Vanity Fair: The Dangers of Trump’s ‘Warp Speed’ Vaccine Race

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic will come with the development of a safe and effective vaccine, a process experts say will take at least 12 to 18 months. Last week, however, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) blew that timeline out of the water, announcing that it would pay British drugmaker AstraZeneca upwards of $1 billion for 300 million doses of an experimental vaccine, which will start to become available as early as this October. AstraZeneca CEO 老湿影院费试 was even more bullish, telling CNN, “We will start getting substantial doses by September, October,” and that “lots and lots of people will be able to be vaccinated before the end of the year.” At that pace, Soriot confirmed, the entire U.S. and U.K. populations could be vaccinated by early 2021.

Soriot cautioned that the vaccine’s delivery depends on its successful completion of human trials—“It has to work,” he told CNN. But he said AstraZeneca was on target to prove that it will through an accelerated testing schedule. To date, the vaccine has been tested on monkeys and a small group of human volunteers, with recruitment for a 10,260-subject study currently underway.

To begin mass inoculations against COVID in the month before the election would be a massive achievement for the Trump administration, which has seen its prospects for a second term dwindle with the lockdown caused by the coronavirus and its resultant economic carnage. According to reporting by Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, Donald Trump has privately expressed the belief that a COVID-19 vaccine would be ready within months.

Many experts, however, say that it is impossible to reliably demonstrate the safety and efficacy of a drug in such a time frame. Moreover, absent those assurances, it would be unethical to give what is essentially an experimental vaccine to hundreds of millions of people. “You cannot do that,” says Maria Bottazzi, a microbiologist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Continue reading Vanity Fair: The Dangers of Trump’s ‘Warp Speed’ Vaccine Race

New York: Safe Exit: The Risk-Mitigation Guide to Life After Quarantine

You know how to stay 100 percent safe from the coronavirus: total isolation. Stay in lockdown, work from home, physically interact with no one. But there’s only so long you can live like that. Eventually, you have to start coming out into the world. And while doing so is certain to increase your chance of getting sick, an informed risk-mitigation strategy can help you keep the danger to yourself and others quite low.

A relatively safe strategy for exiting lockdown can be boiled down to a few basic principles: stay outdoors; wear a mask; stick to small groups; try to avoid passing around objects; wash your hands.?

Here are some activities at the safer end of the spectrum as you exit lockdown, along with some data-based guidance on how best to minimize the risks of transmission:

Go to the Beach

There’s been a lot of outrage expressed over photos of people jammed into parks and beaches, but meeting outdoors seems to be one of the safest ways to interact with real people. One recent study of 318 outbreaks in China found that only one occurred in an outdoor environment.

The environmental conditions found on a beach in summertime serve as a natural line of defense against COVID-19. A fresh ocean breeze can disperse the droplets of moisture that are expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, or even just breathes. High humidity and temperature have been shown to slow transmission of the virus. And the UV radiation in sunlight kills a wide variety of pathogens on surfaces. (It’s absolutely false, however, to think that beaming UV light into the body would be effective, as President Trump has speculated.) Continue reading New York: Safe Exit: The Risk-Mitigation Guide to Life After Quarantine

New York: We Might Never Get a Good Coronavirus Vaccine

Hopes for a return to normal life after the coronavirus hinge on the development of a vaccine. But there’s no guarantee, experts say, that a fully effective COVID-19 vaccine is possible.

That may seem counterintuitive. So many brutal viral diseases have been conquered by vaccination — smallpox, polio, mumps, tetanus — that the technique seems all but infallible. But not all viral diseases are equally amenable to vaccination. “Some viruses are very easy to make a vaccine for, and some are very complicated,” says Adolfo García-Sastre, Director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It depends on the specific characteristics of how the virus infects.”

Unfortunately, it seems that COVID-19 is on the difficult end of the scale. Continue reading New York: We Might Never Get a Good Coronavirus Vaccine

Vanity Fair: Experts: Trump’s Touting of an Untested “Game Changer” Coronavirus Drug Is Dangerous

It started with a Google Doc.

