Virginia Governor Northam, Wife Test Positive for COVID-19

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The governor of the eastern U.S. state of Virginia announced Friday that he and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19.
 
Governor Ralph Northam said they were notified Wednesday that a staff member who works in the living quarters of their official residence developed symptoms and subsequently tested positive, after which the couple had their own tests done.
 
He said his wife, Pamela, is experiencing mild symptoms, while he remains asymptomatic.
 
The couple is isolating for 10 days, during which the governor is continuing his work.
 
Crews are also cleaning the governor’s mansion, and the Northams are working with state health officials on contact-tracing efforts to make sure anyone they may have been in contact with is aware of their positive tests.
 
Northam said the best thing people can do is “take this seriously.” 

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Eight in 10 Britons Ignore COVID-19 Self-Isolation Rules, Survey Finds

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A new survey indicates more than 80% of people living in Britain with COVID-19 symptoms or who have had contact with someone who has tested positive are ignoring self-isolation guidelines.
 
The survey, released Friday and conducted by Kings College London and the National Health Service (NHS), found that only 18.2% of people who reported having symptoms of COVID-19 in the previous seven days have stayed isolated since their symptoms developed, and only 11.9% requested a COVID-19 test.
 
The research also shows fewer than half those surveyed were able to identify the symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
 
The research also found that only 10.9% of people told to self-isolate after close contact with a COVID-19 case had done so for 14 days as required.
 
In a statement, the survey’s senior author, Kings College researcher Dr. James Rubin, said the research indicated that while the public seems to have good intentions to adhere to the test, trace and isolate guidelines, financial constraints are the most common reason given for non-compliance, among other factors.
 
Britain this week introduced fines of up to $12,780 for breaking self-isolation rules, and it is offering nearly $640 in support payments to low-paid workers who lose income from quarantining.
 
The study shows other reasons for non-compliance ranged from not knowing government guidance to being unable to identify the symptoms.
 
Kings College says the data was collected through surveys conducted among 30,000 people living in Britain between March and August of this year.
 

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US on Brink of 7 Million COVID-19 Cases

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The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center reported early Friday that the U.S. is on the brink of having an astounding 7 million COVID-19 cases.  India follows the U.S. with 5.8 million and Brazil has 4.6 million cases. Brazil’s rising caseload has prompted the country to announce the delay of Rio de Janeiro’s annual Carnival parade held in February, during the South American country’s summer.   Millions of people take to the city’s streets for the annual rambunctious event.It is the first time the event has been delayed.  It was not immediately clear when or if the 2021 iteration of the world-famous parade will take place. Hair loss is the latest reported side effect of the coronavirus.  An account in The New York Times says doctors have noticed a recent uptick in the numbers of patients reporting the loss.  The hair loss is happening not only to people who have had the virus, but also those who have not. Doctors say they believe that in both instances the hair loss can be attributed to stress. “There’s many, many stresses in many ways surrounding this pandemic, and we’re still seeing hair loss because a lot of the stress hasn’t gone away,” Dr. Shilpi Khetarpal, an associate professor of dermatology at the Cleveland Clinic, told The Times. People drink at the outside tables of a bar in Soho, in central London on September 24, 2020, on the first day of the new earlier closing times for pubs and bars in England and Wales, introduced to combat the spread of the coronavirus. – Britain has…Britain tightens restrictions
Last call came early Thursday at pubs and bars in England and Wales, as Britain tightened the rules to try to curb a coronavirus surge. The new restrictions, announced Tuesday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, mean that any establishment serving food or drink must close by 10 p.m. The new rules apply in Scotland from Friday, while Northern Ireland is still considering a curfew. British pubs traditionally close at 11 p.m. But some stay open later, depending on their location and the day. “I don’t think it’s gonna help, it’s too little too late, as usual,” Joyce, a skeptical drinker in her 50s at a pub in the East London neighborhood of Dalston, told AFP.  “You’re just displacing the problem,” she said. Britain announced 6,634 new cases Thursday, the biggest daily number since the pandemic began. Britain is performing about 220,000 tests a day.European Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides attends a news conference on the updated coronavirus disease (COVID-19) risk assessment, in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 24, 2020EU urges decisive action
Across the English Chanel, European Union health officials urged member states Thursday to “act decisively” to put in place and utilize measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus and a potential surge in cases like the one earlier this year that prompted widespread lockdowns.“We are at a decisive moment. All member states must be ready to roll out control measures, immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” said Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety. She added, “This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”More than 3 million cases have been reported across the EU and Britain since the pandemic began, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.Kyriakides noted some EU countries are experiencing higher numbers of new infections than they had in March at the peak of the outbreak in the region, saying, “It is abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us.”France’s health ministry reported Thursday the number of people hospitalized in intensive care units due to the coronavirus surpassed 1,000 for the first time since early June.In the Netherlands, health officials said Thursday the number of new infections rose to 2,544, a record high for a single day.Poland’s health ministry also reported a record daily rise in cases and attributed the trend to people making more contact with others after restrictions were lifted.Sweden sounds alarm
Sweden, which opted not to put in place many of the stricter coronavirus lockdown measures seen elsewhere in Europe, is experiencing a situation Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called worrying.”The caution that existed in the spring has more and more been replaced by hugs, parties, bus trips in rush hour traffic, and an everyday life that, for many, seems to return to normal,” Lofven told reporters.He said people will be glad about the right steps they take now and suffer later for what is done wrong.Lofven urged people to follow social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures, and said, if necessary, the government would introduce new measures to stop the spread of the virus. Indonesia experiences surge A similar message about the need for continued vigilance and good practices came Thursday from Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force as that country saw another record increase in new cases. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.”Over time, we’ve seen that the people have lowered their guards,” task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told reporters. “It’s almost like they don’t have empathy even when they see every day so many new victims.”The governor of the capital, Jakarta, extended coronavirus restrictions there until October 11 in order to help hospitals cope with demand. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man wearing a face mask during a nationwide three-week lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, swings a chicken over his head as part of the Kaparot ritual, in Bnei Brak, Israel, Sept 24, 2020.Israel reimposes full lockdown In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that the country is returning to a full lockdown, effective Friday, and lasting for two weeks as its infection rate spirals out of control.  Schools, entertainment venues and most businesses will be closed, while restaurants will be limited to delivering food. Residents will be required to stay within 500 to 1,000 meters of their homes, except for work and shopping for food and medicine, while outdoor gatherings will be strictly limited to 20 people.  

