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Climate change could make us dumber… literally – BGR

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Some might argue that mankind’s gradual destruction of planet Earth is proof that we’re not the smartest species around. I mean, how smart can we really be if we, as a species, refuse to correct our wrongs in the most dramatic way possible? Yeah, we’re not terribly smart.

Now, new research shows that as the human-caused climate crisis worsens, one of the symptoms of our increasingly sick planet may be dumber and dumber humans. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, this probably isn’t going to end well.

The new research paper, written by a team of scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder, the Colorado School of Public Health, and the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that the gradual rise of CO2 levels in Earth’s atmosphere could cause cognitive decline in humans as a whole.

CO2 is a byproduct of many different types of human activity and, as we continue to destroy forests and foliage that help scrub the air and provide humans and other animals with breathable air, the amount of CO2 in our air gradually climbs. Studies have shown that too much CO2 in the air can trigger cognitive issues, decreasing the ability of a person to focus and hinder learning.

Getting a few breaths of oxygen-rich “fresh” air tends to clear that up, but in a future where fresh air becomes harder and harder to come by, it could lead to an overall “dumbening” of the human race. For the study, researchers simulated two different future scenarios. In both, students would perform various tasks in rooms where the air has different concentrations of CO2. Based on established data regarding how CO2 impacts cognition, the researchers crunched the numbers and came up with some pretty scary results.

The researchers report that in the first scenario, students were still exposed to so much CO2 that their cognitive abilities were decreased by 25 percent by 2100. In the second, which was the business-as-usual scenario, the students were exposed to so much CO2 when the windows were opened that they experienced a 50 percent reduction in cognitive ability.

It’s just a theoretical experiment, but the scenario the researchers used assumes that humans are unable to curb their CO2 emissions by the year 2100. We’d hope that wouldn’t be the case, but things were to play out in this way, the amount of CO2 in the air would lead to a 50% reduction in cognitive ability.

A future where the human race is even dumber? Sounds about right.

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Mouth wash COVID-19 test coming for school-aged children in B.C. – Powell River Peak

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British Columbia is introducing a new saline gargle test for students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to help make COVID-19 testing easier for children and teenagers.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. is one of the first places in the world to use a mouth rinse gargle test for the new coronavirus.

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“Unlike the (nasal) swab, this is a new saline gargle where you put a little bit of saline water, that is sterile water, in your mouth, you swish it around and spit it into a little tube,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

“This test is kind of cool and something we’ve had in the works for a while. This new method is more comfortable, particularly for our younger children.”

It is developed by a B.C. company, which reduces the province’s dependency on the global supply chain, she said.

Henry described the test as more efficient, which shortens the long lineups and wait times.

Getting tested is key in the fight against the pandemic and the test will make it easier to collect samples from young people, she said.

The test can be done without a health professional by parents or children themselves.

With schools reopening, Henry said the focus of this new and “easier” method of testing will be on children until there are more supplies.

“And we’re hoping to make it more broadly available as we go forward.”

The province announced a record daily high of 165 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and one additional death, bringing the death toll to 220.

There has been a total of 7,663 cases of COVID-19 in the province.

The uptick is caused by a combination of increased testing, awareness and contact tracing, Henry said.

“Remember that today’s cases are people who have been exposed over the last two weeks.”

The province tested 7,674 people for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest number of COVID-19 tests ever conducted in B.C. in a single day.

Health Minister Adrian Dix reminded people to keep groups small and limit social gatherings.

“So, this weekend, and as we plan for Thanksgiving in the fall months ahead, let us once again close ranks on COVID-19, and change its course,” he said.

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.

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Provincial health officer won't give in to bar industry's call to reinstate liquor sales after 10 p.m. – CBC.ca

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Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, is rejected calls from the bar industry to allow liquor sales until midnight.

Last week Henry issued a public health order that ended liquor sales at restaurants and bars at 10 p.m., and closed the businesses at 11 p.m., unless they are serving food.

The industry immediately appealed for more relaxed rules, and that request is now being repeated, despite Henry’s warnings about the risk of COVID-19 transmission during the later hours.

Jeff Guignard, executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees, says his group’s research shows the last couple of hours of business is when establishments go from losing money to turning a profit.

