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COVID-19 Pandemic Prompts Two Major US College Athletic Conferences to Postpone 2020 Football Seasons 

The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to have an effect on the sporting world, as two major U.S. college athletic conferences announced Tuesday they are postponing their upcoming fall (gridiron) football seasons. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said after consulting with the conference’s medical advisory board “it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”  Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said the presidents and chancellors of all of the member schools agreed their individual programs “are a part of broader campuses in communities where in many cases the prevalence of COVID-19 is significant.”   The Big Ten includes such legendary collegiate football programs as Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, while the Pac-12 conference, based primarily in the western United States, includes such traditional powerhouses as Stanford, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  In addition to football, the Big Ten says it is postponing all of its fall sports activities, including men and women’s track and field and American-style soccer. The Pac-12 said it will not hold any sports competitions for the remainder of 2020. The two conferences, along with the Atlantic Coast, Southeastern and Big 12, make up the so-called “Power Five” major college athletic conferences, whose football programs are not only among the best in the nation, but also bring in billions of dollars in revenue from ticket sales and national television contracts.  The prospect of any U.S. college football being played during the traditional fall season amid the COVID-19 pandemic was thrown into doubt well before the Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed their seasons.  Three other lesser conferences, including the Ivy League, which represents such prestigious schools as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, have either postponed or outright canceled their football seasons.  Medical experts have expressed concern that otherwise young and healthy athletes could develop long term health problems if they contract COVID-19, including heart and lung damage.In this May 20, 2020 photo provided by the University of Alabama, football head coach Nick Saban and the school’s elephant mascot, Big Al, wear masks on the university campus in Tuscaloosa, AL.But U.S. President Donald Trump has been one of the leading figures urging college football to begin its season as normal, telling reporters at the White House Tuesday the players are “young, strong people” who will be able to fight off the virus.    The pandemic has forced the National Basketball League and National Hockey League to resume their seasons in centralized locations, dubbed “bubbles,” where players and coaching staffs must remain during competition.  Major League Baseball’s shortened 60-game season has been marred with several players from the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals testing positive for COVID-19, forcing the league to postpone dozens of games and putting the truncated season at risk of being canceled. Also on Tuesday, President Trump announced an agreement between the federal government and an American biotechnology company to manufacture and deliver 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.      The company, Moderna, is to manufacture the vaccine while clinical trials are underway.  The company developed the vaccine in a joint initiative with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Three vaccine candidates in the United States are in the final stage of human trials.     “We’re on track to rapidly produce 100 million doses as soon as the vaccine is approved and up to 500 million shortly thereafter,” said Trump during a White House news conference.  The Trump administration’s latest actions are “increasing the likelihood that the United States will have at least one safe, effective vaccine by 2021,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a statement.     The president has recently stated he is optimistic a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready by the time of the U.S. presidential election in early November.   Trump did not comment on an announcement earlier in the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country has become the first in the world to formally approve a new COVID-19 vaccine, despite a lack of data to back up his claims that the drug is safe to administer to humans.Russian President Putin Says Country is First to Formally Approve Coronavirus VaccinePutin claims new vaccine “works quite effectively…forms a stable immunity”The Russian president also said his daughter has been inoculated in an early testing phase. She ran a slight fever on the first day, but her temperature dropped to normal the following day, according to Putin.      Production of the new Russian vaccine — which has been dubbed Sputnik V, in honor of the world’s first man-made satellite launched by the then-Soviet Union in 1957 — will begin next month, with mass vaccinations starting as early as October.   The new vaccine is one of more than 100 possible vaccines being developed in a global race by governments and biomedical firms to blunt a pandemic that has now infected more than 20 million people worldwide.      But it is not among the handful that reached the third and final phase of testing in human trials, which usually involve thousands of people and lasts for months, according to the World Health Organization.   Scientists within Russia have also questioned the move to register the vaccine before Phase 3 trials are complete, which are needed to prove it is not harmful to patients.    Russia has also been accused by the United States, Britain and Canada of using hackers to steal vaccine research from labs in their countries. 

