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Category Archives: Covid-19
Posted: May 4, 2020 at 3:56 am
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Levi Sucre Romero remembers hearing the news back in January about a novel coronavirus infecting people in China. I honestly didnt believe it would make it this far, he said. I felt like it was really far away.
A member and leader of the Bribri, one of Costa Ricas largest indigenous groups, Romero lives in Talamanca, a remote, mountainous region in the south of the country full of meandering rivers, dense jungle canopies and a near-constant drizzle of warm rain. Though the thatched-roof wooden homes of Talamanca Bribri, the groups territory, are far removed from the countrys popular tourist hubs, Romero soon realised that it was only a matter of time until the virus reached them.
Romero also realised something else: the virus, he believes, was unleashed by human greed and ill treatment of the planet. Were unbalancing the habitat of species, were cutting down trees, were planting monocultures, were filling the world with cities and asphalt and were using too many chemicals, Romero said. Its a cocktail of bad practices.
Like Sars and Mers, two other recent, deadly coronaviruses, Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease that came from an animal. Evidence points to its likely origin in a bat, followed by a potential crossover into an intermediary species possibly a pangolin before transmission into humans at a wet market in Wuhan, China. While Covid-19s exact origins have yet to be pinpointed, overwhelming research shows that deforestation and commercial wildlife trade heighten the risk of zoonotic diseases that can potentially cause pandemics. And according to Romero, both are human activities that entail the destruction of nature.
My people have cultural knowledge that says when Sib, our God, created Earth, he locked up some bad spirits, Romero said. These spirits come out when were not respecting nature and living together.
Romero coordinates the Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests, one of the most important land-rights platforms for indigenous communities in Central America and Mexico, which represents more than 50,000 people who live in the most densely forested lands in the region. He knows for a fact that there is another, more sustainable and respectful way to live in relation to the Earth because the Bribri and many other indigenous groups around the world practice it.
I do not believe this will be the last pandemic of this type
For years, Romero and other indigenous leaders have been urging the rest of the world to adopt a more indigenous-inspired way of coexisting with nature, including leaving habitats intact, harvesting plants and animals at sustainable levels and acknowledging and respecting the connection between human and planetary health. Now, they are reiterating that message in light of the coronavirus.
At a March panel sponsored by the global journalism initiative Covering Climate Now in New York City, held days before the city shut down and later became the global epicentre of the worldwide pandemic, Romero and other indigenous leaders from Brazil and Indonesia emphasised the role that traditional knowledge, practices and land stewardship can play in protecting the planet. These protections, they said, extend not just to lessening climate change and biodiversity loss, but to reducing the risk of future pandemics.
We are convinced that this pandemic is the result of a wrong use of natural resources and a wrong way of living together with these resources, Romero said. I do not believe this will be the last pandemic of this type.
A wealth of research supports the link between novel disease emergence and environmental destruction. Many viruses naturally occur in animal species, and deforestation increases the odds of people coming into contact with an animal carrying a virus that is new to humanity, potentially resulting in a spill-over event. A 2017 Nature Communications paper revealed that emerging zoonotic disease risk is highest in tropical forests that are experiencing land-use changes, including from logging, mining, dam building and road development. As the authors report, such activities carry an intrinsic risk of disease emergence because they disrupt ecological dynamics and increase contact between humans, livestock and wildlife.
Its a stochastic process, said Erin Mordecai, a biologist at Stanford University. Its driven by chance encounters between particular people and particular animals, and what pathogens theyre carrying at that time.
Deforestation can also spread existing diseases. In October, Mordecai and co-author Andrew MacDonald reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that an increase in deforestation in Brazil tends to increase the rate of malaria transmission, with about six-and-a-half new cases occurring per square kilometre of cut-down forest. The reason, they believe, is that cutting trees creates more forest edge the favourite breeding habitat for Brazils malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. Development in frontier regions also brings more people closer to the forest and draws pioneers in from other parts of the country who have never been exposed to malaria and thus have no resistance.
Deforestation tends to lead to these opportunities in which species that dont normally come into contact are coming into contact
While every disease is different, the general pattern, Mordecai told me, is that deforestation disrupts ecosystems and creates edge habitats hovering between domesticated and wild, in which the human and natural world overlap. Deforestation tends to lead to these opportunities in which species that dont normally come into contact are coming into contact, she said. That creates opportunities for pathogens to spill over.
Studies reveal that the both legal and illegal commercial wildlife trade also increase the risk of new diseases emerging by subjecting wild animals to stressful, unhygienic conditions. Still-living species are often mixed together, allowing them to exchange viruses. Trade also often takes place in urban centres, where many people may come into contact with the animals and with each other further encouraging a new diseases spread.
The wildlife trade itself is also linked to deforestation. Hunters and poachers tend to access wilderness areas through roads. As formerly remote areas are opened up by new transportation corridors, wildlife trade tends to follow.
Medical experts and conservationists have been warning of the health risks posed by both deforestation and wildlife trade for decades, but to no avail. In 2003, for example, China briefly banned wildlife trade in response to Sars, but business resumed within a year and has only grown since.
As land stewards, many indigenous groups help to guard against these threats. By protecting indigenous landscapes, youre protecting not only those people and their way of life, but also preventing really rapid transformation of landscapes, Mordecai said. That rapid transformation has huge-scale cultural and environmental consequences, but also disease-transmission consequences.
How travellers can help protect indigenous land
Indigenous tourism directly engages indigenous people to let them share their culture and land on their own terms. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, indigenous tourism can spur cultural interaction and revival, bolster employment, alleviate poverty, curb rural flight migration, empower women and youth, encourage product diversification, and nurture a sense of pride among indigenous people.
To ensure that your travel will directly benefit the people whose culture and land you experience, the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance recommends booking indigenous-owned-and-operated tours. Fortunately, indigenous-led travel experiences have recently surged in places like Australia, Canada and the US. In the last few years, the Bribri launched Costa Ricas first indigenous-operated tour agency, which teaches visitors about the groups worldview and spiritual connection to the land, with all funds going back to the community.
