New Research Gives Insight into Saturn’s Atmosphere

New analysis of data collected by the U.S. space agency’s Cassini spacecraft may have solved what has been a mystery to scientists for years: What keeps the upper layers of Saturn so warm?The warmth of Saturn and other gas giants in the solar system has puzzled scientists because the planets are too far from the sun for it to be the source of the heat that has been found in their atmospheres.But the authors of a report published this week in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy used NASA’s Cassini probe data to make the most detailed examination yet of Saturn’s temperatures and atmospheric density.They discovered auroras – similar to Earth’s northern lights – active at the planet’s north and south poles. The researchers believe the auroras, electrical currents triggered by interactions between solar winds and charged particles in the atmosphere, are what’s providing the heat.This complete picture of how heat circulates in Saturn’s atmosphere allows scientists to better understand how these auroral electric currents drive winds and distribute energy around the planet, and why the upper atmosphere is twice as hot as temperatures expected from the sun’s heat alone.The Cassini space probe, managed by NASA, was an orbiter that observed Saturn for more than 13 years. In September 2017 it exhausted its fuel supply and was plunged into the planet, in part to protect Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, which Cassini discovered might hold conditions suitable for life.

China’s Virus Pandemic Epicenter Wuhan Ends 76-Day Lockdown

The lockdown that served as a model for countries battling the coronavirus around the world is set to end after 11 weeks: Chinese authorities are moving to allow residents of Wuhan to once again travel in and out of the sprawling city where the pandemic began.
Just after midnight Wednesday, the city’s 11 million residents will be permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.  
Restrictions in the city where most of China’s more than 82,000 virus cases and over 3,300 deaths were reported have been gradually relaxed in recent weeks as the number of new cases steadily declined. The latest government figures reported Tuesday listed no new cases.
While there are questions about the veracity of China’s count, the unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding province of Hubei have been successful enough that countries around the world adopted similar measures.
During the 76-day lockdown, Wuhan residents had been allowed out of their homes only to buy food or attend to other tasks deemed absolutely necessary. Some were allowed to leave the city, but only if they had paperwork showing they were not a health risk and a letter attesting to where they were going and why. Even then, authorities could turn them back on a technicality such as missing a stamp, preventing thousands from returning to their jobs outside the city.  
Residents of other parts of Hubei were allowed to leave the province starting about three weeks ago, as long as they could provide a clean bill of health.  
Prevention measures such as wearing masks, temperature checks and limiting access to residential communities will remain in place in Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei.  
In an editorial, the ruling Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily warned against celebrating too soon.  
“This day that people have long been looking forward to and it is right to be excited. However, this day does not mark the final victory,” the paper said. “At this moment, we still need to remind ourselves that as Wuhan is unblocked, we can be pleased, but we must not relax.”  
In anticipation of the lockdown’s lifting, SWAT teams and staff in white hazmat suits patrolled outside the city’s Hankou railway station, while guards attended a security briefing under the marble arches of its entrance.  
Tickets for trains out of Wuhan to cities across China already were advertised on electronic billboards, with the first train leaving for Beijing at 6:25 a.m. A line designated for passengers headed to the capital already was roped off, while loudspeakers blared announcements about pandemic control measures, such as keeping safe distances and wearing masks.  
Wuhan is a major center for heavy industry, particularly autos, and while many major plants have restarted production, the small and medium-sized businesses that provide the most employment are still hurting from both a lack of workers and demand. Measures are being instituted to get them back on their feet, including 20 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) in preferential loans, according to the city government.  
China blocked people from leaving or entering Wuhan starting Jan. 23 in a surprise middle-of-the-night announcement and expanded the lockdown to most of the province in succeeding days. Train service and flights were canceled and checkpoints were set up on roads into the central province.  
The drastic steps came as the coronavirus began spreading to the rest of China and overseas during the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, when many Chinese travel.  
The exact source of the virus remains under investigation, though it is thought to be linked to an outdoor food market in the city.
In preparation for the end of the lockdown, Party Secretary Wang Zhonglin, the city’s highest-ranking official, inspected the city’s airport and train stations Monday to ensure they were ready. The city must “enforce prevention while opening up, maintain safety and orderliness and the assurance of stability,” Wang said.  
Mission one: to make sure the epidemic doesn’t resurge, he said.