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Researchers Develop Solar Energy Water Desalination Process

A team of researchers from Australia and China has developed a way to desalinate and purify salty or brackish water into potable drinking water using solar energy, a process that could provide hope for developing areas without reliable or abundant electricity.The World Health Organization says about 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to water that is safe to drink. Contaminated water can lead to cholera, dysentery, typhoid and a host of other diseases. And the WHO says that situation will only worsen in the next five years.In a study published Monday in the science journal Nature Sustainability, the scientists said they had created a sustainable solution that relies on sunlight to jump-start the filtration process instead of heat or electricity.Along with sunlight, the other key factor in their process is a special, incredibly porous metal compound composed of metal ions configured into a crystalline pattern.The researchers enhanced the viability of this material by adding another material to its pores, called PSP-MIL-53.After testing this material on both natural saltwater and synthetic saltwater, they found that the compound was able to absorb enough water in 30 minutes to create nearly 151 liters of fresh drinking water per single kilogram of the absorption material. They also discovered that this drinking water was even cleaner than WHO’s official guidelines.The researchers say the material could have other applications as well, for example, in mineral mining. The next step, they say, is getting their process out of the lab and into the field. 

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WHO in Talks With Russia About New Vaccine

The World Health Organization said Tuesday said it was holding talks with Russia regarding its recently approved COVID-19 vaccine. Russia on Tuesday became the first country to approve a vaccine for use in tens of thousands of its citizens. In an appearance on Russian television, President Vladimir Putin claimed the vaccine has proven efficient and has passed “all the necessary tests.”  Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, Aug. 11, 2020. (Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin)He said his own daughter has taken the vaccine and after two shots had a normal temperature and a “high number of antibodies.” The announcement came amidst global skepticism because the vaccine received approval after less than two months of human trials in Russia with a limited number of test subjects. “We are in close contact with Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO prequalification of the vaccine, but again prequalification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all required safety and efficacy data,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.Jasarevic says he is encouraged by the speed in which possible vaccines are being developed around the world. He said the WHO’s main concern is equitably distributing whatever viable vaccines are developed around the world.  
 

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WHO: Non-Essential Dental Care Should Be Delayed During Pandemic

The World Health Organization is releasing guidance on measures to be taken by dental health professionals and patients in oral health services to minimize the risk of being infected with COVID-19. As everyone in the world can attest, having a tooth ache is no fun and when the pain is bad enough, people will go to the dentist. However, a World Health Organization survey of 103 countries between May and mid-July finds COVID-19 has affected dental services around the world in unprecedented ways.   
 
Dental officer in WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases, Benoit Varenne, says 75 percent of survey respondents reported dental services have been completely or partially disrupted because of the coronavirus.
 
He says the high-level of disruption is linked to the nature of the work provided by the oral health care personnel.   “As you know, dentists, dental nurses, hygienists, and dental assistants work in close contact with patients and are exposed to saliva and blood, and as so, they are using, what we call, spray-generating equipment … and all this equipment are generating, what we call, airborne particles or aerosol,” said Varenne. In communities where transmission of the coronavirus is high, Varenne says WHO recommends priority be given to urgent or emergency oral cases.  And in the treatment of patients, he says dental workers should avoid or minimize procedures that may generate aerosols, which can spread the infection and prioritize the use of hand instruments.“And, of course, to delay routine, non-essential oral health care,” said Varenne. “This means going for a checkup, dental cleaning, preventive care and certainly also some aesthetic dental treatment.”  
 
Other WHO recommendations include remote screening, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks before and in-between dental sessions to prevent and reduce the risk of transmission.
 
Varenne says one of the most pressing issues is to ensure all dental workers have personal protective equipment.  This is essential, he says, to protect themselves from becoming infected with COVID-19 and passing it on to their patients. 

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NASA Probe Discovers ‘Salty Water’ Beneath Surface of Dwarf Planet

The U.S. space agency, NASA says that says it believes it has discovered salty water beneath the surface of the dwarf planet, Ceres, in orbit around the sun in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.The space agency’s Dawn spacecraft gathered up-close views of the dwarf planet – smaller than the earth’s moon – before ending its mission in October 2018.  At one point, Dawn dipped down to just 35 kilometers above Ceres’s surface.  Those up-close views revealed “mysterious bright regions”, which scientists later concluded to be deposits of sodium carbonate from liquid that likely filtered up to the surface and evaporated, leaving behind a reflective salty crust.In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, NASA Scientists said, after studying the images and data sent back from the probe, they concluded the liquid came from a deep reservoir of salt-enriched water, about 40 kilometers deep and hundreds of kilometers wide.The Dawn spacecraft was launched in September 2007 with a mission to shed light on the early solar system.It explored the two largest bodies. After studying giant asteroid “Vesta”, Dawn arrived at dwarf planet “Ceres” in 2015. The scientists’ research focused on the 92-kilometer-wide “Occator Crater”.In October 2018, NASA called time on the Dawn mission, after the spacecraft ran out of its key fuel, hydrazine. NASA says it will remain in orbit of Ceres for decades.Dawn remains the only spacecraft to ever orbit two extraterrestrial destinations.