A large number of indigenous groups live in tropical forests precisely the landscapes with the highest risk for new disease emergence, and also the places facing the highest rates of deforestation. Tropical deforestation is accelerating and accounts for about 90% of total deforestation worldwide. A 2020 study reported that at least 36% of the worlds remaining intact forests half of which are located in the tropics fall within indigenous lands.
Of course, indigenous people are extremely diverse. Some live in cities, others in forests; some extract resources for profit, others use nature only for subsistence. In general, though, indigenous groups are much more effective at protecting the forest and environment on their lands than most other users, said Mary Menton, a research fellow in environmental justice at the University of Sussex. In certain parts of Brazil, for example, indigenous protection is visible in satellite images from space.
You can see exactly where the lines of indigenous territories are, Menton said. Deforestation eats into forests around where indigenous areas are, and those areas really act as an effective barrier for expansion.
Indigenous peoples lands, by and large, tend to be much better protected than other areas of the forest
This is also supported by scientific evidence. A 2012 study comparing 40 protected areas and 33 community-managed forests revealed that the community-managed areas suffered less deforestation. If we look across the tropics, indigenous peoples lands, by and large, tend to be much better protected than other areas of the forest, even comparing community and indigenous lands to protected areas, Menton said.
Practically speaking, this is partly because indigenous people tend to live on large areas of land with relatively small populations. But even groups that live in smaller tracts of forest in north-east Brazil, for example, live more sustainably than much of the rest of humanity. Its not just that they have lots of forest, its the way they treat and see the forest, and interact with it, Menton said.
Many groups have been living in forested areas for generations and view the landscape as part of their community. Some also believe that their ancestors are part of the forest. Protecting nature, therefore, isnt just about ecology and biodiversity, Menton says, but also about preserving lives, history and culture.
You may also be interested in: The ancient guardians of the Earth A 60,000-year-old cure for depression The New Zealand river that became a legal person
Indigenous people accomplish this through a variety of means that largely boil down to having a respect and awareness of the effect they have on the forest, Menton said. The Bribri, for example, divide their land into family and community areas, each of which have internal rules designed to promote sustainability. For example, members of the community can cut as many leaves as they want from local suita palms used to make everything from houses to brooms so long as they leave at least five leaves on each harvested plant so it can produce more leaves.
We need to rethink the model of development thats based on accumulating wealth while destroying resources
Many indigenous people also do not treat the forest as a means or impediment to getting rich. Romero, for his part, thinks that hyper-globalisation and consumerism are at the heart of many of the worlds ills. We need to rethink the model of development thats based on accumulating wealth while destroying resources, Romero said. I see an economic model that is predatory to resources and to nature, that causes a lack of balance in the world.
However, profit-driven companies, governments and individuals often view indigenous people as standing in the way of economic growth. Around the world, indigenous land rights are under attack by agriculture, mining and other extractive industries. Between 2002 and 2017, Menton found that more than 1,500 environmental defenders were murdered in 50 countries, and that indigenous peoples died in higher numbers than any other group on the list. In 2015 and 2016, for example, indigenous people represented 40% of all murdered environmental defenders. A report published in April 2020 by the Pastoral Land Commission, a non-profit organisation in Brazil, likewise revealed that one-third of all families who faced land conflicts in rural Brazil in 2019 were indigenous.
Menton adds that indigenous people face additional threats because of racism and perceptions that theyre second-class citizens. Often, this is a problem promoted from the top down. Brazils president, Jair Bolsonaro, recently said, for example, that Indians are evolving to become increasingly human, like us. Indigenous people, in other words, are facing threats both in terms of actual physical conflicts over land, but also cultural threats and attacks over their right to exist, Menton said.
Attacks on indigenous rights are not just attacks on individual cultures, Romero says, but on the health of the planet as a whole. When we have rights over our forests and our lands, that means survival for us, for our families, he said. But it also means we have a better probability of avoiding pandemics.
The Bribri, like much of the world, are now on lockdown. The rhythm of our lives has been cut short, he said. Visits with elders are no longer permitted, sales of produce to the national market have dropped by around 90%, and the groups cultural and ecological tourism efforts including guided trips to mountains and rivers, traditional food tours and home stays on family ranches have stopped as well. I could go on and on. Theres a lot of impacts, Romero said.
Once the world does emerge from Covid-19, Romero hopes that there will be a silver lining to all of the suffering, loss and hardship that it has caused. He hopes that people will be more receptive to the knowledge that he and other indigenous leaders have to offer, and that humanity will begin to re-evaluate its relationship with nature.
I think we have a long way to go, but after the coronavirus, I have faith that this will open up some space with governments, Romero said. After this pandemic, governments should listen more.
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Posted: at 3:56 am
Amid Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, Governor Cuomo, Governor Murphy, Governor Lamont, Governor Wolf, Governor Carney, Governor Raimondo & Governor Baker Announce Joint Multi-State Agreement to Develop Regional Supply Chain for PPE and Medical Equipment | Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Skip to main content
States Will Aggregate Demand for PPE, MedicalEquipment and Testing on a Regional Basis
Regional Supply Chains Will Help Realize Better Pricing, Delivery and Reliability of PPE and Medical Equipment for States
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont,Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf,DelawareGovernor John Carney,Rhode Island Governor Gina RaimondoandMassachusetts Governor Charlie Bakertoday announced a joint multi-state agreement to develop a regional supply chain for personal protective equipment, other medical equipment and testing.
While the states will continue to partner with the federal government during this global and national public health crisis,they will also work together to identify the entire region's needs for these products, aggregate demand among the states, reduce costs and stabilize the supply chain. The states will also coordinate policies regarding the inventory of PPE each state's health care infrastructure should have to be prepared for a possible second wave of COVID-19. The states will also coordinate policies on what supplies local governments should have on hand for their First Responders, and if any requirements regarding PPE for the non-for-profit and private sector are needed.
The states will then seek to identify suppliers within the country, region or state who can scale to meet the demand of the entire region over the next three months. The goal of this approach is to decrease the potential for disruptions in the supply chain forPPE and medical equipment, including sanitizer and ventilators, and testing,and promote regional economic development.
