer said. It most commonly kills through blood poisoning or respiratory failure.

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The fatality rate is estimated to exceed 70 percent if a person sick with melioidosis is left untreated, Salzer said.

There's no vaccine for the bacteria, and it is naturally resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. These include penicillin, ampicillin, cephalosporins, gentamicin, tobramycin and streptomycin, the researchers said.

Patients often require at least two weeks of IV drugs followed by several months of oral antibiotics to wipe out the infection.

The man, from Atascosa County, Texas, went to the hospital in November 2018. He'd had fever, chest pain and shortness of breath for three days, according to the report in the June issue of the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia, and a blood test revealed a B. pseudomallei infection. He subsequently developed a large ulcer on his chest.

Four days after admission to the hospital, the man stopped breathing and was put on a ventilator. He was transferred to another hospital, which switched him to an antibiotic that was more effective against the bacteria.

The patient left the hospital after three weeks, but remained on daily antibiotics for another three months, according to the report. The disease also injured his kidney, which required dialysis three times a week.

These bacteria are most commonly found in the tropical climates of Southeast Asia, South and Central America, and northern Australia. It also has been detected in two U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Salzer said.

Previously, B. pseudomallei "has never been found in the environment in the continental United States," Salzer said.

Unfortunately, the handful of cases cited by the researchers seem to indicate that the bacteria might have made a home for itself in the southern United States.

"There is global modeling that the bacteria could survive, and survive well, in Texas and areas of Florida," Salzer said.

The CDC plans to partner with academic institutions to search for the bacteria in the continental United States, in much the same way that it was uncovered in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Salzer said.

Melioidosis can be tough to diagnose, Salzer said.

"It's been called the Great Mimicker or the Imitator Disease," Salzer said. "If you're not looking for it, it doesn't have really clear and reliable symptoms in all people."

Symptoms also can take months or years to develop, making it even more difficult for doctors to puzzle out their patient's illness, the report added.

The CDC experts urge doctors to test for the presence of the bacteria in patients in the southwestern United States who:
Have symptoms that seem to indicate pneumonia, blood infection, skin lesions or internal organ abscesses.
Have chronic diseases that put them at increased risk for dangerous infections, especially diabetes or kidney disease.

Don't improve after treatment with commonly used antibiotics.

More than 60 percent of melioidosis patients have diabetes, including the man in Texas, Salzer said.

Dr. Robert Glatter is an emergency medicine physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Lack of an international travel history should not rule out a diagnosis of melioidosis. People who also travel to the southwest U.S. are consequently at increased risk," he said.

"Increased health care provider awareness and education regarding the geographical distribution of this disease along with risk factors and pitfalls for managing melioidosis can help reduce mortality," Glatter added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about melioidosis.
The retired inventor of N95 masks is back at work, mostly for free, to fight covid-19

Peter Tsai, the inventor of the filter material used in N95 masks, at his home in Knoxville, Tenn. During the pandemic, the materials scientist came out of retirement to help with respiratory mask shortages. (Kathy Tsai)

By Sydney Page

July 7, 2020 at Peter Tsai retired two years ago, but the materials scientist says he’s never been busier.

When the novel coronavirus began gripping the globe in March, Tsai was summoned from his short-lived retirement. He was in urgent demand because he is the inventor who, in 1995, patented the filtration material used in disposable N95 respirators.

The coveted masks are in short supply and are desperately needed by health-care workers and others who require protection from the highly contagious coronavirus.

Tsai started receiving a ceaseless torrent of calls and queries from national labs, companies and health-care workers in need of help.

“Everyone was asking me about the respirators,” said Tsai, 68, who is originally from Taiwan and now lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

Mainly, people wanted to know how to scale up production in the wake of a mass shortage and how to sterilize the masks for reuse.

N95 masks have become a critical commodity as the pandemic has fueled a global scarcity of the virus-blocking equipment. Unlike other forms of personal protective equipment, including homemade masks and cloth covers, N95 masks actually filter out contaminants, making them the most protective masks on the market.

Tsai immediately hit the drawing board. He set up a makeshift laboratory in his home, where he lives with his wife and daughter, and began experimenting with different methods to decontaminate the masks.

“I started working almost 20 hours a day,” he said, adding he’s doing it mostly on a volunteer basis. “But I didn’t mind.”

Although Tsai retired in 2018, he is determined to enhance and scale his patented filtration system used in N95 masks. (Kathy Tsai)

He tried everything he could think of to cheaply sterilize the masks without losing filtration efficacy: He boiled them, steamed them, baked them in the oven and even left them out in the sunlight for extended periods of time. Then he ran tests.

After trying multiple approaches in his home, he published an emergency medical report, which proposed a variety of methods for cleaning and reusing N95 masks without compromising the electrostatic charge required for the filtration system to function.