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Winter Weather Could Increase Spread of COVID-19

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As winter brings shorter days and lower temperatures to the Northern Hemisphere, there is a chance we could see more COVID-19 cases.But experts say it is still too early to know exactly how seasons will affect the virus. They emphasize that human behaviors are still the most important driver of the pandemic.“The most important factor at the moment is … the control measures that we have in place. Things such as social distancing and mask-wearing — those are really key to lowering transmission of disease at this point,” said Rachel Baker, infectious disease researcher at Princeton University.COVID and climateMany diseases, such as the flu, are seasonal, with cases spiking when the weather is cool and dry.“It’s well known that many respiratory viruses have seasonality,” said Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology at Yale University. “And so, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s actually elevated transmission during the winter months from COVID.”There are three main reasons why scientists think the coronavirus could be affected by climate.“The virus doesn’t like certain seasons, or our bodies don’t like certain seasons. Or it’s just that we’re putting more of our bodies together in closed spaces,” said Ben Zaitchik, associate professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University.SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus that causes COVID-19, is spread by respiratory droplets produced when people breathe, talk, sneeze or cough. The virus survives better in cold, dry conditions typical of temperate winters. Low humidity also promotes evaporation of virus droplets into tiny aerosol particles that linger in the air, increasing the risk of airborne transmission in winter.Cold weather may further increase disease spread by driving us indoors.“The longer that household contacts are together, the more likely they are to transmit [the virus],” John Lynch, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington, said at a press conference. “When we think about the places where we’re seeing transmissions occur, it’s mostly homes. It’s mostly constrained workplaces where people don’t have the ability to separate from each other.”Winter weather can also hinder the body’s ability to fend off viral infections. A lack of sunshine may deplete vitamin D levels and weaken the immune system, and one study found a link between low vitamin D levels and COVID-19 cases.Cold, dry winter air also damages the cells in our airways that clear away virus particles. If your body can’t get rid of these virus particles, it might take fewer virus particles to make you sick, or the disease might be more severe, Iwasaki said.Iwasaki recommends that people use humidifiers to moisten the air of homes and offices. She also said that masks can help.In addition to reducing spread of the virus, “another thing [a mask] does is it warms the nose and moistens the respiratory tract. So, I think masks are a great idea for multiple reasons, just even to boost this moisture inside the respiratory tract to better fight off the infection,” Iwasaki said.How will winter affect COVID?There’s good reason to believe that COVID-19 is sensitive to the seasons, and some studies have linked cold, dry conditions with outbreaks of the disease. But researchers say that weather takes a back seat at the early stages of a pandemic because everyone is susceptible to the virus.“When you have a population with no immunity to the virus, it spreads really well, no matter the climate conditions. So it just kind of takes off,” said Princeton’s Baker.In a new study, Baker predicts that human behaviors such as mask-wearing and social distancing will be the most important factors in slowing disease spread during winter in New York and other cities, although she notes that the study has not yet undergone a formal review process.But in areas where disease cases are slightly declining, “it’s possible that climate could give you enough of a boost of transmission to cause a large outbreak,” Baker said. “So, we are a bit worried that when winter comes, if you’re in a place that gets really cold, dry winters, it might be enough to push transmission [up], and then you’d start to see a growth in cases.”COVID-19: A future seasonal disease?As more people develop immunity to the virus after overcoming an infection or through vaccination, researchers say that COVID-19 could become a seasonal disease, with numbers of cases oscillating between the seasons.“As more of the population has had the virus, more of the population develops immunity to the virus,” Baker said. “As that immunity increases, then you’ll start to see more effects of climate.”However, the future of the disease will be shaped by what this immunity looks like — a question that has not yet been answered. Researchers predict that the timing and number of COVID-19 cases will hinge on the effectiveness of potential vaccines and how long immunity lasts.Disease predictions were very different depending on whether “SARS-CoV-2 is a type of virus where you get it once and you’re done, you can never transmit it again, you can never get infected again,” compared with “if it’s a type of virus where you might have some amount of protective immunity, but you could potentially be reinfected again,” said Caroline Wagner, assistant professor of bioengineering at McGill University.Slowing the spreadExperts emphasize that the course of the pandemic is still largely in our hands.“What we know works is social distancing, wearing masks or face coverings, and practicing good hand hygiene. If we stick with those things, we’re going to have really good success with interrupting transmission,” said the University of Washington’s Lynch.Jeanne Marrazzo, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, agrees that we have the tools to deal with the potential of more cases in winter.“We know what to do. The question is, do we have the social, political and economic will? I think we have the medical will. We have the public health will. It’s just a question of, ‘Can we mobilize the community to continue to exercise the kinds of caution we need?’ ” said Marrazzo at a press conference.“As we face the coming months, I really, really hope we can pull together to recognize that we can change the trajectory if we work together,” she said. 