In addition, the states are discussing how to collectively exploreemerging technologies on an ongoing basis to take advantage of the potential associatedwith alternative methods of production for existing products and innovation that would lead to more effective and/or less expensive alternatives.For example, 3D Printers may represent an attractive alternative to manufacturing certain personal protective equipment and medical products.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a mad scramble for medical equipment across the entire nation - there was competition among states, private entities and the federal government and we were driving up the prices of these critical resources
"The COVID-19 pandemic created a mad scramble for medical equipment across the entire nation - there was competition among states, private entities and the federal government and we were driving up the prices of these critical resources,"Governor Cuomo said."As a state and as a nation we can't go through that again. We're going toform a regional state purchasing consortium with our seven northeast partner states to increase our market power when we're buying supplies and help us actually get the equipment at a better price. I want to thank our neighboring states for their ongoing support, generosity and regional coordination on these important efforts."
Governor Murphy said,"Our states should never be in a position where we are actively competing against each other for life-saving resources.By working together across the region, we can obtain critical supplies as we begin the process to restart our economies, while also saving money for our taxpayers. This concept is at the heart of the regional approach we've established."
Governor Lamont said,"With global supply chains continuing to experience a major disruption due to the pandemic, combining the efforts of our states into a regional purchasing initiative will help our states obtain needed PPE and other medical equipment without competing against each other. I've long been advocating for the federal government to get involved because pitting all 50 states against each other to compete for these supplies has never made any sense. Partnering with our neighbors helps make our purchasing power stronger and more dependable."
Governor Wolf said,"By working together we can combine our strengths to build the capacities we all need. We can exploit our market size to encourage producers to make what we need, we can exploit our financial strength to give that encouragement added weight, and we can exploit the great research institutions and the brainpower in our region to increase our chances of success. I look forward to working with my fellow governorsand my neighbors-to build a strong regional supply chain."
Governor Carneysaid,"We need a consistent approach for moving our states out of this crisis, and that includes ensuring a sufficient supply of PPE and tests. I'm thankful for this coordination with my fellow Governors in the region. We'll be better positioned to continue tackling this crisis working together with the states around us."
GovernorRaimondo said,"Our healthcare workers should never have to worry if we have enough PPE to keep them safe. Over the past two months, we've been scouring the earth for supplies and have worked hard to meet the demand on the frontlines. We know that, in order to safely reopen the economy, we need a long-term supply of PPE for all critical infrastructure workers. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with states across the region in order to build and maintain a steady, reliable and affordable supply of PPE."
Governor Baker said,"Massachusetts looks forward to working with other states to identify more options for PPE procurements for our health care workers and public safety personnel."
The State of New York does not imply approval of the listed destinations, warrant the accuracy of any information set out in those destinations, or endorse any opinions expressed therein. External web sites operate at the direction of their respective owners who should be contacted directly with questions regarding the content of these sites.
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Posted: at 3:56 am
New Zealand has recorded its first day of no new cases of Covid-19 since a stringent national lockdown began more than one month ago.
The public has been engrossed by the daily release of case numbers by the health ministry each afternoon especially as a deadline looms for the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to decide whether the countrys lockdown rules will ease further next Monday.
One week into level-3 restrictions, however, officials sounded a cautious note as breaches of the shutdown rules continued to rise.
It is cause for celebration It is important that we reflect that it is symbolic of the effort that everybody has put in, said Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealands director-general of health, as he announced zero new cases of the coronavirus on Monday. I dont want to downplay that but once again, we need to be continuing vigilance.
Ardern also warned that the public was jeopardising the good result by breaching the lockdown rules.
Any gains youve seen at the moment are actually from the lockdown period, she said, referring to the long incubation of the virus, which is thought to be up to two weeks.
Adding that she was a perfectionist, Ardern said she would revisit the numbers later this week when the more relaxed rules had had time to bed in.
We need to not get ahead of ourselves, stick to our bubble, and finish what we started, she said.
There have been 1,487 confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, with 86% of them now recovered. Seven people are in hospital. Twenty people have died of the virus; no additional deaths were reported on Monday.
Bloomfield said that one person already registered in the total as a probable case had had their status changed to confirmed for Covid-19. But he added that the good result was just one moment in time.
We are still wanting to be sure that there is no undetected community transmission, he said.
The last time there were no new Covid-19 cases on a single day in New Zealand was on 16 March, ahead of the national lockdown which was brought in on 25 March and before the daily briefings by health officials began when the total number of cases was rising by one or two at a time.
New Zealands government has won international praise, including from the World Health Organization, for the swift and strict lockdown imposed by Ardern as cases in the country began to increase more rapidly. No one had died of the virus at the time the shutdown was imposed.
Measures were relaxed slightly last Monday, when the national alert level for the coronavirus was reduced just before midnight. The looser rules allowed slightly more freedom of movement and more businesses to re-open, although they can only trade in completely contactless ways.
It has also led to more breaches of the rules, New Zealands police said. Officers have taken action against more than 500 people for flouting the restrictions over the past week. Nearly 150 of them faced prosecution, while the rest escaped with warnings.
We did see at the weekend that it can be easy to start slackening off, Bloomfield said
The breaches included two separate incidents on Sunday in which people out fishing required rescue by helicopter. Fishing by boat is a banned activity under the current rules.
Bloomfield said the real test of how well New Zealanders were observing the rules will come later in the week, when lockdown breaches since last Monday would become apparent, based on the virus incubation period.
Arderns cabinet was due to make a decision next Monday about whether the lockdown rules should be eased further. A lower alert level, if imposed, would likely be implemented next Wednesday. One measure she will be considering in her decision will be the speed of the countrys contact tracing, which was criticised early on in the pandemic. But another will be New Zealanders behaviour to date.
Its not just the number of cases or the pattern, said Bloomfield, But the level to which people are taking seriously the expectations, particularly around physical distancing, hygiene measures and not really squandering the advantage weve created for ourselves.
