Month: March 2020

Scientists Report Coronavirus Shutdowns Have Reduced Seismic ‘Noise’

Researchers who study Earth’s movements say mandatory shutdowns of transportation systems and other human activities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a drop in what they call seismic “noise” around the world.An article published Tuesday in the scientific research journal Nature explains that human activity, such as moving vehicles and industrial machinery, can move Earth’s crust the way earthquakes and volcanic activity do. And researchers say the lack of such human activity in recent days has made a significant difference.Royal Observatory of Belgium seismologist Thomas Lecocq says vibrations caused by human activity have dropped by one-third since coronavirus containment measures were introduced in that country.  Researchers at the California Institute of Technology reported a similar drop in the Los Angeles area, as did researchers in Britain.Nature reports the reduced human-generate “noise” has allowed scientists to get more accurate and sensitive readings regarding earthquake aftershocks in urban areas that might otherwise go undetected.  The researchers say this also allows for the study of more subtle vibrations, such as those generated by ocean waves crashing, which help when probing the Earth’s crust.

Trump Administration to Release Final Rule on Mileage Rollback

President Donald Trump is poised to roll back ambitious Obama-era vehicle mileage standards and raise the ceiling on damaging fossil fuel emissions for years to come, gutting one of the United States’ biggest efforts against climate change.
The Trump administration is expected to release a final rule Tuesday on mileage standards through 2026. The change — making good on the rollback after two years of Trump threatening and fighting states and a faction of automakers that opposed the move — waters down a tough Obama mileage standard that would have encouraged automakers to ramp up production of electric vehicles and more fuel-efficient gas and diesel vehicles.  
“When finalized, the rule will benefit our economy, will improve the U.S. fleet’s fuel economy, will make vehicles more affordable, and will save lives by increasing the safety of new vehicles,” Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Corry Schiermeyer said Monday, ahead of the expected release.
Opponents contend the change — gutting his predecessor’s legacy effort against climate-changing fossil fuel emissions — appears driven by Trump’s push to undo regulatory initiatives of former President Barack Obama and say even the administration has had difficulty pointing to the kind of specific, demonstrable benefits to drivers, public health and safety or the economy that normally accompany standards changes.
The Trump administration says the looser mileage standards will allow consumers to keep buying the less fuel-efficient SUVs that U.S. drivers have favored for years. Opponents say it will kill several hundred more Americans a year through dirtier air, compared to the Obama standards.
Even “given the catastrophe they’re in with the coronavirus, they’re pursuing a policy that’s going to hurt public health and kill people,” said Chet France, a former 39-year veteran of the EPA, where he served as a senior official over emissions and mileage standards.
“This is first time that an administration has pursued a policy that will net negative benefit for society and reduce fuel savings,” France said.
Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the senior Democrat on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, called it “the height of irresponsibility for this administration to finalize a rollback that will lead to dirtier air while our country is working around the clock to respond to a respiratory pandemic whose effects may be exacerbated by air pollution.  
“We should be enacting forward-looking environmental policy, not tying our country’s future to the dirty vehicles of the past,” Carper said.
In Phoenix, meanwhile, resident Columba Sainz expressed disappointment at the prospect of losing the Obama-era rule, which she had hoped would allow her preschool age children to break away from TV indoors and play outside more. Sainz reluctantly limited her daughter to a half-hour at the park daily, after the girl developed asthma, at age 3, at their home a few minutes from a freeway.
“I cried so many times,” Sainz said. “How do you tell your daughter she can’t be outside because of air pollution?”
Trump’s Cabinet heads have continued a push to roll back public health and environment regulations despite the coronavirus outbreak riveting the world’s attention. The administration — like others before it — is facing procedural rules that will make changes adopted before the last six months of Trump’s current term tougher to throw out, even if the White House changes occupants.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been the main agency drawing up the new rules, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
The standards have split the auto industry with Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen siding with California and agreeing to higher standards. Most other automakers contend the Obama-era standards were enacted hastily and will be impossible to meet because consumers have shifted dramatically away from efficient cars to SUVs and trucks.
California and about a dozen other states say they will continue resisting the Trump mileage standards in court.
Last year, 72% of the new vehicles purchased by U.S. consumers were trucks or SUVS. It was 51% when the current standards went into effect in 2012.
The Obama administration mandated 5% annual increases in fuel economy. Leaked versions of the Trump administration’s latest proposal show a 1.5% annual increase, backing off from its initial proposal simply to stop mandating increases in fuel efficiency after 2020.
The transportation sector is the nation’s largest source of climate-changing emissions.
John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing automakers, said the industry still wants middle ground between the two standards, and it supports year-over-year mileage increases. But he says the Obama-era standards are outdated due to the drastic shift to trucks and SUVs.
The Trump administration standards are likely to cause havoc in the auto industry because, with legal challenges expected, automakers won’t know which standards they will have to obey.
“It will be extraordinarily disruptive,” said Richard J. Pierce Jr., a law professor at the George Washington University who specializes in government regulations.  
States and environmental groups will challenge the Trump rules, and a U.S. District Court likely will issue a temporary order shelving them until it decides whether they are legal. The temporary order likely will be challenged with the Supreme Court, which in recent cases has voted 5-4 that a District judge can’t issue such a nationwide order, Pierce said. But the nation’s highest court could also keep the order in effect if it determines the groups challenging the Trump standards are likely to win.
“We’re talking quite a long time, one to three years anyway, before we can expect to get a final decision on the merits,” Pierce said. 

