Atlas push to ‘slow the testing down’ tracks with dramatic decline in one key state

Atlas, a neuroradiologist, not an infectious disease expert, strongly supported a decision in August to revise federal guidelines to de-emphasize the need to test people without symptoms, according to two sources familiar with the process. He shared his view with state officials, including Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and several others in Florida, according to transcripts of public events and accounts from private meetings in that state.

“The purpose of testing is to stop people from dying,” Atlas said during one stop, captured on video. “When you start introducing closure of schools because people have positive, asymptomatic tests, that’s sort of not the purpose of testing.”   

“I think, Dr. Atlas, we’re in agreement on focusing strategies in school on people who are symptomatic,” DeSantis said in another joint news conference that day. 

Their push to de-emphasize tests coincided with a dramatic drop in testing across Florida, even as the country was careening toward a fall coronavirus surge. A CNN analysis of the Florida state official numbers, aggregated by the Covid Tracking Project, shows that testing dropped off at the end of July and early August, with a peak seven-day average over 90,000 tests per day on July 18. Six weeks later, in early September, the seven-day average dropped by nearly half, with fewer than 48,000 tests per day, and hovered between there and 60,000 during the fall.

If Atlas and DeSantis’ advocacy in Florida is, in fact, responsible for the state’s testing decrease, that would be in keeping with the wishes of Trump, who for months has falsely suggested that the US has so many coronavirus cases only because it conducts so many tests. In June, Trump even said publicly that he wanted to “slow the testing down, please.”   

Though both Atlas and DeSantis declined to discuss their views with CNN for this story, they have articulated them in public. Some state and local officials believe the pair was influential in taking Trump’s anti-testing pronouncements and helping to turn them into public policy. And the drop-off in testing is of deep concern to some. It took place as positivity rates remained high, in the range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers indicative of high community spread.

Asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers are still contagious, experts say. A lack of widespread testing makes it harder to map the disease as it spreads and to warn those at risk of illness.    

“There’s no question more people are going to die,” says Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber, a critic of DeSantis’ approach to testing and other matters of the governor’s pandemic management. “We are flying blind without tests.”    

At the moment, the nation is experiencing another surge of illness. Daily case numbers are reaching levels not seen since late July, and Florida is starting to see its numbers go up as well. Experts say that widespread testing, including of asymptomatic carriers, is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.    

A White House spokesman claimed Atlas had never advocated reducing testing, despite the

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Swiss take ‘middle path’ in curbs to slow COVID without crippling economy

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland on Wednesday ordered dance clubs closed and added new mask requirements while leaving the nation largely open for business as it tries to contain surging COVID-19 cases without resorting to a stricter, economy-crippling lockdown.

The government in Bern ordered in-person college classes halted from Monday, placed new limits on sporting and leisure activities, and ordered masks worn in packed offices, secondary schools and even outdoors if people cannot keep their distance.

Switzerland, which in June appeared to have COVID-19 contained as daily cases dwindled to just a handful, saw new infections soar to 8,616 on Wednesday – roughly 0.1% of the population in a single day.

Even so, the government stopped short of shutting retail business, restaurants and other key segments of the economy in hopes that more-limited measures will be enough.

“We have to work with a scalpel and make very precise cuts,” Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters in Bern. “If it’s not possible to get the virus under control, then other measures are possible. But we’re trying to take a middle path.”

In some regions, hospitals and intensive care units are filling up, with doctors warning the health care system could be stretched to breaking point within 10 days.

To help avoid such a scenario, public gatherings will be limited to 50 people or less, and sporting and cultural activities with more than 15 people will be banned.

Bars and restaurants must close at 11 p.m., while private family gatherings will be capped at 10 people.

The country plans to deploy up to 80,000 COVID-19 tests daily – 50,000 rapid antigen tests and 30,000 of the more accurate molecular tests – to expand screening capacity stretched by rising cases.

As domestic infection rates now exceed much of Europe, the Swiss also eased quarantine requirements for incoming travellers, with only areas abroad with rates 60% higher than Switzerland affected.