Military Promises Pakistani Doctors Gear to Fight Virus

Pakistan’s military promised Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for protesting a lack of protective equipment needed to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need.  
The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, according to provincial spokesman Liaquat Shahwani.  
An army statement on Tuesday said the “emergency supplies of medical equipment, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are being dispatched to Quetta.”  
However, some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.
Two doctors have died after contracting the new virus in Pakistan, which has recorded 4,004 cases and 54 deaths. Many of the cases have been traced to pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran. Pakistani authorities have imposed a countrywide lockdown until April 14.
In Iran, authorities struggling to battle the virus announced Tuesday they would expand testing to asymptomatic people, but didn’t say how many test kits they have available or provide other details.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that with active screening of such cases, there are expectations the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, can be brought under control by mid-May.  
“With this step, we will go after people without symptoms,” said Namaki, adding this would require a large number of tests. He didn’t elaborate. The health ministry said searching for asymptomatic cases would be combined with restrictions on both city and intercity travel and quarantine.
Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition.
There are nearly 109,000 confirmed cases across the Middle East, with more than 4,600 fatalities.  
President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Tuesday sought to reassure Egyptians a day after officials reported 149 new cases, the country’s highest one-day tally since the pandemic began.
El-Sissi’s government has imposed a night-time curfew, suspended international air travel and closed schools and universities to curb the virus’ spread. Egypt has more than 1,320 confirmed cases and 85 deaths.
“So far, the situation is under control,” he said in televised comments. “The goal is to minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.” El-Sissi said he’s opposed to a complete lockdown.  
El-Sissi said the military has set up four field hospitals in different parts of the country with more than 500 beds to help treat virus patients.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.
At a retirement home ravaged by the coronavirus in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, another resident died, the eighth so far there. Dozens of the home’s resident’s have been infected and relatives have been staging angry protests outside the premises in recent days.  
Overall, more than 9,000 have been infected in Israel and 60 have died, the vast majority elderly and many in assisted living facilities.

Philippine Health Workers Battle Coronavirus, Harassment

When Philippine health workers end their daily hospital shifts, they trade the risks of COVID-19 for the risks that they could have bleach thrown in their faces or be chased from public areas.  Many workers report they are being evicted from homes, refused rides on buses, and kicked out of restaurants as their fellow citizens worry about coming into contact with them and contracting the ailment caused by the coronavirus.Critics say the disregard goes all the way to the top, with President Rodrigo Duterte saying these health professionals are “lucky” to die for the nation, even as he condemns the discrimination.The Department of Health has said it would investigate the treatment of health workers. And the capital city of Manila has approved an ordinance outlawing discrimination against workers and COVID-19 patients. The recently approved ordinance calls for a fine of nearly $100 and six months in prison.“We are receiving reports of our health care workers around the country being attacked physically, including being thrown bleach and splashed with chlorine,” the department said in a statement. “Additionally, there are reports of health care workers being refused access to basic services such as public transport and laundry, blocked and fined at checkpoints and evicted from their homes.”In February, the Philippines became the first nation to report a death from COVID-19 outside of China, where it first emerged. Since then, the virus has spread to infect 3,764 people in the Southeast Asian nation, leading to nearly 180 deaths at last report and threatening to overwhelm the health care system.FILE – Hospital workers wearing protective masks prepare to sleep on pews at a funeral chapel that serves as a temporarily shelter for them amid the coronavirus spread, in Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines, April 1, 2020.As in the Philippines, health workers have been infected or killed while fighting the virus in nations from France to Vietnam to Pakistan. In the United States, they complain of being dismissed for protesting their hospitals’ hygiene policies; in China, one of the earlier deaths was of a doctor who tried to warn of the coming emergency.The Philippines faces a lack of gloves, surgical masks and coveralls which the government is moving to source now for workers. Local health care workers have tried to improvise, such as by making facial coverings for themselves.“Nothing will happen for us if we always wait for supplies or donations from abroad,” Senator Imee Marcos said.Marcos called on the Department of Health, along with the Department of Trade and Industry, to expedite the approval process for businesses that have made proposals to supply personal protective equipment, or PPE.On Monday, Duterte approved an order that gives health workers an extra 25% in pay, including for part-time and casually employed workers.He also warned citizens last week not to harass health care workers and said police would intervene if they witnessed such discrimination.  “These acts cannot be tolerated,” the Department of Health said. It also sought to assure the public that it should not worry about becoming infected from workers, saying, “As medical professionals, our health care workers are taking extra precautions to ensure infection prevention and control.” 