China’s Huawei Warns More US Pressure May Spur Retaliation

Huawei’s chairman warned Tuesday that more U.S. moves to increase pressure on the Chinese tech giant might trigger retaliation by Beijing that could damage its worldwide industry.  Huawei Technologies Ltd., which makes smartphones and network equipment, reported that its 2019 sales rose by double digits despite curbs imposed in May on its access to U.S. components and technology. But the chairman, Eric Xu, said 2020 will be its “most difficult year” as Huawei struggles with the sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.  Huawei is at the center of tensions with Washington over technology and possible spying that helped to spark Trump’s tariff war with China in 2018.Xu said he couldn’t confirm news reports President Donald Trump might try to extend controls to block access to foreign-made products that contain U.S. technology. Xu said Huawei can find other sources but warned more American action might trigger Chinese retaliation against American companies.”I think the Chinese government will not just stand by and watch Huawei be slaughtered,” Xu said at a news conference. He said U.S. pressure on foreign suppliers “will be destructive to the global technology ecosystem.”  “If the Chinese government followed through with countermeasures, the impact on the global industry would be astonishing,” Xu said. “It’s not only going to be one company, Huawei, that could be destroyed.”  Huawei, China’s first global tech brand, denies U.S. accusations the company is controlled by the ruling Communist Party or facilitates Chinese spying. The company says it is owned by the 104,572 members of its 194,000-member workforce who are Chinese citizens.Chinese officials say the Trump administration is abusing national security claims to restrain a rival to U.S. tech companies.  Last year’s sales rose 19.1% over 2018 to 858.8 billion yuan ($123 billion), in line with the previous year’s 19.5% gain, the company reported. Profit increased 5.6% to 62.7 billion yuan ($9 billion), decelerating from 2018’s 25% jump.  Huawei has had to spend heavily to replace American components in its products and find new suppliers after Trump approved the sanctions on May 16, Xu said.  The controls, if fully enforced, could cut off access to most U.S. components and technology. Washington has granted extensions for some products, but Huawei says it expects the barriers to be enforced.  The company, the world’s No. 2 smartphone brand behind Samsung, said 2019 handset sales rose 15% to 240 million units.  Xu said it was impossible to forecast this year’s handset sales until the spreading coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.Huawei phones can keep using Google’s popular Android operating system, but the American company is blocked from supplying music and other popular services for future models.  Huawei is creating its own services to replace Google and says its system had 400 million active users in 170 countries by the end of 2019. That requires Huawei to persuade developers to write applications for its new system, a challenge in an industry dominated by Android and Apple’s iOS-based applications.  Huawei hopes Google applications can run on the Chinese company’s system and that its apps can be distributed on the American company’s online store, Xu said.  Huawei also is, along with Sweden’s LM Ericsson and Nokia Corp. of Finland, one of the leading developers of fifth-generation, or 5G, technology. It is meant to expand networks to support self-driving cars, medical equipment and other futuristic applications, which makes the technology more intrusive and politically sensitive.  The Trump administration is lobbying European governments and other U.S. allies to avoid Huawei equipment as they prepare to upgrade to 5G. Australia, Taiwan and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of Huawei technology, but Germany and some other nations say the company will be allowed to bid on contracts.  The company has unveiled its own processor chips and smartphone operating system, which helps to reduce its vulnerability to American export controls. The company issued its first smartphone phone last year based on Huawei chips instead of U.S. technology.  Huawei also is embroiled in legal conflicts with Washington.  Its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, who is Ren’s daughter, is being held in Vancouver, Canada, for possible extradition to face U.S. charges related to accusations Huawei violated trade sanctions on Iran.  Separately, U.S. prosecutors have charged Huawei with theft of trade secrets, accusations the company denies.  The company, headquartered in the southern city of Shenzhen, also has filed lawsuits in American courts challenging government attempts to block phone carriers from purchasing its equipment.   