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Long-awaited Facebook Oversight Board to Launch in October

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Facebook’s highly anticipated independent oversight board, a group that will be empowered to overrule the company’s leadership on issues pertaining to the platform’s content moderation decisions, plans to launch in October, just in time for the November U.S. presidential election.The board was created by Facebook after the platform was criticized for its handling of problematic content, most recently a backlash over its decision to take no action in response to posts from U.S. President Donald Trump containing misinformation about mail-in voting and inflammatory language directed toward the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests that erupted over the summer.Other platforms that contain user-generated content, such as Twitter, have taken measures to combat misinformation online, including attaching fact-checking warning labels to posts.Facebook has not yet announced whether the board will hear cases related to the election. Representatives from the company said that the board did not consider cases involving Trump’s posts in its preliminary hearings.  Reviewing removed postsMembers of the oversight board will review appeals only over posts that Facebook has taken down initially, instead of taking into consideration content that the company leaves up. It will also deal only with individual posts that fall under the areas where Facebook exercises editorial control.Content that is regulated by Facebook includes algorithms that shape how much distribution a post receives, taking down or leaving up Facebook groups, pages, and events, and whether to leave specific pieces of content up on the site.The board has been harshly criticized for starting by reviewing appeals concerning posts that were taken down, which experts say will have little impact on addressing problems like misinformation and hate speech that are rampant on the platform. Critics say that the long-awaited board has not moved fast enough to curb these issues before the election.  Prioritizing casesAccording to the board’s website, the criteria for the prioritization of cases has not been decided and is being debated by the board’s 20 members. While tens of thousands of cases are expected to be presented to the board, leaders say that the board will take only a small number of cases each year, most likely in the “tens or hundreds.”Board members include lawyers, academics, journalists and policy experts from around the world, who collectively speak 27 different languages and represent having lived in 29 different countries.Preparation leading up to the board’s launch includes educating members on Facebook’s community standards, international human rights law and receiving technical training on case management rolls that will allow members to receive and consider appeals.