Officials were seeking to minimize impacts with the package, which includes numerous exceptions including for children under 16.

“We don’t have any time to lose,” President Simonetta Sommaruga said. “The damage to the economy would be greater if we were to do nothing now.”

The new measures are indefinite.

The country will refrain for now from expanding measures to support business after concluding existing programmes are sufficient to soften the pandemic’s blow, the government said.

(Reporting by John Miller, John Revill and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, editing by Michael Shields and Nick Macfie)

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Accessible healthcare could help slow climate change, reverse biodiversity losses

Oct. 26 (UPI) — To protect forests and vulnerable ecosystems, erect healthcare clinics. That’s what nonprofit organizers did in Indonesia, where deforestation rates in neighboring Gunung Palung National Park declined dramatically during the first 10 years of the clinic’s operation.

The affordable healthcare clinic was set up in 2007 by a pair of nonprofits, Alam Sehat Lestari and Health In Harmony. Prior to the arrival of the clinic, the forests of Gunung Palung were shrinking annually as a result of uncontrolled illegal logging.

To curb the losses, the clinic offered discounted services to villages that enacted community-wide logging reductions and other conservation-minded reforms.

Researchers described the clinic’s environmental and public health successes in a new paper, published Monday in the journal PNAS.

“This innovative model has clear global health implications,” study co-author Michele Barry, senior associate dean of global health at Stanford University and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health, said in a news release. “Health and climate can and should be addressed in unison, and done in coordination with and respect for local communities.”

In addition to offering community-wide discounts pegged to reductions in logging, the clinic also provided healthcare services for barter, allowing villagers to pay with tree seedlings, handicrafts and labor.

Health data collected by the clinic revealed a significant drop in infectious and non-communicable diseases between 2007 and 2017. Satellite data showed that deforestation rates in the forests surrounding the clinic and villages receiving service declined 70 percent compared to control plots far from the clinic.

“We didn’t know what to expect when we started evaluating the program’s health and conservation impacts, but were continually amazed that the data suggested such a strong link between improvements in health care access and tropical forest conservation,” said lead study author Isabel Jones, recent recipient of a doctoral degree in biology from Stanford.

Researchers found that the biggest reductions in logging occurred surrounding the villages that used the healthcare clinic the most.

More than a third of protected forests around the globe are either owned, managed, used or occupied by indigenous groups and local communities, but conservation planning and regulatory decision rarely involves input from these communities.

The opposite was true in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where nonprofit leaders met regularly with local villages to come up with a strategy for protecting the environment while also meeting the region’s public health needs.

Researchers suggest the clinic’s success can serve as a model for conservation and public health initiatives all over the world.

“The data support two important conclusions: human health is integral to the conservation of nature and vice versa, and we need to listen to the guidance of rainforest communities who know best how to live in balance with their forests,” said Monica Nirmala, the executive director of the clinic from 2014 to 2018 and current board member of Health In Harmony.

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Slow Lorises Bite With Flesh-Rotting Venom

With their bright saucer eyes, button noses and plump, fuzzy bodies, slow lorises — a group of small, nocturnal Asian primates — resemble adorable, living stuffed animals. But their innocuous looks belie a startling aggression: They pack vicious bites loaded with flesh-rotting venom. Even more surprising, new research reveals that the most frequent recipients of their toxic bites are other slow lorises.

“This very rare, weird behavior is happening in one of our closest primate relatives,” said Anna Nekaris, a primate conservationist at Oxford Brookes University and lead author of the findings, published Monday in Current Biology. “If the killer bunnies on Monty Python were a real animal, they would be slow lorises — but they would be attacking each other.”

Even before this new discovery, slow lorises already stood out as an evolutionary oddity. Scientists know of just five other types of venomous mammals: vampire bats, two species of shrew, platypuses and solenodons (an insectivorous mammal found in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

Researchers are just beginning to untangle the many mysteries of slow loris venom. One key component resembles the protein found in cat dander that triggers allergies in humans. But other unidentified compounds seem to lend additional toxicity and cause extreme pain. Strangely, to produce the venom, the melon-sized primates raise their arms above their head and quickly lick venomous oil-secreting glands located on their upper arms. The venom then pools in their grooved canines, which are sharp enough to slice into bone.