Europe’s Hospitals Among The Best But Can’t Handle Pandemic

As increasing numbers of European hospitals buckle under the strain of tens of thousands of coronavirus patients, the crisis has exposed a surprising paradox: Some of the world’s best health systems are remarkably ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.  
Outbreak experts say Europe’s hospital-centric systems, lack of epidemic experience and early complacency are partly to blame for the pandemic’s catastrophic tear across the continent.
“If you have cancer, you want to be in a European hospital,” said Brice de le Vingne, who heads COVID-19 operations for Doctors Without Borders in Belgium. “But Europe hasn’t had a major outbreak in more than 100 years, and now they don’t know what to do.”  
Last week, the World Health Organization scolded countries for “squandering” their chance to stop the virus from gaining a foothold, saying that countries should have reacted more aggressively two months ago, including implementing wider testing and stronger surveillance measures.
De le Vingne and others say Europe’s approach to combating the new coronavirus was initially too lax and severely lacking in epidemiological basics like contact tracing, an arduous process where health officials physically track down people who have come into contact with those infected to monitor how and where the virus is spreading.  
During outbreaks of Ebola, including Congo’s most recent one, officials released daily figures for how many contacts were followed, even in remote villages paralyzed by armed attacks.
After the new coronavirus emerged late last year, China dispatched a team of about 9,000 health workers to chase thousands of potential contacts in Wuhan every day.  
But in Italy, officials in some cases have left it up to ill patients to inform their potential contacts that they had tested positive and resorted to mere daily phone calls to check in on them. Spain and Britain have both declined to say how many health workers were working on contact tracing or how many contacts were identified at any stage in the outbreak. 
“We are really good at contact tracing in the U.K., but the problem is we didn’t do enough of it,” said Dr. Bharat Pankhania, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Exeter in southwestern England.  
As cases began picking up speed in the U.K. in early March, Pankhania and others desperately pleaded for call centers to be transformed into contact tracing hubs. That never happened, in what Pankhania calls “a lost opportunity.”  
Pankhania added that while Britain has significant expertise in treating critical care patients with respiratory problems, like severe pneumonia, there are simply too few hospital beds to cope with the exponential surge of patients during a pandemic.
“We are already running at full capacity, and then on top of that we have the arrival of the coronavirus at a time when we’re fully stressed and there isn’t any give in the system,” he said, noting years of reductions in bed capacity within Britain’s National Health Service.  
Elsewhere, the fact that health care workers and hospital systems have little experience with rationing care because European hospitals are generally so well resourced is now proving problematic.  
“Part of the issue is that Italian doctors are getting very distressed to make decisions about which patients can get the ICU bed because normally they can just push them through,” said Robert Dingwall, of Nottingham Trent University, who has studied health systems across Europe. “Not having the triage experience to do that in a pandemic situation is very overwhelming.”
In a departure from their normal role as donors who fund outbreak responses in poorer countries, countries including Italy, France and Spain are all now on the receiving end of emergency aid.  
But Dr. Chiara Lepora, who heads Doctors Without Borders’ efforts in the hot spot of Lodi in northern Italy, said the pandemic had revealed some critical problems in developed countries.
“Outbreaks cannot be fought in hospitals,” she said. “Hospitals can only deal with the consequences.”
Doctors in Bergamo, the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, described the new coronavirus as “the Ebola of the rich” in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, warning that health systems in the West are at risk of being as overrun by COVID-19 as West African hospitals were in the devastating 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak.  
“Western health systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care, but an epidemic requires a change of perspective toward community-centered care,” they wrote.  
That model of community care is more typically seen in countries in Africa or parts of Asia, where hospitals are reserved for only the very sickest patients and far more patients are isolated or treated in stripped-down facilities — similar to the field hospitals now being hastily constructed across Europe.  
Even Europe’s typically strong networks of family physicians are insufficient to treat the deluge of patients that might be more easily addressed by armies of health workers — people with far less training than doctors but who focus on epidemic control measures. Developing countries are more likely to have such workforces, since they are more accustomed to massive health interventions like vaccination campaigns.  
Some outbreak experts said European countries badly miscalculated their ability to stop the new coronavirus.  
“But I think the fact that this is a new disease and the speed at which it moved surprised everyone,” said Dr. Stacey Mearns of the International Rescue Committee.  
Mearns said the current scenes of desperation across Europe — doctors and nurses begging for protective gear, temporary morgues in ice rinks to house the dead — were unimaginable just weeks ago. In Spain, 14% of its coronavirus cases are infected medical workers, straining resources at a critical time.
“We saw hospitals and communities get overwhelmed like this during Ebola in West Africa,” she said. “To see it in resource-wealthy nations is very striking.”