April Supermoon to be Biggest, Brightest in 2020

People around the world, trapped in their homes amid a health crisis, have something to look forward to this week when the full moon appears as a supermoon for the second of three times this year and in its most spectacular form.  A phenomenon known as the Super Pink Moon will make an appearance over a couple of nights this week. It will be the biggest and brightest on Tuesday, but its appearance on Monday and Wednesday will also be worth viewing. Housebound people are more likely than usual to want to step out into their yards or poke their heads out of their windows to watch this so-called supermoon and develop a new appreciation for the natural world or renew an old one. A full moon appears approximately once a month. When the moon gets closest to the Earth in its orbit, it appears bigger and brighter than usual and is called a supermoon. A supermoon can look up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter than a regular monthly full moon.  Most years have 12 full moons, but this year will have 13, three of them supermoons. The April supermoon follows the one of March 9 and precedes the one coming on May 7. In the United States, the April supermoon is also known as the Pink Supermoon, a name given it by Native Americans because it comes out around the time the moss pink wildflower is in bloom. April’s full moon promises to be the most spectacular full moon of this year because it will be closest to the Earth while in its “full” phase. The distance between the two on April 7 will be 356,906 kilometers.   The timing for the April supermoon varies in different parts of the world. On the U.S. West Coast, this year’s Super Pink Moon appears about 7:30 p.m. on April 7, and in Sydney, Australia, at 12:30 p.m. on April 8. But the best time to watch it anywhere is after sunset, when the sky darkens and the moon rises over the eastern horizon.  Experts say there is no need to look for its peak at 100% illumination because the moon is then so white and bright that you cannot look at it for more than a few seconds. Those who do not have an east-facing view can wait for the moonset on April 8. It is expected to be as spectacular as the moonrise.  The year 2020 will also have a rare blue moon. A blue moon is the second full moon in the same month – something that happens only every 2½ or three years. English-language speakers are familiar with the phrase “once in a blue moon,” referring to something that happens rarely. This year’s blue moon will fall on Halloween, October 31, something that happens once in two decades, so that makes it even more special. Moongazers will have plenty to watch in 2020 and under the current circumstances, watching night sky events could gain more attention among people who have had little interest in them before. 

Globe Commemorates World Health Day Amidst Pandemic

Tuesday is World Health Day, which is being commemorated as the world faces one of the biggest international health threats of the past century. The head of the World Health Organization, director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a virtual news conference Monday in Geneva that the organization is paying tribute to the contribution of health care workers who have been at the forefront of treating patients with the coronavirus. He said Worth Health Day, which is celebrated each year on the World Health Organization’s founding day, is usually one of the group’s biggest days of the year, but this year the day is being overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic. The 2020 Worth Health Day was “supposed to be the main event in our assembly in May. Unfortunately, we are in this situation,” Tedros said. He said the organization would still release a planned report on Tuesday focusing on the state of nursing around the world, saying the document “highlights gaps and makes recommendations for all countries.” “One of the lessons I hope the world learns from COVID-19 is that we must invest in health workers – not only to protect lives, but also to protect livelihoods,” Tedros said. The WHO director said that while the focus of the report is on nurses, “we will celebrate all health workers – midwives, pharmacists, doctors, you name it,” on World Health Day.” “The world is now seeing … the central role that health workers play,” he said. In previous years, groups around the world have held health and fitness events to commemorate World Heath Day. This year, much of the world’s population is under recommendations or orders to stay inside to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