On March 13, cryptocurrency investor?James Todaro?and New York City lawyer?Gregory Rigano?tweeted out a link to a paper they’d put on the file-sharing service. In it, the men described a drug they’d been following, chloroquine, that in early trials in China and France appeared to show promise as a COVID-19 treatment. Long used as a treatment for malaria, the drug is cheap and plentiful and available to combat the pandemic immediately. Not only has it been deemed “effective in treating COVID-19,” they wrote, but it “also has strong potential as a prophylactic (preventative) measure against coronavirus.” The pandemic, they suggested, could be snuffed out in one stroke—if the authorities would just take action. The paper ended with a call for readers to disseminate it and translate it into other languages.

At a time when public anxiety about the pandemic was snowballing, the paper offered a rare ray of hope. As its authors had urged, the paper was quickly disseminated over the internet. On March 16,?Elon Musk?tweeted a link to the Google Doc, writing: “Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19.” On March 18, right-wing websites Breitbart and The Blaze picked up the story. On March 19, Rigano went on Fox News and told?Tucker Carlson?that a chloroquine study had shown “a 100% cure rate against coronavirus.”

From there it was a short leap to the biggest bullhorn of all.Continue reading Vanity Fair: Experts: Trump’s Touting of an Untested “Game Changer” Coronavirus Drug Is Dangerous

New York: How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It)

You call a friend and arrange to meet for lunch. It’s unseasonably springlike, so you choose a place with outdoor seating, which seems like it should be safer. As usual, you take all reasonable precautions: You use hand sanitizer, sit a good distance from other customers, and try to avoid touching your face, though that last part is hard. A part of you suspects that this whole thing might be overblown.

What you don’t know is that ten days ago, your friend’s father was a guest of his business partner at the University Club, where he caught?the novel coronavirus?from the wife of a cryptocurrency speculator. Three days after that, he coughed into his hand before opening the door of his apartment to welcome his son home. The saliva of?COVID-19?patients can harbor half a trillion virus particles per teaspoon, and a cough aerosolizes it into a diffuse mist. As your friend walked through the door he took a?breath and 32,456 virus particles settled onto the lining of his mouth and throat.

Viruses have been multiplying inside his body ever since. And as he talks, the passage of his breath over the moist lining of his upper throat creates tiny droplets of virus-laden mucus that waft invisibly into the air over your table. Some settle on the as-yet-uneaten food on your plate, some drift onto your fingers, others are drawn into your nasal sinus or settle into your throat. By the time you extend your hand to shake good-bye, your body is carrying 43,654 virus particles. By the time you’re done shaking hands, that number is up to 312,405

One of the droplets gets drawn into the branching passages of your lungs and settles on the warm, wet surface, depositing virus particles into the mucus coating the tissue. Each particle is round and very small; if you magnified a human hair so that it was as wide as a football field, the virus particle would be four inches across. The outer membrane of the virus consists of an oily layer embedded with jagged protein molecules called spike proteins. These stick out like the protrusions on a knobby ball chew toy. In the middle of the virus particle is a coiled strand of RNA, the virus’s genetic material. The payload.

As the virus drifts through the lung’s mucus, it bumps into one of the cells that line the surface. The cell is considerably larger than the virus; on the football-field scale, it’s 26 feet across. A billion years of evolution have equipped it to resist attackers. But it also has a vulnerability — a backdoor. Protruding from its surface is a chunk of protein called angiotensin converting enzyme 2, or ACE2 receptor. Normally, this molecule plays a role in modulating hormone activity within the body. Today, it’s going to serve as an anchor for the coronavirus. Continue reading New York: How the Coronavirus Could Take Over Your Body (Before You Ever Feel It)

New York: Kobe Bryant Pilot Deliberately Broke Flight Rules

Image taken from ATSB report shows crash site and overlying cloud layer that Kobe’s pilot flew into.

Today the National Transport Safety Board?released its preliminary report?into the January 26 helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that killed Kobe Bryant and eight others. For the first time, it revealed that moments before impact the pilot deliberately broke FAA regulations meant to prevent just such kinds of accidents.