His central finding was that N95 masks can be heated at 158 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes using a dry heat method without diminishing the filtration technology, and his hypothesis was validated by the National Institutes of Health.

After the first report was published in April, he continued to experiment, eagerly sharing his findings with the scientific community and anyone who asked.

He’s spread the word about the optimal material to use for homemade masks. His suggestion: nonwoven fabrics, such as car shop towels.

On Facebook, she denounced a Starbucks worker who asked her to wear a mask. It backfired.

Among the many companies and research groups that reached out to Tsai was N95DECON — a collaborative group of volunteer scientists, engineers and clinicians from around the country focused on N95 decontamination and reuse. They sought Tsai’s unique expertise.

Oak Ridge National Lab, a Tennessee-based laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department, got in touch, too. The team at Oak Ridge was searching for ways to scale production of N95 masks.

“Dr. Tsai was immediately willing to collaborate with us on our lab-wide covid-19 effort,” said Merlin Theodore, the director of the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at the lab. Soon after the team reached out to Tsai, “he showed up at the lab ready to get to work,” she said.

The goal was to convert the lab’s carbon-fiber-processing facility into a filtration-cloth facility to produce the filter technology needed for N95 masks. The conversion process proved complicated, but with Tsai’s help, “we quickly got the system up and running,” said Lonnie Love, a lead scientist at Oak Ridge.

“He came in and described exactly what was needed to build his charging system and scale it,” he said. “Tsai has been really critical for us to solve this problem fast.”

Theodore agreed. “Dr. Tsai shaved off several months to a year of time for us,” she said, confirming that Oak Ridge Lab reached its target in only a few weeks.

Tensions around wearing masks have been mounting since early April, when the CDC began recommending face coverings to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Video: Monica Akhtar/Photo: Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

The facility is now able to produce material for 9,000 masks an hour, and Oak Ridge is working closely with industry partners to teach them how to make Tsai’s filtration material for widespread distribution.

“What we’re doing is creating the recipe to make the product, then sharing the recipe but not the product,” Love said.

While Oak Ridge does provide the filter material to other labs to study, it does not sell the product directly for widespread distribution. Rather, the team teaches industry partners how to scale production.

For instance, Cummins, a corporation that manufactures engines and filtration products, started exploring how to use its fuel-filtration technology to support health-care facilities. The company wanted to pivot from manufacturing air, fuel and lube filtration products mostly for car parts to supply the filter media used in respirators instead.

Using Tsai’s method, Oak Ridge Lab provided Cummins with guidance on how to execute the filter production. Now, Cummins is producing enough filtration media to make roughly 1 million respirator masks a day.

“Dr. Peter Tsai is indeed a very esteemed researcher in the field of nonwovens,” said Chis Holm, the director of filter media technology & IP at Cummins Filtration. Tsai’s guidance, he said, has been essential to the corporation’s coronavirus efforts.

“If I can have this opportunity to help the community, then it will be a good memory for the rest of my life,” Tsai said. “I’m happy to do it.”

Tsai came to the United States in 1981 to pursue his doctoral degree in a variety of subjects at Kansas State University, where he completed more than 500 credits, despite needing only 90 to graduate. His thirsty intellect drove him to take courses in subjects ranging from chemical engineering to physics and math.

His breakthrough on the mask came when he was leading a research team at the University of Tennessee in 1992. The team’s goal was to develop an electrostatic charging technology — coincidentally called corona charging — to filter out unwanted particles. His invention eventually became the foundation of the N95 respiratory mask.

Over the course of his career in textile manufacturing, engineering and teaching at the University of Tennessee, Tsai has earned 12 U.S. patents in filtration technology, including his latest hydrostatic charging method, which makes respiratory masks twice as efficient as his initial invention.

Beyond lending his expertise to others, Tsai’s colleagues say he’s a pleasure to work with.

“I’m taking this opportunity to soak up all the knowledge I can get,” Oak Ridge’s Theodore said. “And he’s not hesitant to share it, which is what I adore most about him.”

According to Theodore, Tsai never fails to answer her calls, no matter the hour. “We have conversations late at night and practically any time, she said. “He always makes himself available.”

Theodore said Tsai repeatedly rejected payment for his work, but Oak Ridge policy requires compensation.

“That’s what struck me the most about him,” Theodore said. “He didn’t care about the money. He just wanted to help as many people as he could.”

“He’s very humble and unassuming despite being a pioneer in this area of filtration,” Love said. “Just when he’s ready to relax, all hell breaks loose, and he’s become critical.”

Tsai, however, said that it’s the health-care workers who are “the real heroes” and that he’s just doing his job.

Although Tsai technically retired in 2018, “he never stopped working and thinking of ways to improve his technology,” said Maha Krishnamurthy, the vice president of the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

“He couldn’t actually quit,” she said. “It’s a quality of all great researchers — you can never shut your brain off.”