“The result of their bite is really, really horrendous,” Dr. Nekaris says. “It causes necrosis, so animals may lose an eye, a scalp or half their face.”

Before this study, many still debated the primary purpose of slow loris venom. Capturing prey was ruled out because tree gum is their primary food. That made defense against predators or parasites into leading hypotheses. But anecdotal evidence has also hinted for years that slow lorises may use their venom against their own.

For example, slow lorises are popular in the illegal pet trade. Illegal pet traders in Indonesia told Dr. Nekaris that they remove the animals’ teeth not to protect future owners, but to prevent slow lorises from harming each other and ruining their price. Poachers interviewed by her also complained of sometimes capturing “ugly” slow lorises with extensive scarring or gaping wounds that they had to let go because no pet buyer would want them.

Additionally, zoo and rescue facility staff report that one of the most frequent causes of death for slow lorises is bites from other slow lorises.

To get to the bottom of how slow lorises use their venom in nature, Dr. Nekaris used radio collars to track 82 Javan slow lorises, a critically endangered species in Indonesia. Like other types of slow lorises, Javan slow lorises form long-term mating pairs that occupy small territories containing one or several gum-producing trees.

Over an eight-year span, the researchers spent more than 7,000 hours monitoring their study subjects in a two-square mile patch

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As coronavirus cases rise, red-state governors resist measures to slow the spread, preach ‘personal responsibility’

The novel coronavirus is hammering America’s heartland this fall, with records shattered daily in states that had escaped the worst of the disease this spring and summer. Case numbers also are rising again in other states where the virus was thought to be under control after months of widespread illness.

Yet even as health authorities in small cities and rural towns plead for help in tamping down deadly outbreaks, many Republican governors are resisting new measures to stop the spread. Some are even loosening rules already on the books.

Instead, they preach the mantra of “personal responsibility,” insisting that government interventions such as mask mandates or business restrictions are either unnecessary or harmful, and that people should be trusted to make their own decisions about how to keep themselves — and each other — healthy.

“This is a job for everybody,” Burgum said, describing recommendations for safe behavior, but no new requirements.

Public health experts say that is an inadequate prescription, one that carries great peril as infections climb, the weather drives people indoors and large segments of the population are proving less willing to take the virus seriously.

“This really demands a coordinated, orchestrated higher-level response than just saying to an individual person, ‘Here’s what you might want to try,’ ” said David Aronoff, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

An overreliance on personal responsibility, health officials say, is one of the reasons America’s struggle with the coronavirus has been so destructive, with more than 8 million cases and at least 218,000 people dead. And they maintain it is unlikely to be the solution now — especially as Republican leaders from President Trump on down send misleading messages and model dangerous behavior.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, sent Trump to the hospital for four days this month, with doctors deploying the latest therapeutics — drugs unavailable to many Americans. Yet he has continued to cast doubt on the effectiveness of masks while maintaining that people should not be “afraid” of the coronavirus and bashing public health measures intended to limit viral spread.

Republican governors have mimicked aspects of that stance. While Democratic governors in blue states such as New York, New Mexico and California have rolled back reopening plans in response to rising coronavirus rates, the opposite has been true of Republican leaders in red states where the virus is now running rampant.

Coronavirus hospitalizations in Iowa have regularly hit new highs this month, and the state last week surpassed 1,500 total deaths. But Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has refused to revisit her decision to lift most restrictions on businesses and to allow students back to class without masks.

Trump, the Republican said, was “right. We can’t let covid-19 dominate our lives.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), meanwhile, has forged ahead with plans to reopen bars, despite the fact that infectious-disease specialists say they are a prime vector for coronavirus transmission. The state has been averaging nearly 5,000 new

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