Efficacy of Anti-Coronavirus Drug Tops US Treatment Debate

The debate over the usefulness of an antimalarial drug to treat U.S. coronavirus victims is pitting President Donald Trump against the country’s top U.S. infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. With the U.S. coronavirus death toll increasing by hundreds a day, Trump at daily news briefings regularly touts the use of hydroxychloroquine, calling it a potential “game-changer” to save lives.  President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 5, 2020, in Washington.”What do you have to lose? Take it,” the president said in a White House briefing over the weekend. “I really think they should take it. But it’s their choice. And it’s their doctor’s choice or the doctors in the hospital. But hydroxychloroquine — try it if you’d like.” Fauci, often standing a step or two away from the U.S. leader in the White House briefing room, says data showing possible hints of success from use of the drug in treating coronavirus patients is “at best suggestive” and not based on scientific studies. He is the longtime director of the country’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. A contentious debate over the use of the drug erupted at a coronavirus task force meeting in the White House situation room on Saturday between Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro and Fauci, who consistently has voiced skepticism and caution about use of the drug. FILE – White House trade adviser Peter Navarro speaks during a television interview at the White House, Oct. 8, 2019.“This drug could save lives,” Navarro told CNN on Monday. “We are at war here. We’re trying to make sure as few people die as possible.” But Navarro also acknowledged, “There are downsides to this. There can be in some cases negative effects. It’s related to [the] heart and related to vision.” He said that ultimately, use of the drug must depend on agreement between doctors and their patients after they have discussed possible side effects. Navarro downplayed the weekend argument with Fauci, saying, “If we didn’t have disagreement and debate in the Trump administration, this administration wouldn’t be as strong as it is.” Navarro, a social scientist with a doctoral degree but not a medical doctor, said initial studies from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the coronavirus first appeared, show use of the antimalarial drug is promising as a treatment. Fauci mostly dismisses the reports, saying they were not conducted under rigorous scientific testing protocols. Navarro said the U.S. has a stockpile of 29 million tablets of the antimalarial drug, adding that “virtually every New York (coronavirus) patient is given hydroxy.” The country’s biggest city is at epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. FILE – President Trump listens as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a coronavirus task force briefing at the White House, April 5, 2020, in Washington.The debate over hydroxychloroquine comes as Trump, Fauci and Surgeon General Jerome Adams all are warning Americans they face daunting days ahead, as the U.S. death toll mounts rapidly with more than 9,600, and with 337,000 confirmed cases of the infection. “This is going to be the hardest and saddest week of most Americans’ lives, quite frankly,” Adams told “Fox News Sunday.” “This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it’s not going to be localized. It’s going to be happening all over the country.”  Trump, speaking to reporters at a Sunday evening briefing, expressed some optimism, saying there is a “light at the end of the tunnel,” while noting the difficult circumstances that lay immediately ahead. “The next week and a half, two weeks, are going to be, I think, they’re going to be very difficult,” Trump said.  “At the same time, we understand what they represent and what that time represents. And hopefully, we can get this over with, because this is a very horrible thing for the world.” Fauci said that stay-at-home orders that cover 41 of the country’s 50 states and social distancing guidelines take time to show their effects. A body wrapped in plastic is unloaded from a refrigerated truck by medical workers wearing personal protective equipment due to COVID-19 concerns, March 31, 2020, at a hospital in New York.”What you’re hearing about potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t take away from the fact that tomorrow, the next day, are going to look really bad,” Fauci said. Trump has not issued national lockdown orders like those in Italy and Spain, preferring to leave that decision to state governors.  Most have given their own order, but nine have not. Fauci said the people in the nine states are “putting themselves at risk” by not self-isolating, even if their governors have not issued stay-at-home orders.  “This virus does not discriminate” whether one lives in a small community or a large city,” Fauci said.       