Posted: at 3:56 am
PORTLAND, Ore. On Sunday, the Oregon Health Authority reported no new deaths due to COVID-19.
Since March 29, this is only the second day that Oregon health officials have reported no deaths from COVID-19. The last time the OHA reported no new deaths was April 22.
OHA did announce Sunday that an additional 45 people have tested positive for COVID-19.
The new positive cases bring Oregon's total to 2,680 known positive cases. The state's death toll remains at 109.
The new cases were found in the following counties:
For more information from the Oregon Health Authority on COVID-19 in Oregon, visit its website.
RELATED: Coronavirus in Oregon: By the numbers
RELATED: 'Much more slowly than any of us would like': Oregon Gov. Brown lays out requirements for counties, regions to start reopening
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The roads into this New Mexico town remain closed as lockdown is extended to slow Covid-19 outbreak – CNN
Posted: at 3:56 am
Gallup sits along historic Route 66 in McKinley County, about 20 miles from the state's border with Arizona. To the north lies the Navajo Nation and to the south the Zuni Reservation.That northwestern portion of the state represents the highest number of cases, according to a map provided by the New Mexico Department of Health.Due to the high case count Gov. Lujan Grisham invoked the State's Riot Control Act to shut down the city of Gallup on Friday.
"The spread of this virus in McKinley County is frightful," Lujan Grisham said when the emergency was declared last week. "And it shows that physical distancing has not occurred and is not occurring. The virus is running amok there. It must be stopped, and stricter measures are necessary."
The act authorizes the governor to prohibit people from being on or using public streets and highways during a temporary state of emergency.
As a result, all roads into the city have been closed. The Gallup City police and the McKinley County Sheriff's Department have partnered with state police and the department of transportation to enforce road closures. The New Mexico National Guard has also been called into to support the efforts in a non-law enforcement capacity, a release from the governor's office said.
Other restrictions in Gallup include a limit of only two people per car and businesses are only operating between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. All residents are encouraged to stay in their homes unless they need to leave for an emergency.
Highest case count
As of Sunday night, 1,144 people had tested positive for coronavirus in McKinley County, a count which increased by more than 100 cases in just four days.
The county accounts for nearly 30% of the state's cases and has the highest concentration of positives cases in New Mexico.
Mayor Bonaguidi said in a letter Sunday to Gov. Lujan Grisham that the extension of the act was needed to fight the continued spread of the virus.
"The virus has caused many deaths, stretched our medical facilities and resources to their capacity, and adversely impacted the welfare of the City of Gallup," Bonaguidi said. "Our community is unable to adequately address the outbreak without the continued imposition of certain restrictions necessary to regulate social distancing, public gatherings, sales of good, and the use of public streets."
CNN's Jessica Jordan and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.
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Posted: at 3:56 am
Before my world was reduced to a two-mile radius from my house, I never realised how interesting other peoples front gardens could be. When your life is confined to the same four walls, with each journey to the kitchen an odyssey, the world outside takes on a whole new allure. I now find myself entranced by all the different varieties of privet hedge, intrigued by peoples choice of gravel size and paving pattern, captivated by the clusters of cacti perched on windowsills. Front doors have become a new form of entertainment, as have the subtleties of window-mouldings and architraves. Who knew there could be so many varieties of mortar on a single street?
Theres nothing like six weeks of house arrest to give you an elevated awareness of your surroundings. And its a phenomenon that hasnt gone unnoticed at the nations grand repository of objects, the Victoria and Albert. The pandemic has this weird way of bringing to the fore objects you would never have thought about, says Brendan Cormier, senior design curator at the London museum. Everything becomes heightened.
With future exhibitions on hold and collecting in limbo, Cormier has turned his teams attention to thinking about how the coronavirus has reframed the everyday, casting familiar objects in a very different light. Which is why the V&A is just about to launch Pandemic Objects, an online series examining how a range of unremarkable items have become charged with new meaning and purpose.
There are so many designed objects and inventions coming out of the pandemic, says Cormier, citing all the hands-free door openers and 3D-printed face visors. But its going to take time to work out which ones are actually useful. He thinks theres a danger that some much-touted innovations might end up being vapourware flashy concepts that catch the attention of design blogs, but never come to fruition.
The V&A design department has made headlines with its Rapid Response Collecting, an initiative that has snapped up such zeitgeisty objects as the Liberator 3D-printed handgun, the plans for which were released online in 2013, and one of pink knitted pussyhats worn by half a million attendees at the Womens March in Washington DC in 2017. But with everything now changing so rapidly, curators have decided theres some value in slowing down. Instead of rushing out to collect Covid ephemera, Cormier thinks the museums time would be better spent looking afresh at whats right under our noses. Is the pandemic revealing anything new, he asks, about things we take for granted?
One of the first things to catch his attention was the wealth of hastily drawn homemade signs cropping up in shop windows around the world, explaining new delivery services and warning people to keep 2m apart. It seemed to say something about our relationship with technology and public messaging: the 1990s craze for inkjet printers promised everyone the professional finish of a publishing house in the comfort of their own home. Yet, three decades on, most of us seem to have thrown out our printers, sick of clogged-up, eye-wateringly expensive cartridges, and have embraced the paperless society. In the moment of need, when the situation is changing so rapidly, says Cormier, weve gone back to pen and paper.
Putting signs in windows quickly spread to the home, too, as a means of both expressing community solidarity and keeping the kids occupied. Headteachers encouraged pupils to paint hopeful rainbows and stick them in windows, fuelling neighbourly rivalry with evermore elaborate formations, ranging from chalk to neon paint and Lego bricks. It wasnt long before this homespun movement was co-opted by the art world, with Damien Hirst offering his own butterfly-wing rainbow to download.
Catherine Flood, co-curator of the V&As Food exhibition last year, will examine how the pandemic has changed perceptions of certain kitchen-cupboard staples. Flour and yeast, more used to being spilled on surfaces and swept into bins, have become sought-after luxuries, as we all try to channel our inner bakers. Instagram has become the Sourdough Olympics, awash with competitive posts, while flour mills are working around the clock to fulfil demand as wheat prices surge and well-stocked shelves become a rarity.