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Nat Geo First Female Photographer Talks About Her Decades-Long Career

Annie Griffiths, One of National Geographic’s first female photographers, has traveled to more than 150 countries taking pictures. During her 45 year career, she has been to every continent documenting nature, and collecting the stories of women she has met along the way. Maxim Moskalkov has the story.VIDEOGRAPHER: Sergey Sokolov  

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Hit by Historic Monsoon, N. Korea Warns of More Floods

North Korea continues to see historic levels of rainfall, further threatening an economy already battered by a coronavirus-related lockdown.  Torrential rains have flooded hundreds of North Korean homes and wiped out vast swaths of rice fields in the country’s agricultural heartland, according to state media, intensifying worries about a poor harvest and food supply shortage. The Korean Peninsula has seen a much longer than usual monsoon seasons this year. The rains are expected to continue for much of the week.  South Korea has seen 49 consecutive days of rain — the longest streak on record. The downpours have caused landslides and floods in the South that have killed at least 42 people.  In the North, the extent of the damage is not precisely known. State media said Friday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a flood-hit village in North Hwanghae province, where 600 hectares of rice fields and more than 900 homes were inundated or destroyed. Hwanghae is the North’s most important rice-producing province. North Korean officials appearing on state TV have warned that rivers in both Hwanghae and the nearby province of Gangwon could overflow, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The rains are already more intense than in 2007, when North Korea saw some of its worst floods, according to a briefing by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations.A part of a park near the Han River are flooded due to heavy rain in Seoul, South Korea, Aug. 9, 2020. The safety ministry said the Seoul area and the southern region are expected to receive more heavy rain on Sunday.“Their agricultural system is fragile, but they have had floods many times before,” says Peter Ward, a specialist in North Korea’s economy and PhD candidate at the University of Vienna. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a significant impact on the harvest.” North Korea is particularly vulnerable to flooding. It lacks adequate infrastructure and suffers from widespread deforestation, which resulted in part from people cutting down trees for fuel or firewood or to clear land for farming.  The floods come as North Korea steps up its anti-coronavirus efforts. Last month, North Korea locked down the southwestern city of Kaesong, after warning that a defector from the South may have brought the virus across the border.  North Korea has reported no confirmed coronavirus cases, even as it carries out strict measures to keep the disease from spreading. North Korea’s Red Cross has mobilized 43,000 volunteers who “have been working alongside health teams and authorities to prevent Covid-19 as well as helping communities to be prepared to evacuate and reduce disaster risks in their areas, including protecting homes from flooding and landslides,” according to a statement from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “DPRK Red Cross volunteers are providing relief, including tarpaulins, kitchen sets, quilts, hygiene kits and water containers to support 2,800 of the most at risk families in North Hwanghae and (Gangwon) provinces, as well as Kaesong City, also while keeping people safe and preventing COVID-19,” the statement added. North Korea formally closed its borders due to coronavirus concerns in late January, shortly after the outbreak was first reported in neighboring China. The lockdown has resulted in plummeting economic activity with China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner. That has put even more strain on an economy already held back by international sanctions.  In a statement last week, research firm Fitch Solutions said it expected North Korea’s economy to contract by at least 8.5% in 2020, “not only due to a suspected domestic outbreak, but also due to the negative impact the disease will have on the external sector.”North Korea’s secretive government does not consistently release its own economic data. Instead, outside organizations try to estimate North Korea’s economic figures, in part based on numbers from South Korea’s central bank or Chinese customs data. 

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Pentagon Identifies More Bandwidth for Commercial 5G Network Sharing

