Factory closings linked to 85% spike in U.S. opioid overdoses, says study

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016.

Loss of automobile-manufacturing jobs has been deadly for Americans at risk of opioid addiction, according to a new study. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, linked car plant closures to an 85% increase in fatal opioid overdoses in recent years.

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016. During this time span, plant closures affected 29 counties; no plant closures occurred in the other 83. Within five years of any plant closure, the affected county’s overdose rate surged to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people–or 85%–on average.

The biggest increases were among white men ages 18-34, followed by white men in the 35-65 age bracket, according to the study. It cited the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau as its main sources of data.

“These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis,” the authors wrote.

Study co-author Atheendar Venkataramani, assistant professor in the health policy division of the Perelman School of Medicine, told reporters that he and colleagues had been interested for some years in the impact of economic security on personal health. He said that a plant closure can severely alter a person’s outlook on the future, which in turn may cause his or her mental well-being to suffer and put the person at a greater risk of substance abuse.

Venkaratamani recommends that health-care providers and public health agencies work on more targeted screenings for substance abuse and deploying rapid treatment solutions. He also advised public officials at the local, state, and national levels to pursue policies for helping areas affected by economic or social change to become more resilient.

NASA’s moon mission on hold due to coronavirus

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused NASA to suspend work on the launch system and space vehicle that it has been developing for an upcoming crewed mission to the Moon. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced March 19 that the agency’s Michoud assembly facility and Stennis Space Center are shutting down because of rising numbers of cases in their local areas.

The White House had tasked NASA with sending a crewed flight to the Moon in 2024. It would be the first crew to reach the Moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

Development teams at the two NASA facilities had been constructing and testing the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion module, both of which will be components in this future mission: The SLS will launch the crew to space, and the module will transport them to lunar orbit. But engineers said that this recent the coronavirus-related work suspension makes it exceedingly difficult for NASA to hold to that timetable.

“It’s just incredibly humbling,” Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at MIT, told the Atlantic. “Because we think we’re so great, right? We can launch all these spacecraft. We’re just so powerful. And now we’re just basically knocked into a standstill.”

The hardware for the SLS and Orion are being placed in storage, so that work can resume once the virus threat has subsided. NASA has also postponed a meeting of the National Space Council, chaired by Vice-President Mike Pence, which was to take place March 24 and was to be a discussion about NASA’s moon mission plans.

Air pollution is down, due to Coronavirus

The overall effect represents the “largest-scale experiment ever” in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet.

The pandemic that has killed more than 30,000 people across the globe has indirectly caused a significant drop in air pollution worldwide, according to European Space Agency satellite images. The images show reductions in smog throughout Europe and Asia, which researchers attribute to widespread shutdowns in industrial activity.

The overall effect represents the “largest-scale experiment ever” in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet, said Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester. He suggested that the resulting lower pollution offers a glimpse at life in a future low-carbon economy.

“Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved,” Monks said.

The images came from the ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite and showed that levels of nitrogen dioxide levels over European and Asian cities and industrial areas were markedly lower over the last six weeks than they were in the same timespan last year.

Nitrogen dioxide is emitted from cars, power plants, and other industrial processes, and researchers think that it may aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma. Monks suggested that the reduced pollution may bring some near-term benefits for human respiratory health, even though it would not offset the greater loss of life from the disease.

And while it is not a greenhouse gas, it is a byproduct of the same human activities that are responsible for much of humanity’s carbon footprint. So less of this gas could also mean that greenhouse-gas emissions are down as well, according to researchers.

This may be a slow year for wind energy

However, that growth may stall due to not enough transmission lines, the report also found.

Wind power grew markedly in 2019, but experts expect much slower going for the industry this year. A report by the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry trade group, concluded that 2020 will see less growth, owing mostly to insufficient infrastructure.

Global wind-energy capacity grew by 60 gigawatts last year, representing a 10% increase, which is its second-highest annual growth ever, according to the report. The report noted especially strong expansion in China and the United States, and added that wind is now one of the cheapest sources of electricity, and it costs less per unit of power to build and maintain wind turbines than it does to fuel a fossil-fuel plant.

However, that growth may stall due to not enough transmission lines, the report also found. It indicated that U.S. wind generators will need approximately 1,200 miles of new transmission lines to effectively feed their communities’ energy needs, and U.S. federal investment for transmission capacity needs to grow first.

The report foresees single-digit growth this year, and a stable market of slow growth for the next four.

The report does not attribute this year’s anticipated industry slowdown to coronavirus—it was published in January before the virus went global. But the pandemic has caused disruptions in many other industries, and the association states in a recent press release states that the wind industry may suffer further from it as well.

