(TMU) — As SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes CoViD-19, continues to spread around the world, scientists, medical experts, and healthcare professionals search for ways to diagnose the illness and “flatten the curve” of infection.
Since the window of time in which early testing could have helped shape effective quarantine strategies was missed, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are trying something different: a voice analyzer app that may be able to determine whether or not you’re infected.
While the app is still in an early beta stage, the researchers believe their algorithm could help alleviate the widespread shortage of testing kits. While they are quick to point out that their tool has not been approved by the FDA or the CDC and is not a medical diagnostic system, the COVID Voice Detector may be able to pick up on some of the telltale breathing, coughing, and voice patterns exhibited by infected people.
“In terms of diagnostics, of course, it’s never going to be as accurate as taking a swab and putting it on some agar and waiting for it to grow,” said Benjamin Striner, a Carnegie Mellon graduate student who worked extensively on the app. “But in terms of very easily monitoring a ton of people daily, weekly, whatever, monitoring on a very large scale, it gives you a way to handle and track health outbreaks.”
The app developers say that more data is needed to say how effective the Voice Detector is at diagnosis.
Bhiksha Raj, a professor at Carnegie Mellon who is one of the app’s co-developers, says:
“The score the app currently shows is an indicator of how much the signatures in your voice match those of other COVID patients whose voices we have tested. This is not medical advice. The primary objective of our effort/website at this point of time is to collect large numbers of voice recordings that we could use to refine the algorithm into something we—and the medical community—are confident about.”
The app is part of a long line of experimental algorithms that pinpoint micro-signatures in the human voice. Such micro-signatures, says Rita Singh, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, can be used to assess preliminary diagnostics about a patient’s psychological, physiological, and other medical info.
“The cough of a COVID patient is very distinctive,” Singh observes. “It affects the lungs so badly that breathing patterns and several other vital parameters are affected, and those are likely to have very strong signatures in voice.”
Not everyone is convinced this is the best time for such an experiment. Professor Ashwin Vasan remarked:
“Despite what could be a well-intentioned attempt by a bunch of engineers to help during this crisis, this is not exactly the messaging we want to be out there. That somehow there is a nifty new tool we can use to diagnose coronavirus, in absence of the things we really need much more of, actual test kits, serologic testing, PPE for frontline healthcare workers, and ventilators for critically ill patients.”
While the app is not yet being used in any kind of official medical capacity, it is part of a growing suite of data collection and tracking efforts by the healthcare industry, government agencies, and law enforcement.
Just in the last few weeks, we’ve seen a portable artificial intelligence gadget that helps forecast pandemics by analyzing coughing sounds; a Southern California police department in Chula Vista using Chinese drones to help spotlight people breaking social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions; a supercomputer that is running simulations to try and find a CoViD-19 treatment; and, of course, government officials from the CDC and local departments using cellphone meta-data from 500 U.S. cities to surveil peoples’ movements during the pandemic.
If anyone was worried what Big Data during a second Patriot Act-style event would look like, it seems we’re about to get a frontline view.
Betty White Turns 99, and Her Tips on Living a Long and Happy Life Are More Valuable Than Ever
Betty White, the original golden girl beloved by people of all ages, celebrated her 99th birthday on Sunday.
The spry granny, born Betty Marion White on Jan. 17, 1922, has managed to live a long, healthy, happy life and this can likely be chalked up to her unconventional approach.
The Emmy award-winning veteran actress once joked that her secret to longevity consisted of three simple ingredients: vodka, hot dogs, and her love of pets.
However, her tongue-in-cheek advice is getting new attention, especially given that too many of us have been forced to stay at home over much of the past year.
In 2011, during a Late Show interview with David Letterman, White gave 10 sagely tips on how she’s managed to maintain her verb and energy for so long. With White reaching one year short of a century, the advice is worth revisiting.
Her first bit of advice was to “get at least eight hours of beauty sleep, nine if you’re ugly.” Next, she advised that one should “Exercise. Or don’t. What the hell do I care?”
Third, she opined that one should “never apologize. It shows weakness.”
Her fourth tip shouldn’t give anyone any adventurous ideas, but it’s helpful nonetheless: “The best way to earn a quick buck is a slip and fall lawsuit.”
She then gave the priceless tip that one should “avoid tweeting any photos of your private parts” while also making sure to “schedule nightly appointment with Dr. Johnnie Walker.”