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Apple Critics Form Coalition to Challenge App Store Fees

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A group of Apple Inc.’s critics, including Spotify Technology SA, Match Group Inc. and “Fortnite” creator Epic Games, have joined a nonprofit group that plans to advocate for legal and regulatory action to challenge the iPhone maker’s App Store practices. Apple charges a commission of between 15% and 30% for apps that use its in-app payment system and sets out extensive rules for apps in its App Store, which is the only way Apple allows consumers to download native apps to devices such as the iPhone. Those practices have drawn criticism and formal legal complaints from some developers. FILE – Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an announcement of new products at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif., June 4, 2018.The Coalition for App Fairness, structured as a nonprofit based in Washington and Brussels, said it plans to advocate legal changes that would force Apple to change. Beyond Epic, Match and Spotify, other members include smaller firms such as Basecamp, Blix, Blockchain.com, Deezer, and Tile, along with developers from Europe, including the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe and Protonmail. Epic is suing Apple over antitrust claims in a U.S. federal court in California, while Spotify has filed an antitrust complaint against Apple in the European Union. Sarah Maxwell, a representative for the group, declined to comment on how much funding the Coalition for App Fairness has raised and from whom. Apple declined to comment but on Thursday unveiled a new section of its website explaining the benefits of its approach, saying it had blocked 150,000 apps last year for privacy violations. It says App Store fees fund the creation of developer resources such as 160,000 technical documents and sample code to help developers build apps. Mike Sax, founder of The App Association, a group sponsored by Apple, said in a statement that the new coalition’s “big brands do not speak for the thousands of app makers that are the foundation of the app economy.” 

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Trump Promotes Health Care ‘Vision’ in Swing State North Carolina

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President Donald Trump signed an executive order on preexisting medical conditions Thursday, amid a global pandemic and growing uncertainty about the future of protections guaranteed by the Obama-era health law his administration is still trying to overturn.In a visit to swing state North Carolina, the president sketched out what aides called a “vision” for quality health care at affordable prices, with lower prescription drug costs, more consumer choice and greater transparency. The president also signed another executive order to try to end surprise medical bills.But while the Trump administration has made some progress on its health care goals, the sweeping changes he promised as a candidate in 2016 have eluded him. Democrats are warning Trump would turn back the clock if given another four years in the White House, and they are promising coverage for all and lower drug prices.Legislation unlikelyThe clock has all but run out in Congress for major legislation on lowering drug costs or ending surprise bills, much less replacing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.Bill-signing ceremonies on prescription drugs and medical charges were once seen as achievable goals for Trump before the election. No longer.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said one of Trump’s executive orders would declare it the policy of the U.S. government to protect people with preexisting conditions, even if the ACA is declared unconstitutional. However, such protections are already the law, and Trump would have to go to Congress to cement a new policy.On surprise billing, Azar said the president’s order would direct him to work with Congress on legislation, and if there is no progress, move ahead with regulatory action. However, despite widespread support among lawmakers for ending surprise bills, the administration has been unable to forge a compromise that steers around determined lobbying by a slew of affected interest groups.Health care consultant and commentator Robert Laszewski said he was particularly puzzled by Trump’s order on preexisting conditions.”For more than 20 years we debated ways to protect people from preexisting conditions limitations,” said Laszewski. Former President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation finally established protections, he said.How will it work?”So, after 20 years of national public policy debate and hard-fought congressional and presidential approval, how does Trump conclude he can restore these protections, should the Republican Supreme Court suit overturn them, with a simple executive order?”Health care represents a major piece of unfinished business for Trump.Prescription drug inflation has stabilized when generics are factored in, but the dramatic price rollbacks he once teased have not materialized.And the number of uninsured Americans had started edging up even before job losses in the economic shutdown to try to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Various studies have tried to estimate the additional coverage losses this year, but the most authoritative government statistics have a lengthy time lag. Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation said his best guess was “several million.”Meanwhile, Trump is pressing the Supreme Court to invalidate the entire Obama health law, which provides coverage to more than 20 million people and protects Americans with medical problems from insurance discrimination. The case will be argued a week after Election Day.The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has added another layer of uncertainty. Without Ginsburg, there is no longer a majority of five justices who previously had voted to uphold the ACA.Democrats’ messagingDemocrats, unable to slow the Republican march to Senate confirmation of a replacement for Ginsburg, are ramping up their election-year health care messaging. It is a strategy that helped them win the House in 2018. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said he wants to expand the Obama law and add a new public program as an option.A recent Kaiser Foundation poll found Biden had an edge over Trump among registered voters as the candidate with the better approach to making sure everyone has access to health care and insurance, 52% to 40%. The gap narrowed for lowering costs of health care: 48% named Biden, while 42% picked Trump.  The scramble to deliver concrete accomplishments on health care comes as Trump is chafing under criticism that he never created a Republican alternative to Obamacare with 40 days to go before the election.Trump has repeatedly insisted his plan is coming.”We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks,” Trump said in a July 19 interview. He told reporters in August that it would be introduced “hopefully, prior to the end of the month.”During a televised town hall earlier this month in Pennsylvania, Trump again insisted he had a plan — but refused to share its details or explain why he waited more than three years to unveil it.”I have it all ready, and it’s a much better plan for you,” he said.