As previously reported, in the minutes prior to the crash, pilot Ara Zobayan was flying just a few hundred feet over the floor of the San Fernando Valley, which lies at an elevation of 800 feet. An opaque layer of overcast clouds covered the area at an altitude of 1,900 feet. As Zobayan reached the southwestern edge of the valley and crossed into Calabasas, the ground below him climbed higher until he was zooming?150 mph over the road at scarcely more than 100 feet, with hillsides rising up on either side into the low clouds.

Technically, Zobayan was allowed by FAA regulations to fly this way. According to Visual Flight Rules, as long he could see at least half a mile and stayed out of the clouds, he’d remain legal. But it afforded him little margin for error. Evidently, he decided it would be safer or more comfortable to climb to a higher altitude where he would have better visibility and room for maneuver. At 9:45 a.m., according to the new NTSB report, Zobayan called air traffic control and told them that he was going to climb up above the cloud layers to an altitude of 4,000 feet, which would put him comfortably above the cloud tops at 2,400 feet.

Up there, he’d be well above the rugged terrain and be able to see for miles. The problem was that to get there, he’d have to climb through 500 vertical feet of white-out clouds. “Its absolutely deliberately breaking the VFR rules,” says Paul Cline, assistant professor of aviation at the City University of New York.

The reason flying up into a cloud layer is illegal is because there’s a high danger of exactly what happened: Without visual reference to the ground, a pilot becomes disoriented, loses track of which way is up, and augurs in to the ground.

Ironically, the new report also reveals that just nine months before the crash Zobayan had received proficiency training in “inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions and unusual attitude recovery” — in other words, the exact things that killed him.

This article appeared on February 7, 2020 in New York magazine.

Vanity Fair: The Dangers of Flying Rich

The very rich fly differently than you and me, and not just in terms of coach versus first class. They have helicopters and private jets to zip around the globe in privacy and comfort. But top-drawer travel budgets don’t necessarily afford anyone an extra measure of safety. In fact, just the opposite: Private air travel can come with risks that commercial passengers never take on.

Why? Because the rules are looser for the privileged—and when it comes to safety, that’s not to their advantage. Whereas the commercial airliners that ordinary schlubs are consigned to must conform to the most stringent regulations—what the FAA calls “Part 121”—chartered aircraft fall under a more lax set of rules called “Part 135,” and sometimes an even less strict set, “Part 91,” that covers noncommercial flying, such as when aircraft owners pilot the plane themselves. (The word part refers to the fact that the rules are organized into sections, or parts, of the government’s Code of Federal Regulations.)

The consequences of the different safety standards can be seen in accident statistics. According to data compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board, in 2018 there were six fatal Part 135 crashes resulting in 12 deaths, versus just one Part 121 accident resulting in a single death. This, despite the fact that nearly five times as many hours were flown under Part 121 as under Part 135. Continue reading Vanity Fair: The Dangers of Flying Rich

New York: Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Likely Succumbed to Well-Known Danger

While the cause of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others has not yet been determined, the weather and terrain conditions in the Los Angeles area on Sunday were similar to those that have killed many helicopter pilots over the years, with fog and clouds masking rugged, rising terrain.? The reconstruction of his flight that follows is based on information from transponder data, air traffic control audio recordings, and my own experience as a pilot who was trained in the exact area where the incident took place.

Bryant’s helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B built in 1991, took off shortly after 9 a.m. from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, which is located near the coast approximately 35 miles south of downtown LA. According to the New York Post, Bryant and the eight other passengers were heading to a basketball game at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, approximately 70 miles to the northwest. Over the course of the next 40 minutes the helicopter would trace a circuitous route around the Los Angeles basin as it negotiated mountains and busy airspace in three main phases: first, cutting across the broad coastal plain of central Los Angeles, then winding around the basin of the San Fernando Valley to its north, before a final ill-fated attempt to cross the rising terrain that led west to Thousand Oaks.