Some of the healthy eaters in our audience may take exception to White’s seventh tip, which is to: “Take some wheatgrass, soy paste and carob, toss it in the garbage and cook yourself a big-*ss piece of pork.”
Her next bit of adice was to “try not to die” and “never dwell on past mistakes,” which may both be easier said than done. Lastly, she recommended that you “don’t waste your time watching this crap.”
Sound advice that we can all relate to, Mrs. White!
White is reportedly spending her 99th birthday simply relaxing, she told Entertainment Tonight.
“You probably didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway. … What am I doing for my birthday? Running a mile each morning has been curtailed by [coronavirus], so I am working on getting ‘The Pet Set’ re-released, and feeding the two ducks who come to visit me every day,” she explained, referencing a 1971 show she starred in that featured celebrities appearing alongside their pets.
Her birthday was also marked by various celebrities, who tweeted out birthday greetings to the TV icon.
“Happy birthday, @BettyMWhite! You’re a miracle in every way,” wrote Ellen DeGeneres.
“I still get warm when I see this look. Happy 99 baby. You are a testament to living life on your own terms. Sending you a great big socially distanced kiss. I love you @BettyMWhite,” Ed Asner tweeted.
“Betty White bloopers are the best bloopers #HappyBirthdayBettyWhite,” Valerie Bertinelli tweeted alongside a video of hilarious mistakes made on the set of their former show, Hot in Cleveland.
“Wishing the incomparable Betty White a very happy 99th birthday! What’s your favorite Betty White role, friends?” wrote Star Trek star George Takei.
White, who is best known for her role as Rose Nylund in the classic sitcom The Golden Girls (1985-92), has over 75 years in show business under her belt. The comedian became a staple of U.S. television in such shows as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland along with memorable appearances in shows like Mama’s Family and That ‘70s Show.
She catapulted to fame with her first sitcom, Life with Elizabeth, where White played the titular role and became the first woman to have creative control of a program as both a producer and the star.
White earned no less than 24 Emmy nominations and won eight in the span of her career.
When she reached the age of 90 it didn’t slow her down one bit. Not only did White become the oldest host in the history of Saturday Night Live but she also made dozens of cameos. White also starred in a memorable 2010 Super Bowl commercial for Snickers where she got tackled to the ground, football-style.
In an email to the Associated Press, White shared an especially enjoyable perk of old age: “Since I am turning 99, I can stay up as late as I want without asking permission!”
QAnon Rioter to Get Organic, Healthy “Shaman’s Diet” in Jail
The kooky “QAnon Shaman” clad in furs and a horned hat who became an icon of last week’s botched storming of the U.S. Capitol Building will be able to enjoy an all-organic diet on religious grounds while in jail after refusing to eat the standard food provided by authorities.
Jake Angeli, 33, of Arizona, whose real name is Jacob Anthony Chansley, appeared in court in Phoenix on Monday after he was arrested on charges of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, last Wednesday, Jan. 6.
The Phoenix native and vocal supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory became the subject of thousands of memes after he appeared on every major news network sporting face paint, a fur hat, and numerous tattoos of symbols associated with Norse mythology and used by the white supremacist movement. For many across the globe, the bizarre appearance of the self-designated “shaman” encapsulated the absurdity of the mob’s politics.
During his first appearance at the federal court in Phoenix, Angeli’s public defender Gerald Williams informed the judge that he had refused to eat since being taken into custody due to his highly restrictive diet consisting exclusively of organic food, ostensibly for religious reasons.
In response to the claims, Judge Deborah Fine said that this was “deeply concerning” before ordering that the state find a solution to the demands of the finicky eater.
“We will abide by the judge’s order,” said David Gonzales, U.S. Marshal for the District of Arizona, according to ABC 15, adding that Angeli would be provided with food that abides by the shaman’s strict organic diet.
Angeli’s mother, Martha, was also in attendance during the court hearing. The supportive mom, who has expressed sympathy for the shaman’s “patriotic” cause in interviews, explained to the Arizona Republic that his diet was extremely important.
“He gets very sick if he doesn’t eat organic food – literally will get physically sick,“ Martha Chansley said.
The special dietary accommodations for the wannabe medicine man stand in stark contrast to the malnourishment suffered by most prisoners in the United States.