Traffic to the BBCs basic bread recipe has risen faster than a cob in a 250-degree oven, with numbers up by 875%. But need does not seem to be whats driving demand, as bread is still readily available in shops. Its the therapeutic quality of baking thats the attraction, Cormier thinks, the tactile and meditative quality of the process, along with a desire to feel self-sufficient.
Flour is now a privilege, he says, and he doesnt just mean being able to find it in shops. To bake bread, you need to be able to work at home, and have time to invest. Its probably not frontline key workers who have the pleasure of rediscovering the miracles of baking.
As research for a potential future exhibition on accessibility in design, curator Natalie Kane has been looking at the door handle a seemingly innocuous part of the built environment that has become a villain in the age of coronavirus. Since early March, when it was first announced that the virus could survive on surfaces for up to three days, weve been elbowing and toeing our way through doors, suddenly aware of just how often we use our hands to navigate through the world. Could the pandemic finally force society to accept what disability groups have been campaigning about for decades that such things are obstacles rather than aids?
Meanwhile, as travel has been curtailed, the online realm has offered one of the few options for escapism. Some have turned to Google Street View to sate their wanderlust, whiling away hours touring the side streets of far-flung locations or panning through 3D cityscapes. The Canadian artist Jon Rafman has revived his project The Nine Eyes of Google Street View. Begun in 2008 when the medium was still novel, the projects trawls the globes virtual streets for alarming scenes from a moose careering down a highway to a gun-toting gang caught mid-heist, to naked bodies sprawled across the pavement.
Now, these unruly snapshots seem like glimpses of another time, glitches in the lockdown matrix. V&A curator Ella Kilgallon will examine the Street View phenomenon, putting it in the context of such earlier documentary initiatives as the National Photographic Record Association), established in 1897 in an attempt to create a comprehensive record of British life. Taking advantage of the expansion of photography as an increasingly popular hobby at the turn of the century, the association planned to form a countrywide memory bank to foster national pride. It culminated in 5,883 photographs by 1910. In the last 12 years, Google has captured 10 million miles of the Earths surface in 360-degree images, equivalent to circling the planet more than 400 times.
Further entries in the Pandemic Objects series will shine a spotlight on toilet paper, streaming services, cardboard packaging, balconies and more, one of the more triumphant stories being the revival of the sewing machine. Despite all the hype around distributed manufacturing and downloadable customised designs, not many of us have a 3D-printer at home, says Cormier. Yet the great 19th-century invention of the sewing machine is still a ubiquitous household item.
Sales of sewing machines have rocketed in the pandemic, recalling the Make Do and Mend movement of the second world war, as people join the effort to mass-produce face masks. One of the chief obstacles to such community craftivism, says Cormier, is managing production and distribution. After the recent bush fires in Australia, an international callout for people to knit koala mittens and wombat pouches triggered a tidal wave of marsupial mitts, far more than could possibly be used. As thousands of companies and hobbyists have sign up to produce face-shields in the great national struggle for PPE, it remains to be seen how effectively they can be distributed to where they are needed most.
Whether its a newfound respect for loo roll, a growing suspicion of excessive cardboard packaging, or a phobia of door handles, when the pandemic finally subsides, we may never look at everyday objects in the same way again.
Pandemic Objects is at vam.ac.uk/blog/
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These Scientists Saw COVID-19 Coming. Now They’re Trying to Stop the Next Pandemic Before It Starts. – Mother Jones
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This piece was originally published in Gristand appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.
It was late one night in January 2009, and Jonathan Epstein was standing on the roof of an abandoned storage depot near Khulna, Bangladesh, with the writer and journalist David Quammen along with a small team of veterinarians. The group was in Bangladesh on a strange errand: They were catching bats.
It had been more than a decade since the first outbreak of the Nipah virus in Malaysia. Nipah, named after the home village of one of its earliest victims, causes respiratory distress, inflammation of the brain, and seizures. Its mortality rate is staggeringly highbetween 40 and 75 percent of those who contract the disease ultimately die. (The virus depicted in the now all-too-prescient 2011 film Contagionwas basedon Nipah.)
In Malaysia, the initial outbreak of Nipah in 1998 had infected 283 people and killed 109. Scientists eventually discovered that the virus had been passed from bats to local pig farms; the government slaughtered over 1 million pigs in an effort to stop the spread. But Nipah kept coming back, popping up in new places around the world, killing hundreds. Epstein and his colleagues were in that storage depot in Bangladesh trying to understand if the bats there were also carriers of the virusand if they might pass it to humans again.
Epstein, a veterinarian and disease ecologist at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance in New York City, has been all over the world identifying and tracing viruses that could makea deadly jump from animals to humans, helped by sprawling cities, clear-cut forests, and other human encroachment into the natural world. He helped trace the first outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in 2003 to horseshoe bats in China; the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, in 2013 to camels and bats; andwhen its safe to travel againhe will return to China to help pinpoint the source of the current coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Bats are, once again, the main suspects.
There are always two pivotal questions, Epstein said by phone from his home in Queens. How did this happen? And could it happen again?
Sixty percent of new infectious diseasesdiseases that, like COVID-19, have never before reached humansoriginate in domesticated animals and wildlife, often bats, rodents, or non-human primates. Scientists estimate that there are as many as 800,000 of these so-called zoonotic viruses lurking in the natural world that could infect humans. The animals carrying these viruses often dont get sick; instead, they serve as reservoirs, amassing pathogens as they eat, sleep, and socialize. Its a good deal for the viruses: They get a free ride, while they wait for a chance to make a cross-species leap.
The problem is that those deadly leaps are becoming more common. Population growth andenvironmental and habitat destruction are bringing humans into more frequent contact with certain speciesand the viruses that they carry.
Every future viral threat that people could get already exists and is circulating in those animalsalways has been, said Dennis Carroll, an expert on zoonotic infectious diseases and the former head of the emerging threats division of the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. Its just that now were bumping into them with a frequency that enables spillover to occur.