At takeoff a few minutes after 9 a.m., the weather was marginal, with a solid overcast at 1300 feet and visibility of about 5 miles in a thin haze. The pilot was flying according to “Visual Flight Rules,” or VFR, meaning that he was relying on his ability to see the terrain below him, and hence had to stay below the clouds. As an alternative, he could have contacted air traffic controllers and switched to “Instrument Flight Rules,” or IFR, that would have allowed him to climb up through the clouds. Controllers would have given him a series of waypoints to follow that would keep him well clear of terrain, dangerous weather, and other aircraft. Flying IFR, however, is time-consuming and constrains pilots to following the directions of controllers. “Southern California airspace is extremely busy, and they might tell you to wait an hour,” assistant professor of aviation at the City University of New York Paul Cline told me. “You’re just one of many waiting in line, and it doesn’t matter if you’re Kobe Bryant.”

So the helicopter continued under visual flight rules.Continue reading New York: Kobe Bryant’s Helicopter Likely Succumbed to Well-Known Danger

New York: Who’s Behind Those Mystery Drone Swarms? An Investigation

A month after swarms of drones began appearing over Colorado and Nebraska, their provenance remains a mystery. How to even start? Authorities have admonished that it’s illegal to shoot them down, and no one’s managed to intercept a tell-tale electronic signal. No one’s even managed to take a clear picture of one. But there might be another way.

The scope and persistence of the operation implies that some significant entity is behind them — someone, most likely, with too much to lose to risk operating without the necessary paperwork from the Federal Aviation Administration. Could the answer to the riddle lie within an FAA database?

There are two sets of records you’d want to explore because there are two processes under which the FAA permits commercial drone flight. The first is called Part 107. To operate under these guidelines, an operator gets a Remote Pilot Certificate and registers a drone with the FAA. They can then fly pretty much anywhere, so long as they follow certain restrictions: They can’t operate at night, or fly over people, or operate from a moving vehicle, for instance. If they want to do any of these things they need to apply for a waiver.

The second form of permission is called a Certificate of Authorization, or COA. In the past these have tended to be used by public agencies like the Department of the Interior and the branches of the military. These are fairly cumbersome to obtain, but once in hand allow an operator a good deal of freedom within a defined area. They’ve fallen out of favor in recent years, however, and a search of the FAA’s database?suggests that the most recent ones expired in 2015. “Many agencies are choosing to operate under Part 107,” FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor explained via email. So we can forget about these.

Back to Part 107. Based on published accounts, the Colorado drones always fly at night, sometimes fly in coordinated swarms, and fly significant distances. To do all of these things, an operator would need waivers 107.29 (flying at night), 107.31 (flying beyond visual range of the operator), and 107.35 (multiple drones flown by one operator). Out of the thousands of waivers issued, only five companies were issued a waiver valid for all three. One of those has since gone out of business.

That leaves four. Continue reading New York: Who’s Behind Those Mystery Drone Swarms? An Investigation

Vanity Fair: How Trump’s Iran War Bluster Paved The Way for the Ukrainian Airliner Shoot-Down

What began Wednesday morning as a wild internet rumor had by lunchtime Thursday become close to a settled—though still scarcely imaginable—fact: that Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737 with 176 people aboard, had crashed near Tehran not due to technical issues, as Iranian authorities initially claimed, but as a result of an Iranian antiaircraft missile strike.

While there was no direct evidence of a shoot-down in the first hours after the crash, the incident had seemed suspicious from the get-go. Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6:12 a.m. local time, just hours after Iran’s military had launched multiple ballistic missiles at U.S. air bases in Iraq. President Trump had threatened that America would attack 52 targets in Iran if the country retaliated for the U.S. assassination of its top general, Qasem Soleimani; it stands to reason that Iranian air defense forces must have been on the highest possible state of alert. What’s more, the plane disappeared from air traffic control screens abruptly, and without the crew issuing a mayday—all suggestive of a sudden, catastrophic event. Trump’s bluster and unpredictability, lauded by some of his allies as a strategic virtue, almost certainly contributed to the conditions that allowed this grievous mistake to be made. This is the sort of thing that happens during a war.

For the first 24 hours, however, the U.S. and its allies said nothing about a shoot-down. Reuters reported that “the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction.” Then, on Thursday, Newsweek quoted “one Pentagon and one U.S. senior intelligence official” as saying that the plane had been shot down. Hours later, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the story at a press conference. Continue reading Vanity Fair: How Trump’s Iran War Bluster Paved The Way for the Ukrainian Airliner Shoot-Down