Some things we know about COVID
The pandemic has not stopped scientists from being scientists.
The Green Dispatch concentrates on environmental news and science, but on occasion I like to take a look elsewhere. This week and next week I’ll be looking at some of the medical and other research on SARS-CoV2, coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
After almost two years of lockdowns, closed businesses, travel restrictions, and stay-at-home orders, the most obvious question is: was all of that trouble worth it? The answer is an unqualified yes. Reviewing 25 studies from around the world on these public health strategies—social distancing, lock downs, stay-at-home orders, and travel restrictions—researchers found that all of the strategies worked. The effects of social distancing measures were usually discerned 12 days after implementation and reduced the median number of infections by 92 percent. Stay-at-home orders cut the number of folks getting COVID in half and also halved the number of people dying of the disease. Travel bans addiitonally reduced the numbers of infections and deaths. To be effective, these measures needed to be implemented consistently.
In Belgium, the government tried to slow the spread of the virus by closing all non-food shops, including vape shops. Scientists found that vapers were still able to keep their habit going, mostly by illegal purchases over the internet.
Scientists looked at air pollution levels in Spanish cities during the initial phase of the pandemic, when Spain was hardest hit by the coronavirus, and found that pollution levels remained pretty much the same, despite the decrease in activity. Only Santiago de Compostela, a beautiful city in the northwest corner of Iberia, saw a measurable decline in air pollution.
In a literature review of 52 scientific studies from several countries, most of them indicated that racial and ethnic minorities had higher risks of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and death. Factors such as poverty, low educational levels, low household income, crowded living conditions, and language barriers contributed to the higher risks.
Researchers in Japan discovered that the longer someone commuted on public transportation the greater that commuter’s anxiety about disease transmission. In Ecuador, mortality from COVID-19 increases with altitude.
In the United States, with data gathered from 217 counties with a population of more than 50,000, researchers uncovered two things. People testing negative for SARS-CoV-2 wound up increasing the number of COVID-19 cases. The scientists wrote that, “Apparently, many people who test negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus engage in activities that increase their risk, a problem likely to increase with the availability of home tests.” They also found that counties with a higher percentage of Trump votes had higher COVID-19 mortality.
Another study found that lower mask usage correlated with other risky behaviors, such as attending concerts and sporting events or going to restaurants, shopping centers, and bars, and socializing with people outside of one’s home.
If you smoke, you’re more likely to die of COVID-19. Scientists gathered data from 237 studies on COVID-19 and smoking from China, the United Kingdom, Korea, and Italy. The results of the research were pretty clear. People who smoke or who had smoked had 1.59 times the risk of developing severe symptoms of COVID-19. Current and even former smokers had a greater chance of dying from COVID-19. Curiously, younger smokers had a higher chance of developing COVID-19 symptoms than older smokers.
Looking at working people in Hamilton, Ontario, researchers found that the pandemic has made everybody depressed. About two-thirds of the research subjects became mildly to moderately depressed during the pandemic, and a third became really depressed. Among the things bringing people down were health concerns, the burden of caregiving, and lacking access to resources. Similarly, people living in New York city who inject drugs said in surveys that, since the pandemic, they had higher levels of mental health problems and alcohol use. People were more likely to reuse syringes during the pandemic and less likely to use syringe service programs.
In Italy, university students grew more anxious during the pandemic. Italian students already struggling with anxiety grew even more anxious. In Paraguay, public officials reported high levels of depression and feeling apprehensive during the early stages of the pandemic. Depression and anxiety increased with the length of quarantine. Women were more likely to become depressed than men, and unmarried persons were more likely to be depressed than their married counterparts. Older people weren’t as depressed as younger people.
Hispanics in New York City had difficulties maintaining social distancing, mainly due to living in cramped, multi-generational homes and to many of them being employed as essential workers.
Folks are right to be concerned about children and teens during the pandemic, but teens smoking pot need not be among those worries. Scientists found that teens in Canada smoked no more pot that they did before the pandemic. And it looks to be the same for alcohol. During the pandemic, 44 percent of young adults surveyed in the U.S. reported drinking less, and only 14 percent reported drinking more. Only 17 percent of mature adults said they drank more. Curiously, the folks who reported an increase in drinking were considered moderate drinkers.
The median time out for sick leave for Swedes who got COVID-19 was 35 days. Researchers found no differences among socioeconomic classes as to the amount of sick time individuals took from work, but understandably, they did find that the sicker people needed more sick time. People in South Africa had a harder time finding condoms during the pandemic, with a quarter of them unable to get condoms at all.
On a positive note, since the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people are telecommuting, and it looks like they really like it. Researchers in Portugal discovered a great deal of satisfaction among people who telecommuted. Respondents to their surveys said they could concentrate better on their work while at home. Although they wound up working more, they liked the balance between work and the rest of their lives and the higher level of work flexibility.
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