The Pentagon and the White House have identified an additional 100 MHz in the coveted mid-band frequency spectrum to be used for the commercial 5G wireless technology network within the United States.The announcement on Monday takes frequencies previously designated for use by the Department of Defense and makes them available for spectrum sharing between the military and commercial telecommunication businesses.Senior administration officials say the spectrum, ranging from 3450 to 3550 MHz, is “ideal” for 5G because waves on that frequency can travel long distances at fast speeds, which could ensure more access to the network across the United States.Department of Defense chief information officer Dana Deasy testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, in Washington, May 6, 2020.But that particular mid-band spectrum currently supports critical military operations ranging from air defense, missile and gunfire control, counter mortar, battlefield weapon locations and air traffic control, according to Dana Deasy, chief information officer of the Department of Defense.Deasy addressed concerns about sharing the spectrum Monday, stressing that the Pentagon was planning a spectrum relocation transition that would minimize any impact to military operations.United States White House CTO Michael Kratsios delivers a speech on the last day of the Web Summit in Lisbon on Nov. 7, 2019.“This particular part of the band between 3450 and 3550 MHz has been identified because it can be made available without sacrificing our nation’s great military and national security capabilities,” said Michael Kratsios, the Trump administration’s chief technology officer.Deasy said the latest mid-band transition would use rules similar to those agreed upon in previous government-commercial sharing plans.An auctioning of the right to share a nearby frequency band, dubbed the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, with the military is currently ongoing and could bring in as much as $10 billion.The latest moves will provide U.S. commercial businesses with a continuous spectrum spanning from 3450 MHz to 3980 MHz in which to build a new 5G network. 5G will come with faster data transfer, better responsiveness and the ability to connect a lot more devices at once.The United States and China are currently racing to deploy 5G with the hopes of dominating the technology’s standards, patents and leadership in the global supply chain. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction the latest 100 MHz spectrum beginning in December 2021 for use as soon as mid-2022, a process that senior administration officials say chops the typical time for mid-band availability from years to months.“This process reflects the fastest transfer of federal spectrum to commercial use in history,” Kratsios added.

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Trump Weighs Blocking US Citizens from Coming Home if Coronavirus Infection Feared

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is considering a measure to block U.S. citizens and permanent residents from returning home if they are suspected of being infected with the new coronavirus, a senior U.S. official confirmed to Reuters.The official said a draft regulation, which has not been finalized and could change, would give the government authorization to block individuals who could “reasonably” be believed to have contracted COVID-19 or other diseases.Trump has instituted a series of sweeping immigration restrictions since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, suspending some legal immigration and allowing U.S. border authorities to rapidly deport migrants caught at the border without standard legal processes.Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s immigrants’ rights project, said in a written statement that barring U.S. citizens from entering the country would be unconstitutional and “another grave error in a year that has already seen far too many.”Reuters reported in May that U.S. government officials were concerned that dual U.S.-Mexico citizens might flee to the United States if the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico worsened, putting more stress on U.S. hospitals.The draft regulation, which was first reported by The New York Times on Monday, would be issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has played a lead role in the pandemic response, the senior official told Reuters.A Trump pandemic task force was not expected to act on the proposal this week, although that timeline could change, the official said.The United States leads the world in both confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, with more than 5 million cases recorded and over 162,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ Is Sales Hit Again After 39 Years, Thanks to Twins’ Reaction Video

Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” is officially a hit single again 39 years after its release, thanks to a pair of twins from Gary, Indiana, whose spontaneous reaction to the unexpected drum break in Collins’ ballad has caused it to be possibly the most memed song of August 2020. “In the Air Tonight” currently sits at No. 3 on the iTunes song sales chart, trailing only the brand-new releases “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion and “Beers and Sunshine” by Darius Rucker. It’s not just a passing single-day phenomenon, either. Numbers provided by Alpha Data show that “In the Air Tonight” was the fourth biggest selling song of the week ending Aug. 8, up from No. 185 the week before. The Collins song may not make the same kind of splash on the overall songs chart, since its streaming numbers remain out of the league of those enjoyed by today’s top current artists. The fact that it’s making more of an impact on sales than streaming may indicate that it’s appealing to an older audience that is rediscovering its love for the song more than reaching a new one that, like the twins, is hearing it for the first time. But, of course, none of these charts take into account the number of listens that “In the Air Tonight” is getting just from fascinated viewers enjoying Tim and Fred Williams’ reaction video, which, as of this writing, is up to 3.2 million views. The 22-year-old brothers are certainly a hit unto themselves, as viewers entranced by their reaction to the Collins song, which was posted July 27, visit their YouTube channel to check out the hundreds of reaction videos they’ve posted before this. Their similar video reacting to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” took on lesser meme status, with Parton herself tweeting about it Aug. 7, writing, “No point in begging. … Jolene already stole these two.” (Collins has not publicly responded so far.) “TwinsthenewTrend” now have 350,000 subscribers for their YouTube channel, which is about a year old. They told CNN they initially stuck with hip-hop reaction videos, then took a suggestion to try out Frank Sinatra, and have delved into multiple genres since then. They’ve reacted to everything from Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” to Pantera, Lauryn Hill, Rage Against the Machine, the Carpenters, A-ha, the Allman Brothers Band, Marvin Gaye and Queens of the Stone Age. “Because we’re Black,” Fred Williams told CNN about the popularity of their videos, “and they don’t expect us to listen to that type of music.” Added Tim, “It’s just rare to see people open these days. People don’t open to step outside their comfort zone and just react to music they don’t know.” 
 

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