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, infecting almost 3 million people worldwide and killing over 200,000, public health officials, policymakers, and journalists areanalyzing what went wrong. Why was the world so unprepared? Should countries have higher national stockpiles of ventilators, masks, ICU beds? Should stay-at-home orders have been issued earlier?
These are all measures for after an epidemic has begun,afteran enterprising virus has leapt from an animal to a human (a phenomenon scientists call spillover). But a small group of ecologists, epidemiologists, and veterinarians have spent the last decade attacking pandemics from another angle. Epstein and other researchers have been out in the field, testing bats in Bangladesh and pigs in West Africa, trying to catalog a huge number of viruses in the hopes of preventing a spillover into human populations. Because theres no outbreak if the virus never makes the jump.
In 2005, a strain of avian influenza called theH5N1 virusbegan spreading across Southeast Asia towards Eastern Europe. The disease was rare, but it could be fatal: Roughly 60 percent of those infected died. Experts were concerned that they could be looking at a potentially historic event.
At the time, Carroll was at USAID as a senior infectious disease specialist working on the organizations response. His focus was on malaria and tuberculosis, diseases that are well-knownif not well-managedeverywhere in the world. Luckily, H5N1 did not turn into a global pandemic, but the experience changed Carrolls perspective on the risks. In the 1960s, there were a few hundred million poultry produced in China; by the 2000s, when the countrys population had nearly doubled, China was producing billions of chickens, ducks, and turkeys every year. Carroll realized that as the human population grew, so would the odds of a deadly pandemic. It was really a profound eye-opener for me, he said.
Carroll suspected that there were many more viruses like the avian flu lying in wait, looking for a chance to make the jump to humans. But at the time, there was little understanding of how many dangerous viral illnesses existed. It was an open question of what the viral dark matter circulating in wildlife was, he said. Are we talking about a hundred viruses? Or something different?
That question became the basis of PREDICT, a kind of catch-and-release project for viruses that Carroll championed from within USAID. The program, launched in 2009, included scientists and researchers from the University of California, Davis and EcoHealth Allianceall with the singular goal of discovering new viruses before they spill over into people.
Global Health Program workers sample bumble bee bat in Kjwe Min Gu Cave in Myanmar.
It was an enormous undertaking. With an annual budget of around $20 million, researchers identified potential viral hotspots around the world, contacted local governments, and surveyed key species that could be carrying novel diseases. They also began training locals in more than 30 countries around the world, including in Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Bangladesh. On-the-ground experts like Epstein, the wildlife veterinarian, taught locals to capture animals, take blood samples to test for novel viruses, and release them back into the wild.
Its really grunt work, Carroll said. This is not a technological challenge. You go out and capture bats, you go out and capture rodents.
Based on PREDICTs early work, Carroll and other researchersestimatedthat there are around 1.67millionyet-undiscovered viruses circulating in mammals and birds, the animals most likely to transmit disease to humans. Of those, between 631,000 and 827,000 have the potential to make the leap to humans.
The good news is that the proportion of those 600,000-plus viruses that could cause serious illness is very small. Most microbial infections in people are inconsequential, Carroll said. They dont have adverse effects. So researchers dont need to worry about all potentially zoonotic virusesjust the ones that could turn deadly.
Jonna Mazet, the organizations global director from its inception until last year, said that PREDICT and its collaborators collected 168,000 samples from people and animals and identified more than 900 new viruses. Of those, 160 were coronavirusesin the same family as SARS-CoV-2.
But sampling animals by climbing through trees, setting up nets on warehouse roofs, and crawling into bat-infested caves was only part of the challenge. There are about as many pathways for transmission as there are viruses. And so the group wasnt only cataloging potential diseases. They were also searching for hidden patterns, looking for the unexpected risky behaviors that could allow a virus to spill over into humans.
The first case of the global Ebola outbreak in 2013 was traced to a toddler in the West African country of Guinea, who had been playing under a tree housing a family of bats, likely displaced by the destruction of surrounding forests by foreign mining and timber companies. (Scientists still arent sure exactly how close contact with those bats led to the child getting infected). In Malaysia, the first outbreak of Nipah was linked to pigs that had eaten pieces of fruit dropped by nearby bats and then spread the disease throughout industrial pig farms.
But some types of spillover are known, common, and preventable. Lets take, for example, live animal markets, Epstein said. People are still bringing wild animals, particularly bats, rodents, and non-human primates, from their natural environment into urban settings. These species not only have contact with each other, under very stressful and unhygienic conditions where theres opportunity to trade viruses, but theyre also being handled and butchered by people.
That close contact provides an opportunity for people to become exposed. The SARS outbreak in 2003 likely originated from a wildlife market in the Chinese province of Guangdong. And the suspected source of the novel coronavirus currently gripping the planet is a market in Wuhan.
Epstein explained that certain interventionsmaking wildlife markets more hygienic, or preventing wild animals from being sold at allcould dramatically lower the possibility of spillover. But he emphasized that the work has to be done in a culturally sensitive way, by building local partnerships. This isnt about a group of Westerners imposing their idea of whats safe on cultures that have been doing something for generations, he said.
Students in Guinea listen to a school presentation on living safely with bats.
Some have taken a harder line. The World Conservation Society has calledfor a global ban on the trade of wildlife, citing pandemic risks. Anthony Fauci, the United States top infectious disease specialist,told Fox Newsthat the Chinese government should immediately ban so-called wet markets. It boggles my mind how, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we just dont shut it down, he said.
Trading wildlife is only one of many human behaviors that can set off a spillover. When Epstein and colleagues were on the roof of that storage depot in Bangladesh, they were studying another outbreak of Nipah, one that appeared to be passed to humans when they ate sap from date palm trees. Locals collected the sap in small clay pots, tapped to the palms and left open to the airand to any fruit bats that might want to take a sip.