Three-quarters of U.S. prisoners are reportedly forced to eat “rotten or spoiled food” and suffer denigrating conditions while incarcerated, according to a recent report from prison watchdog group Impact Justice. The report found that inmates typically must deal with low-nutrient foods that are high in sodium, sugar, and processed, refined carbs that typically lack protein, fresh fruits or vegetables, and calcium.
“Just one month of unhealthy meals can result in long-term rises in cholesterol and body fat, increasing the risk of diet-related diseases,” said the report, which also noted that such a diet endangers prisoners by contributing to a weakened immune systems, which in turn risks making them more vulnerable to viruses and long-term diseases.
A separate report from civil rights group Muslim Advocates found that prisons regularly refuse to comply with Muslim dietary restrictions, often due to intentional and discriminatory practices by prisons and guards, in an open violation of their constitutional right to religious freedom.
In 2018, a report found that an Alaska prison purposely starved Muslim prisoners during Ramadan by only giving them pork sandwiches and not providing them with the calories necessary to sustain themselves while fasting, which is a religious obligation during the holy month.
Last August, similar reports found that Muslim detainees at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Miami, Florida, were also being forced to either eat pork, eat spoiled Halal meals, or simply starve. In response to their complaints, the prison chaplain reportedly told them: “It is what it is.”
Mexico Decrees Ban on GMO Corn and Monsanto’s Glyphosate Weed Killer
Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has rung in the New Year by decreeing an end to the use of glyphosate – best known as the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup” pesticides – and also ordering the phase-out out of genetically modified corn for use in the food industry, with both goals to be realized by January 2024.
The move has been widely hailed by organic food producers and environmental, health, and social justice advocates, who welcome the move as crucial to preserve Mexico’s native corn crops, national heritage, and food sovereignty from the threat of multinational food corporations.
On Thursday, the government published an official decree stating that federal biosecurity authorities would “revoke and refrain from granting permits for the release of genetically modified corn seeds into the environment,” reports Reforma news agency.
The decree noted that the object of the decision, which came after months of unsuccessful pushback from lobbyist groups representing the massive food industry, was to “contribute to food security and sovereignty” and protect “native corn, cornfields, bio-cultural wealth, farming communities, gastronomic heritage and the health of Mexicans.”
The move makes good on promises by President Lopez Obrador, popularly known by his initials AMLO, to preserve native corn varieties from the threat of GMO corn.
The government of Mexico has taken numerous steps in recent months to safeguard the over 60 types of corn developed with traditional and indigenous agricultural methods that are, by law, considered a part of Mexico’s national food and cultural heritage.
Indigenous peoples in the Mesoamerican region cultivated the first strains of corn thousands of years ago, but multinational corporations have been flooding the Mexican market with varieties of corn that have been genetically modified to resist certain types of infestations and adverse climate conditions such as drought.
The government also ordered the phase-out of GMO corn imports for use in the food industry and decreed the elimination of the chemical glyphosate – the active ingredient in Bayer-Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup.
While a total ban on glyphosate isn’t yet possible in Mexico – especially amid major pushback from Big Ag lobbyists – federal agencies must immediately halt “purchasing, using, distributing, promoting and importing glyphosate or agrochemicals that contain it as an active ingredient,” according to the decree.
Instead, they must use “culturally appropriate” alternatives such as low-toxicity agrochemicals and organic products.
Opponents of the use of genetically modified crops have hailed the ban.
“It’s a great victory,” said Homero Blas, the director of the Mexican Society of Organic Producers. His group, like many other civil society organizations, blames GMO crops for contaminating the native, ancient varieties of corn while saying that the widespread use of dangerous pesticides endangers the health of both producers and consumers while undermining biodiversity.
However, GMO advocates such as the National Agricultural Council (CAN) claim that the prohibition of GMO corn cultivation will harm farmers while curbing imports will harm the Mexican food chain.
“The lack of access to production options puts us at a disadvantage compared to our competitors, such as corn farmers in the United States,” said CNA spokeswoman Laura Tamayo, who is also the regional director for the German multinational Bayer AG, the parent company to agro-chemical subsidiary Monsanto.
Glyphosate has been at the center of safety concerns in numerous countries and has also been the focus of massive lawsuits in the U.S. in recent years over the allegedly carcinogenic effects of the herbicide Roundup, which Monsanto introduced in 1974.
In July, Bayer agreed to pay as much as $10.9 billion to settle nearly 100,000 lawsuits in the U.S. claiming that the chemical causes a type of blood cancer.
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