Coronavirus Patients Rush to Join Studies of Gilead Drug

 The new coronavirus made Dr. Jag Singh a patient at his own hospital.His alarm grew as he saw an X-ray of his pneumonia-choked lungs and colleagues asked his wishes about life support while wheeling him into Massachusetts General’s intensive care unit.An X-ray room is seen at a Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet). In some hospitals, chest X-ray has taken center stage as a frontline diagnostic test for COVID-19 patients.When they offered him a chance to help test remdesivir, an experimental drug that’s shown promise against some other coronaviruses, “it did not even cross my mind once to say ‘no,’” said Singh, a heart specialist.Coronavirus patients around the world have been rushing to join remdesivir studies that opened in hospitals in the last few weeks.Interest has been so great that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is expanding its study, which has nearly reached its initial goal of 440 patients. The drug’s maker, California-based Gilead Sciences, is quickly ramping up its own studies, too.“I would enroll my family in a heartbeat” if the need arose, said Dr. Libby Hohmann, who placed Singh and nearly 30 others in the NIH one at Mass General. To have no approved medicines for COVID-19 now is “kind of terrifying,” she said.For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but sometimes pneumonia requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.Remdesivir is given through an IV. It’s designed to interfere with an enzyme that reproduces viral genetic material.In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness. It’s farther along in testing than many other potential therapies and the current studies could lead to regulatory approval.Gilead has given remdesivir to more than 1,700 patients on a case-by-case emergency basis, but more people ultimately will be helped if the company does the needed studies to prove safety and effectiveness, chief executive Dan O’Day wrote in a recent letter to the public.“Many people have reached out to Gilead to advocate for access to remdesivir on behalf of friends and loved ones. I can only imagine how it must feel to be in that situation,” he wrote. “We are taking the ethical, responsible approach.”In another letter on Saturday, O’Day said the company has 1.5 million doses, which could mean more than 140,000 treatment courses, depending on how long treatment needs to last. The company is providing the drug for free for now and has set a goal of making 500,000 treatment courses by October and more than a million by the end of the year.Gilead supplied remdesivir for two studies in China expected to give results by the end of the month. It also launched two studies for hospitalized patients in the U.S., Asia, Europe and elsewhere. One in severely ill patients tests five versus 10 days of treatment. Another in moderately sick patients compares those two options to standard care alone.“There’s so much anxiety about the disease that the patients are quite interested” and no one offered the chance has refused, said Dr. Arun Sanyal, the study leader at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.The first patient he enrolled was a previously healthy middle-aged man who had an out-of-state visitor a few days before his symptoms began. What started as mild illness escalated to profound shortness of breath requiring supplemental oxygen.At University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, Dr. Grace McComsey has enrolled roughly half a dozen patients.“We’re seeing more and more younger people, like 30, really sick,” she said.The NIH study is the most rigorous test. It compares remdesivir to placebo infusions, and neither patients nor doctors know who is getting what until the end of the study. Besides the U.S., it’s open in Japan, Korea and Singapore.In Chicago, an 89-year-old man was Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s first participant and “the family was very excited” to have him included, said infectious diseases chief Dr. Babafemi Taiwo.At the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Alpesh Amin has enrolled several patients. All are getting standard care even if they wind up getting a placebo rather than remdesivir, Amin said.The Boston cardiologist, Singh, said he was willing to take that chance to advance science even if he personally winds up not benefiting. He’s now recovering at home after spending a week in the hospital.“The word ‘placebo’ freaks some people out,” but rigorous testing is needed to avoid giving false hope or using something unsafe. Still, it’s tough to face patients with no proven therapy now, Hohmann said.“The worst thing is seeing some really young people who are really, really sick,” such as a 49-year-old man with three young children on life support, she said. “That’s pretty awful.”

COVID-19 Renews Quest for Coronavirus Vaccine

The world crossed the one-million mark of confirmed COVID-19 cases this past week. With untold millions more possible in the months to come, scientists are committed to making a vaccine.There’s a lot about COVID-19 that scientists still don’t know. They don’t know entirely how it is spread. And without proven treatments or vaccines, good hygiene and staying away from other people are the only known methods of prevention.Dr. Peter Hotez at Baylor College of Medicine started working on a coronavirus vaccine in 2003, during the outbreak of SARS, but after that, research funds dried up.Hotez expects more coronaviruses to develop and spread. Some may be more benign that COVID-19, some far deadlier.”Pandemics for coronaviruses have become a new normal. That we saw with SARS in 2003. We saw it in MERS s in 2012, and now this one. So we can expect a new major coronavirus every decade.”A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington, March 16, 2020.Which is all the more reason to develop a vaccine, even after the COVID-19 infections taper off and life gets back to normal.  “We’re developing a vaccine for global health purposes. We’re very concerned what happens when this virus moves into the crowded urban areas slums of Mumbai and Kolkata, and then Delhi, how do you practice social distancing, you basically can’t so that’s why a vaccine is going to be very important for places like India, and that’s become our big priority right now.”Hotez is one of a number of scientists working on a vaccine for COVID-19, on treatments for the sick and methods to protect health care workers. He knows clean water is not available everywhere around the world, that it’s possible that COVID-19 will be a recurring virus, and that there will likely be new coronaviruses emerging in the coming years.