That was the immediate cause of the outbreak: sap contaminated by bat urine and feces. But for Epstein and other scientists, the lesson was much larger. Mowing down forests for large-scale agriculture, harvesting timber, and sprawling citiesall these activities were forcing bats into close quarterswith people. Its not the animals fault for carrying these diseases, he said. These are things thatwedo to the environment around us.
Over the past century, the human population has exploded. At the height of the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, the global population was around 1.8 billion, less than a quarter of what it is today. In the past century, millions of humans have spent years slaughtering wildlife; cutting down trees; placing cows, chickens, and pigs in close contact with wild animalsproviding ample opportunity for viruses to make a deadly leap.
Even in the face of enormous environmental changes, Epstein and other scientists are convinced that it wouldnt take much to make a big difference, whether its shuttering wildlife markets or bat-proofing pots for date-palm sap with a small screen. These are wholly human-made, human-driven events, and knowing that is hopeful, because we can actually focus on changing the way we do things, Epstein said. These pandemics are preventable.
Last September, the PREDICT program ran out of money. It had passed through two five-year funding cycles but wasnt renewed by USAID.
Some of those involved were deeply disappointed. It was a genius, visionary program that USAID took a big risk to fund, and its a crying shame it was canceled, Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance,told the Guardian.
Contrary toreportsfrom the Los Angeles Times and other outlets, however, theres no evidence that the decision to end PREDICT was political. Though the White House has previously proposeddecreasing fundingfor USAID and other global health programs, Carroll said that its unlikely anyone high up in the Trump administration even knew the program existed. (They might now. On April 1, PREDICT was granted a $2.6 milliontemporary funding extension, so the project and its partners can help identify the animal hosts of SARS-CoV-2.)
The scientists involved in PREDICTrecently launched the Global Virome Project, which they hope will operate at a much larger scale. It aims to identify and assess all major viral threats within 10 yearsat a cost of around $1.6 billion.
Its expensive, said Mazet, the former director of PREDICT. But its much less expensive than even 10 percent of big epidemics in the past, and its going to be minuscule compared to this one.
For perspective, the U.S. government spentmore than $2 billion trying to tamp down Ebola epidemics between 2014 and 2016and the CARES Act, passed last month to support an economy in freefall, costs around $2 trillion.In comparison, the cost of warding off viral outbreaks is pennies on the dollar, Epstein said.
PREDICT team members in Sierra Leone.
Simon Townsley / PREDICT
Its hard to say whether the project would have been able to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. Although PREDICT identified 160 new coronaviruses in its decade of operations, none of them was SARS-CoV-2. Mazet said that PREDICT had partnered with a scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but the region just wasnt a top priority for USAID, which was more focused on funding research into disease outbreaks in Southeast Asia. For her, this doesnt suggest that the approach was wrongjust that any new effort needs to widen the area under surveillance.
Carroll thinks that the Global Virome Project and the foundation laid by PREDICT provide at least a place to start: a way to tackle the viral dark matter running through our planet, a potentially life-saving (and economy-saving) stopgap against future pandemics.
For now, those who have spent their careers warning of zoonotic diseases are sheltered in place like the rest of us. Many said that the pandemic should not be considered a black swan eventsomething random and unpredictable. The fact is, it was started by exactly the kind of spillover they had been warning about for decades. But that doesnt make watching their fears play out any easier.
Before COVID-19, the team was struggling to get policymakers attention, fighting against competing funding priorities and short-term thinking. We were raising the flag and waving itto our own exhaustion, Mazet said. We hope the world is listening now.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustration of coronavirus.(Photo: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
LANSING Greater Lansing saw no further COVID-19 deaths reported Sunday, with a single new case in Ingham County.
At 5:40 p.m., Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail reported 506 cases of COVID-19, one more than the 505 reported Saturday. The number of deaths remainsat 13, while 168 of the patients have recovered.
The total number of Eaton County cases and deaths remained at the 136 and 6 respectively, reported Saturday,according to information on the Barry-Eaton District Health Department website. As of Sunday, 92 patients had recovered.
The Mid-Michigan District Health Department last updated it's COVID-19 information on Friday, with 118confirmed cases for Clinton County and 10 deaths. State data posted Sunday reported the same numbers.
Between the three counties, COVID-19 has killed 29 people.
The state reported 29 new COVID-19 deaths Sunday, marking the lowest number of deaths in a single day since March. The total sits at 4,049, with 43,754 confirmed cases, an increase of 547 cases since Saturday.
Nearly 36%, or 15,659 people across the state have recovered, according to state data. The death rate for COVID-19 cases sits at 9%.
The average age of those who died from the coronavirus was 74.9 years old, while the range of those who have died runs from 5 to 107, according to state data.
Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow him on Twitter at@ByMarkJohnson.
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MOC Municipal Office Center, February 2020(Photo: Brian Wells/Times Herald)
Port Huron could end its budget year in a deficit June 30, but city staff are being offered voluntary furloughs to help endure the financial impact of the coronavirus.
Our strongest revenue source, local income tax, is expected to lose in excess of $750,000 in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, City Manager James Freed wrote City Council members in an email Friday night. The citys next first year begins July 1.
We also anticipate state revenue sharing will be significantly reduced, as well, he said. This will put a significant strain on our ability to operate as an organization.
The city first closed in-person services at the Municipal Office Center, events at McMorran Place and programs through the parks and recreation department in mid-March after the states first COVID-19 cases were confirmed. Like most other communities, administrative orders were also preventing water shut-offs if residents were unable to pay utility bills because of the virus.
But this spring, as the city prepares its budget for next year, theres still a lot of unknowns that officials said they cant yet account for.
Freed told officialshis goal was to achieve a 15-percent staff reduction within the next few weeks. The furloughs are something being offered to some employees, including police and fire officials, voluntarily now to provide some more immediate financial relief to city operations," he said.
Port Huron City Manager James Freed discusses measurements being taken by the city to prevent the spread of coronavirus during a media briefing Thursday, March 12, 2020, in the Municipal Office Center in Port Huron.(Photo: Brian Wells/Times Herald)
With the passage of the (federal) CARES Act and the additional level of unemployment benefits, some employees may find this to be a desirable option, he wrote.