“This forecast will undoubtedly be impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, due to disruptions to global supply chains and project execution in 2020. However, it is too soon to predict the extent of the virus’s impact on the wider global economy and energy markets,” the release reads.

Chinese hacking surges as Coronavirus pandemic unfolds

Many of the world’s industries are slowing down amid the Coronavirus crisis, but some cybercriminals are not.

Many of the world’s industries are slowing down amid the Coronavirus crisis, but some cybercriminals are not, several U.S. cybersecurity firms warn. They report increased activity from hacking groups linked to China since the international outbreak of coronavirus earlier this year.

One firm, FireEye Inc., stated in a report that it has detected a surge in cyber-espionage by a suspected Chinese group dating back to early January, when the pathogen was beginning to expand beyond China’s borders. The report dubbed the group “APT41” and indicated that its hacking activity began on January 20 and targeted more than 75 of FireEye’s customers, which include manufacturers, nonprofit groups, healthcare organizations, and media companies, among others.

It added that APT41 took advantage of certain flaws in software developed by Cisco, Citrix, and others to try to hack multiple companies’ networks in the United States, Canada, Britain, Mexico, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and more than a dozen other countries.

APT41’s activity was “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years,” according to the report.

It’s also a departure from normal cybercrime trends, noted John Hultquist, FireEye’s head of analysis. He said that hacking activity linked to China has generally become “more focused” and that widespread attacks on many targets such as this are rare.

FirEye isn’t the only firm sounding alarms over Chinese hackers. Matt Webster, a researcher with Secureworks, Dell Technologies’ cybersecurity arm, told Reuters that his team has seen increased activity from Chinese hacking groups in the last several weeks.

More U.S. coronavirus patients are recovering

Health officials have documented 15 known cases of patients successfully recuperating from the virus in the last few weeks.

While the death toll from Coronavirus reportedly reached double digits this week, researchers are pointing with hope to another number that has outpaced it: recoveries. Health officials have documented 15 known cases of patients successfully recuperating from the virus in the last few weeks.

The cases include one patient in Wisconsin, six in California, four in Nebraska, two in Illinois, one in Arizona, and one in Washington state. By comparison, 14 U.S. patients were reported to have died from the virus.

The Wisconsin patient had to recuperate at home for several weeks, according to the patient’s doctor, Nasia Safdar. Safdar told NBC News that the majority of patients will just need some down time to get over the infection.

“For most people, this will be the course. It will be like a cold,” Safdar said.

The death toll has climbed to 3,3387worldwide, out of nearly 97,000 cases. But more than 53,638 have already recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering

Dr. Vincent Bonagura, an infectious-disease expert at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Norwell Health in New York, cautioned that patients with chronic health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease, are more at risk of not surviving the infection. These patients tend to “do poorly when then get pneumonia or an infection of the lung,” he said.

People who smoke or who have chronic lung conditions are also more at risk, said Terry Mason, chief operating officer at Illinois’ Cook County Department of Public Health. Mason explained that these conditions cause long-term lung damage that makes a recovery from Coronavirus more difficult.

Ancient algae offers clues about where plants came from

These prehistoric algae specimens exhibit many traits seen today in green seaweeds.

How the first plants emerged on dry land on the prehistoric Earth has long been a mystery: They, like all life, existed only underwater billions of years ago, according to researchers. But some recent studies of molecular biology and an ancient algae fossil suggest a few clues.

According to researchers, the first plant life to transition out of water and onto land may have evolved from some form of seaweed and most likely had soft, mossy textures and shallow roots. Such plants don’t preserve well in fossils.

However, one recent find is an exception: an algae specimen in China that appears to be a billion years old, making it the oldest known specimen of green algae on Earth. It is 200 million years older than the previously oldest known algae fossil, which researchers had dated back to 800 million years ago.

“It’s very daunting. A billion years—that’s at least five times older than the oldest dinosaurs,” said Shuhai Xiao, a Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University geobiology professor and senior author of a paper announcing the discovery. “It’s before any animals. The world is very, very different from what we know today.”

These prehistoric algae specimens exhibit many traits seen today in green seaweeds: They were photosynthetic, multicellular, and had leaves and branches.

But the transition to dry land may have come even earlier, suggests another recent paper in Cell. University of Alberta biologist Gane Ka-Shu Wong and coauthors present evidence that the closest living relatives to land plants are a mossy freshwater species, Zygnematophyceae, which is single-celled. The adaptations plants need for dry land may have come about before the ancient algae specimens, the authors conclude.