Bars in downtown Vancouver make half their revenue after 10 p.m., he said, while in other areas about a quarter or a third of revue is tallied after 10 p.m. Even in rural communities, 10 per cent of revenue comes in the last couple of hours of business, he added.

Jeff Guignard is executive director of the B.C. Alliance of Beverage Licensees. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

He said 50 per cent of the industry might not make it to the end of the year and it has been surviving on government rent and wage subsidies. The situation will become more dire if the public health order isn’t changed.

“It means bankruptcy. It means you’re going to close and you’re going to have to lay off your employees,” said Guignard.

Henry told reporters on Thursday that she had received a letter from the alliance on Wednesday, but she wasn’t ready to budge on the order.

“I appreciate that this is a very challenging time for people in that industry, I also know that this virus is transmitted by people,” she said.

“These orders were done with thought and the realization that these were places right now that cannot safely operate,” said Henry.

She said environmental health officers who have been inspecting bars around the province say the businesses faces challenges to meet safety requirements. Henry also said staff at the establishments and WorkSafeBC have expressed concerns.

Preventing COVID-19 spread in drinking establishments is a challenge, says Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“We had transmission events documented in several places around the province and it was becoming increasingly challenging for public health to try and identify and getting on top of those places that were breaking the rules,” she said.

Delay in publishing order

Guignard said bar owners are “absolutely furious” that the public health order — which was issued verbally more than a week ago — has not been published in writing. That means details aren’t clear for a highly regulated industry with various types of liquor licenses. 

Businesses don’t know, for instance, whether off-sales of alcohol are also banned after 10 p.m.

Henry said her office has answered questions that have popped up since the verbal order was issued and she hopes to have the details in writing by Friday after a careful legal vetting to ensure the order isn’t overly broad.


With files from Tina Lovgreen

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Why saliva testing for COVID-19 in Canada won't be a panacea for long lineups any time soon – CBC.ca

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Canadians in several provinces face long lines for a swab to help diagnose COVID-19 as school and workplaces open. While new testing technologies could help, doctors say they won’t be a silver bullet. 

The gold standard swab of the nose or throat can be uncomfortable. In contrast, a key promise of saliva tests is that people could collect saliva themselves so that fewer nurses and other health professionals would be needed at assessment centres, as staffing is one of the factors that can drive up wait times.

But that ideal won’t happen immediately. Currently in Canada, both saliva collection and testing remain a research project that regulators are closely evaluating. 

There are three main barriers to overcome before saliva tests roll out widely. 

Gobs of saliva vary in how fluid they can be, so collecting a high-quality sample can be a challenge even for something as non-invasive as spitting into a cup. The next hurdle for scientists is to get accurate and consistent results on the presence of the virus. Finally, clinicians need to determine how well the test results help them to correctly identify those with the disease. 

Dr. Mel Krajden, medical director of the public health laboratory at the BC Centre for Disease Control, said health professionals face a quandary in finding the best ways to support a return to school, with all of its formative benefits for students, while protecting the oldest people at highest risk for severe consequences from COVID-19, such as grandparents or parents who are vulnerable because they have other health conditions.

Dr. Mel Krajden, medical director of the public health laboratory at the BC Centre for Disease Control. The Vancouver lab is exploring whether a saline gargle might work better than saliva testing itself. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Krajden said in his experience, saliva testing works better with COVID-19 patients in hospital than on people living in the community who’ve tried it as part of a research project. His Vancouver lab is working on a simpler approach to collection than the traditional nasal swab using a saline gargle that seems to work in older children. 

On Thursday, British Columbia announced it’s introducing a new mouth rinse, gargle and spit test for students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to make it easier for children and teenagers to check whether they have COVID-19.  But this new test is only offered to school age kids, and only in B.C.

“What we need to be thinking through is what is the best mixture of tests and how are they best supplied?” Krajden said. “You want to have the right balance between convenience and sensitivity.”

Unresolved questions about saliva tests

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that Health Canada will not approve a test that endangers Canadians’ health because they are inaccurate or offer a false sense of security.