Mayor Pauline Repp said furloughs arean option, which also allows employees to continue their health insurance to make sure theyre covered that way, that she hoped would keep Port Huron financially static and prevent layoffs later in 2020.
We dont know how this is going to affect us because we dont know how long its going to be, she said of the COVID pandemic and its response. Right now, if people are voluntarily doing it, it (helps).
On Sunday, Freed said he was already getting a sense that close to 30 or 40 employees may volunteer, adding, Its a significant amount of our employees will be taking advantage of it.
Currently, he said the city has about 230 full-time employees and 440 total with part-time staff. However, with the virus and the affect on operations, there was likely additionally 100 seasonal employees that we will not bring on this year.
Weare greatly reducing city operations for the next 90 to 100 days, Freed said.
A sign telling visitors that the playground is closed hangs on the play structure at Pine Grove Park Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Port Huron. Based on recommendations from state and local health officials, it was ordered that all playground equipment in the city be closed until further notice to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, effective Monday.(Photo: Brian Wells/Times Herald)
Freed said the citys share of state Act 51 revenues, which are financed through a state gas tax, will also be impacted this year, meaning the citys streets division would be among its dramatic reductions in the upcoming budget.
Last Monday, at the end of a regular council meeting, Freedtold officials putting off things like scheduled capital projects may impact the next budget
Additionally, residents will continue to see a lack of in-person programming through parks and recreation. McMorran, which is managed by parks and rec, and city pools are not expected to open this summer because of social distancing orders.
In a news release, Parks and Rec Director Nancy Winzer said suspending face-to-face programming will also include sports, Camp Palmer, arts and nature classes, and most summer efforts.
Parks and rec facilities have already been closed to residents during the pandemic.
It would sadden us far more if you or your family came to harm due to our lack of action, Winzer said in the release. The Port Huron Recreation Department will, however, do all we can to continue to offer opportunities for families.
These opportunities may look differently than what we have seen in the past but will continue to keep our residents engaged in innovative recreational opportunities at this critical time. These new programs will be announced by the end of May.
Freed said there were also still a lot of uncertainties about city programs past this summer. He added, We dont even know if were going to have hockey this fall.
He said they want to maintain essential, core services but advised residents that this city will not be operating back to normal even as state COVID pandemic precautions begin to relax.
Freed said although furloughs were being offered citywide, parks and rec will be heavily impacted.
It would be silly to keep all these staffers when we cant provide the services, he said.
Repp added, Its not something we want to do, but certainly, its needed because we dont know what the impact is going to be financially for a while yet.
Jackie Smith is the local government reporter for the Times Herald. Have questions or a story idea? Contact her at (810) 989-6270 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.
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Employers Could Terminate Your 401(k) Plan Due to COVID-19. What to Do if It Happens. – The Motley Fool
Posted: at 3:56 am
The coronavirus pandemic has essentially brought the economy to a standstill, causing thousands of businesses to close their doors and resulting in millions of layoffs. The organizations that are fortunate enough to stay open have also faced challenges, many of them experiencing cash flow problems as more Americans are asked to stay home.
As a result of these budget strains, some organizations have opted to slash employee benefits, including 401(k) plans. While some companies have simply suspended employer-matching contributions, others have decided to terminate their plans altogether to save money. Here's what to do if that happens to you.
Image source: Getty Images
The good news is that relatively few organizations are ditching their 401(k) plans entirely. Only around 1.3% of companies said they plan to terminate their 401(k) plan due to COVID-19, according to a recent survey from the Plan Sponsor Council of America. Approximately 16% are temporarily suspending matching contributions, and nearly 77% said they're not planning on making any changes at all to their plans.
However, the not-so-good news is that workers may not be in the clear just yet. Small businesses, in particular, are at a higher risk of facing financial problems as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, so they may be more likely to have to make changes to their 401(k) plans if money gets tight.
Approximately 42% of small businesses might be at risk of eliminating their 401(k) plans due to COVID-19, according to a report from the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries. That's around 216,000 retirement plans that are at risk of termination, the report revealed.
If your 401(k) plan is terminated, or you're concerned it might be in the future, you can still save for retirement. You have other options, and you shouldn't need to put your retirement plans on hold if you lose your 401(k).
You don't need a 401(k) plan to save for retirement, and if you lose your plan through your employer, you have a couple of options: Roll your money into a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, or withdraw your cash.
The option to avoid is withdrawing money from your 401(k). When you withdraw your savings from your 401(k) before age 59-1/2, you're typically faced with a 10% penalty and income taxes on the amount you withdraw. Under the CARES Act, the 10% penalty is temporarily waived, but you'll still need to pay income taxes on your distribution, although you do have three years to pay these taxes, thanks to the new regulations. If you have a significant amount of cash in your 401(k), though, that can be a hefty tax bill.
In addition, by withdrawing your cash now, you're taking away your money's growth potential. Your retirement investments need as much time as possible to compound, and if you stick them in a checking or savings account, you're essentially pressing pause on your retirement strategy.
To avoid withdrawing your savings, you can either roll your money over into a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Both are strong options, and they differ in one key aspect: Taxes. With a traditional IRA, you'll get a tax deduction when you make the initial contribution, but you'll have to pay income taxes on your withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, you'll pay taxes now, but your distributions will be tax-free.
You can't go wrong with either option, but right now might be a particularly good time to opt for a Roth IRA. You will need to pay income taxes on the amount you roll into your Roth account, but because the stock market has taken a tumble over the past few months, you probably don't have as much in your 401(k) right now as you did a few months ago. That means if you convert to a Roth now, your tax bill will be smaller -- and your retirement withdrawals will be tax-free. If you opt for a traditional IRA, you won't pay any taxes right now, but you may face a higher tax bill in retirement when you start making withdrawals.
COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and affected nearly every aspect of our lives, and it's also having an impact on 401(k) plans. However, even if your 401(k) is eliminated, you don't have to let it derail your retirement. By rolling your money over into a new account, you can ensure your plans stay on track.
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