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Study Shows How Binge Drinking Affects Cognitive Brain Function

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A new study released this week describes how binge drinking — consuming too much alcohol, too fast — affects the brain, leading to anxieties and other cognitive issues.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines binge drinking as a man consuming five or more drinks in about two hours; four drinks for a woman. The CDC reports the habit is growing problem in the United States, especially among young people, with 1 in 6 adults binge drinking about four times a month.Previous research examined the long-term effects of binge drinking on the brain, but this latest study, published Tuesday in the journal Science Signaling, focused specifically on immediate effects of binge drinking on the brain.To do this, the researchers from the University of Porto in Portugal gave an alcohol solution to mice, equivalent to 10 days of binge drinking, which spurred immune cells in mice brains to destroy the synapses — or connections — between neurons, leading to anxiety and other cognitive issues.University of Porto researcher João Relvas, co-author of the study, said in an interview, “Even for a short period of time, excessive drinking is likely to affect the brain, increasing the level of anxiety, a relevant feature in alcohol abuse and addiction.”Dangers of alcohol ‘underestimated’Relvas said further studies in humans could reveal the exact drinking patterns that spark synaptic dysfunction. But for now, Relvas cautioned that people should pay attention to their intake and follow public health guidelines on drinking in moderation.”The dangers of alcohol drinking, especially amongst the younger population, have been widely underestimated and excessive alcohol drinking is socially relatively well tolerated,” Relvas said.He said studies like theirs should help increase public awareness and education among people young and perhaps change the way society looks at alcohol consumption.Dietary guidelines determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture define moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

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Helsinki: Coronavirus-sniffing Dogs Could Provide Safer Travel

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Helsinki Airport is getting creative when it comes to operating safely in the age of COVID-19. Beginning this week, travelers arriving at Finland’s busiest international airport will have the opportunity to take a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds and is entirely painless — but it’s not the test that is unusual, rather, it’s who is conducting it.The new state-funded pilot program uses coronavirus-sniffing canines to detect the presence of the virus within 10 seconds with shocking accuracy. Preliminary results from the trial show that the dogs, who have been used previously to detect illnesses such as cancer and malaria, were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy.FILE – Sniffer dog Miina, being trained to detect the coronavirus from the arriving passengers’ samples, works in Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 15, 2020.Many of the dogs were able to detect the coronavirus long before a patient developed symptoms, something even laboratory tests fail to do.After passengers arrive at Helsinki from abroad and have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks with a cloth to collect sweat samples that are then placed into an intake box. In a separate booth, a dog handler places the box alongside several cans containing various scents and the canine goes to work.Researchers have yet to identify what it is exactly the dogs sniff when they detect the virus, but a preliminary study published in June found there was “very high evidence” that the sweat odors of a COVID-19-positive person were different from those who do not have the virus. This is key, as dogs are able to detect the difference thanks to their sharp sense of smell.If the dog flags the sample as positive, the passenger is directed to the airport’s health center for a free PCR virus test.While there have been instances that an animal contracts the coronavirus, dogs do not seem to be easily infected. There is no evidence that dogs can pass the virus on to people or other animals.Sniffer dogs Valo, left, and E.T., who are trained to detect the coronavirus disease from the arriving passengers’ samples, sit next to their trainers at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 22, 2020.Scientists in other countries, such as France, Germany and Britain, are engaging in similar research, but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work to sniff out the coronavirus.Finnish researchers say that if the pilot program proves to be effective, dogs could be used to quickly and efficiently screen visitors in spaces such as retirement homes or hospitals to help avoid unnecessary quarantines for health care workers.Representatives from the University of Helsinki, who are conducting the trial, said Finland would need between 700 and 1,000 specially trained coronavirus-sniffing dogs in order to cover schools, malls and retirement homes. For broader coverage, even more trained animals— and their trainers— would be required.  
 

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