In Canada, the mobile Spartan Cube was recalled because of reliability problems with its swab for the lab-in-a-box PCR test (also known as a polymerase chain reaction test) that was billed as providing results in less than an hour. In the United States, wide-scale problems early on with another PCR test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered containment efforts.

A different technology, a molecular test launched by Illinois-based Abbott that the company says can deliver positive results in as little as five minutes, was also subject to a recall. It aims to detect the virus during active infection.

The outstanding questions about saliva tests include: How good an alternative could they be to a nasal or throat swab, who would benefit — such as different age groups or those who show symptoms — and when would they be available? 

For governments and clinicians globally and across Canada, the challenge now is to organize all kinds of testing to allow society to function while preventing transmission to those at highest risk of severe consequences.

For the majority of young people, COVID-19 is like a common cold, Krajden said. It’s older adults and those who are vulnerable because of other health conditions that can face serious infection or death.

Policy-makers urged to shift gears

Dr. Larissa Matukas, head of the microbiology division at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, said experts and policy-makers need to shift gears to understand where cases are multiplying and shut them down quickly by moving resources, including testing, to where there are signs of concern.

“I’m not sure that’s actually happening right now,” Matukas said.

Dr. Larissa Matukas, head of the microbiology division at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, says experts need to understand where cases are multiplying and shut them down quickly by moving resources, including testing, to where there are signs of concern. (Yuri Markarov/Unity Health Toronto)

“We should be shifting to a very aggressive finding of individuals, testing those who are symptomatic or testing those who’ve been in close contact with those who’ve been diagnosed with COVID and then isolating those individuals to really stop all the chains of transmission,” she and her co-authors wrote in an editorial last week in CMAJ

Matukas said the first step is finding cases by improving access to diagnostic nasal or throat swabs or having a health-care professional evaluate symptoms. 

“Unfortunately, there’s been this drive, particularly in Ontario, to reach a particular number of tests per day indiscriminately of who is actually being tested,” she said.

Other, equally important parts of containment have been neglected, Matukas said, such as governments communicating a clear need for all people with symptoms compatible with COVID-19 to get tested immediately and to self-isolate while they wait for the test result.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that people who haven’t been in contact with a case, aren’t connected to an outbreak, haven’t received a notification from the COVID Alert app and don’t have symptoms “might want to defer your visit” until the demand for tests falls.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday that people who haven’t been in contact with a case, aren’t connected to an outbreak, haven’t received a notification from the COVID Alert app and don’t have symptoms might want to delay testing until the demand falls. (Government of Ontario)

‘New technologies are always welcomed’

The level of disease in a particular community also makes a difference in misdiagnosing COVID-19 — another accuracy wrinkle to overcome in adopting quick, at-home saliva-based antigen tests for use in Canada.

“All new technologies are always welcomed,” Matukas said. “They always need to be evaluated in an objective, independent evaluation, and that’s the purpose of not just Health Canada, but that’s my job.”

As a medical microbiologist, Matukas carefully evaluates every diagnostic test introduced to ensure it meets the performance characteristics patients need in hospital. As part of her evaluation, new technologies are compared with  a standard way of testing as a reference. 

Lab workers need to do the same quality-assurance steps to check tests and equipment from all manufacturers. The goal is to ensure they perform well under real-life conditions, not just optimal ones.

Antigen tests that are used to identify mid-infection as the microbe multiplies, such as rapid tests for strep throat, is another technology under evaluation to help detect people likely infected with COVID-19 in schools, long-term care homes or other high-risk environments.

A laboratory worker shows a prototype of a self-test that will use saliva in a rapid COVID-19 test, which could replace more commonly used swabs, at the University of Liege, Belgium, in August. In Canada, saliva tools are also still being researched. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Krajden, of the BCCDC, said more data is needed to determine when it makes sense to deploy antigen tests to quickly inform decisions.

Matukas said people living in long-term care will continue to be a priority for diagnostic testing.

Living in an area with a high prevalence of the disease, taking part in certain activities — such as waiting tables, driving a cab or attending a large gathering —  and not using personal protective equipment also contribute to the risk.

On the other hand, scolding people for breakdowns that can’t be controlled could drive some people underground and make it harder to detect cases, Matukas said.

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