Europe stalls on developing energy storage

Energy storage systems store energy incoming from solar panels and other renewable-energy technologies.

Growth in Europe’s new energy-storage industry slowed substantially last year, and a study by the European Association for Storage of Energy (Ease) energy blames a lack of government support. The group voiced concern that if the industry does not resume growing, then the rollout of new renewable-energy systems that could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will in turn suffer.

Energy storage systems store energy incoming from solar panels and other renewable-energy technologies. Europe’s energy-storage capacity made a substantial growth of 1.47 gigawatt-hours in 2018, defying expectations, according to Ease. But in the newly published report, consultants for Ease noted that the industry grew only 1 gigawatt-hour last year.

The slowdown was especially sharp among large-scale storage projects that connect directly to energy grids. These large systems can help grids more effectively use renewable energy by storing it and making it available during times when there is not enough sun for solar panels to generate power, or not enough wind for wind turbines to run.

These systems government financial support and regulatory action to move forward, according to Ease. In its report, it cites a clean-energy policy that the EU has enacted for supporting clean-energy technologies, and it anticipates this policy being key to creating a framework  for investing in energy storage.

“The message is clear: even if energy storage is a key enabler of the energy transition and clearly seen as a major tool to achieve the emissions targets linked to the Paris agreement, more support is needed,” said Patrick Clerens, Ease secretary general.

Other energy analyses have found that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to slow renewable-energy development worldwide this year. A report by BloombergNEF forecasts that 2020 will be the first year since the 1980s that global solar energy capacity falls.

Space Force Ensure U.S. Control of the ‘High Ground,’ Says Trump

Space Force is to be the sixth branch of the U.S. military. It will focus on protecting U.S. military satellites and other U.S.

President Trump praised the newly forming Space Force as a means to “deter aggression and control the ultimate high ground” in a speech Friday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Trump made these remarks while signing the National Defense Authorization Act 2020, whose funding provisions include funds to start the new space-based military division within the U.S. Air Force.

Space Force is to be the sixth branch of the U.S. military. It will focus on protecting U.S. military satellites and other U.S. assets in space from enemy attacks, and it comes amid increasing space activity by Russia and China.

“Because space is the world’s newest warfighting domain. Amid grave threats to our national security, American superiority in space is absolutely vital. And we’re leading, but we’re not leading by enough. But very shortly, we’ll be leading by a lot,” Trump added.

Trump went on to say in his speech that the U.S. military as a whole was “very depleted” and suffering “devastating budget cuts” before he came into office, and he described this latest funding measure as a “watershed event.” The U.S. military budget has actually been increasing continuously since the last two years of the Obama administration, in which it rose from $736 billion in 2015 and $767 billion in 2016 to an estimated $956 billion this year.

Officials said that Space Force is necessary since adversary nations have “turned space into a warfighting domain” and troops need to be prepared to counter future threats from space. Currently, the Air Force operates multiple space satellites within its existing U.S. Space Command division, and other military branches have their own space-satellite programs.

Coronavirus cuts into Coca-Cola Production

Coca-Cola said that it is taking precautionary measures with its China-based employees to reduce the threat of infections.

The coronavirus outbreak may cause supplies of Coke to dip, Coca-Cola said in an report it released this week. The company said that virus-related disruptions to its supply lines in China threaten to cause shortages of certain key ingredients, resulting in an estimated cut of 2-3 percentage points to its case volume and a 1- or 2-cent reduction to its first-quarter earnings-per-share.

“We have initiated contingency supply plans,” the report states. It added that while these backup plans may prevent production cuts in the short term, “We may see tighter supplies of some of these ingredients in the longer term should production or export operations in China deteriorate.”

Sweeteners that are at risk of production shortages include aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin, cyclamate, and steviol glycosides. These are used in a variety of diet and non-diet Coke beverages.

Mainland China has reported 78,500 incidents of coronavirus as of Thursday, with 2,641 deaths in the Hubei province where the virus first emerged. Infections continue throughout China and worldwide, with nearly 2,800 dead across the globe so far—including 44 new deaths in China as of Friday—and fears of contracting the virus have caused widespread reductions in manufacturing and economic productivity within China, including at the facilities where Coca-Cola’s sweeteners are produced.

Coca-Cola said that it is taking precautionary measures with its China-based employees to reduce the threat of infections. The company said that it plans to distribute face masks, hand sanitizers, and health-monitoring systems throughout its Chinese factories.

The company released a statement expressing “deepest sympathies” for those who have been affected by the virus, and said that it is also “donating to organizations that are working diligently to support patients and contain the virus.”