German Scientists Identify New Strain of Plastic-eating Bacteria

German scientists say they have identified a strain of bacteria that is feeding on polyurethanes, a plastic resistant to biodegradation. A team of researchers at the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, has found that a strain of soil bacterium, identified as Pseudomonas putida, can produce enzymes to digest polyurethanes thus making it biodegradable.  The German team says the bacterium found in the soil surrounding a heap of plastic waste was feeding on polyurethane diol, which is used in plastic as a component that protects products from corrosion. Hermann Heipieper, one of the researchers and author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, said “this finding represents an important step in being able to reuse hard-to-recycle (polyurethane) products.”A worker sorts through recycling bins at a center that offers residents money in exchange of their recyclable garbage in an attempt to keep the streets clean in Cairo, Egypt, March 11, 2017.The study offers hope of ridding the planet of the growing quantities of discarded plastic products that threaten human and animal life. But some scientists are skeptical.  In earlier experiments, biodegradation of some plastic components was achieved with fungi. Yale University students in 2011 discovered a fungus that can digest and break down polyurethane plastic even in a place without air – like the bottom of a landfill. Since then scientists around the world have identified other fungal species that can breakdown polyurethane. In 2017, a team of scientists identified another fungus that can feed on plastic by breaking down chemicals that hold it together.  These studies also raised concerns about the ability of micro-organisms to invade and corrupt a dead and therefore sterile substance like plastic. Research on coral reefs has shown that floating plastics carry disease-causing microbes that infect the coral.  The Leipzig study says bacteria are much easier to control and produce for industrial use. Its authors say the next step is to identify the gene code of the enzymes produced by the bacteria to digest polyurethane. Some scientists are arguing against introducing man-made enzymes or potentially dangerous micro-organisms into the natural environment.  Two years ago, scientist Douglas Rader wrote in an op-ed for the Environmental Defense Fund that “There is so much more we need to understand about the complex relationships between plastics and marine ecosystems before we can take drastic action such as spraying the ocean with so-called plastic-eating bacteria.”Workers load collected plastic bottles on to a truck at a junk shop in Manila, March 10, 2015. The Philippines placed third among the list of countries with the most ocean plastic pollution per year.Despite new findings, science is nowhere near solving the growing plastic pollution problem. Humankind has manufactured and discarded so much plastic over the years that the world is getting short of places to dump the enormous quantities accumulated every day. Refusal by many developing countries to accept plastic waste from rich nations has exacerbated the problem.  Some countries are cutting down on the use of plastic bags, drinking straws, plastic bottles and utensils. Scientists keep coming up with new biodegradable products to replace plastic, such as wrapping materials made from algae, straws made of paper and disposable utensils made of bamboo, but the movement could be described as “too little too late.” Recycling the plastics to make building materials, fabrics, and other new plastic products cannot even make a dent in the growing amounts of plastic waste.   Plastic remains the most practical packaging material and is indispensable in medical, pharmaceutical, sanitary and many other industries. Some new biodegradable, but equally useful material, has yet to be developed. Meanwhile scientists estimate that about 8 million pieces of plastic enter the oceans every day. For some of them it will take hundreds of years to properly degrade if they are not first swallowed by fish and other marine creatures that will die from it. 

Van Gogh Painting Stolen from Dutch Museum

Officials at a Dutch museum which was closed to the public due to the coronavirus outbreak say a painting by Vincent van Gogh was stolen during an overnight break-in. Singer Laren museum director Evert van Os told reporters Monday the 1884 painting called “Spring Garden” had been on loan from the Groninger Museum, located in the northern Dutch city of the same name.  The Reuters news agency reports police believe the thieves forced the museum’s glass front doors open in the pre-dawn hours. They say they are continuing to investigate the incident. The estimated value of the painting was not available, but French news agency AFP reports that a van Gogh painting from 1889 was sold three years ago at Christie’s auction house in New York for $81 million. “Spring Garden,” a painting by Vincent van Gogh, is seen in this handout picture released by the Singer Laren Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 30, 2020.

Spain Postpones 5G Spectrum Auction Due To Coronavirus

Spain will delay a planned auction of 5G spectrum due to the coronavirus outbreak, the government said on Monday.
As part of a Europe-wide drive to speed up the roll out of fast Internet and broaden coverage, Spain had been due to free up space in the 700 MHz band of its network by switching from analog to digital terrestrial television by June 30.
One of the world’s worst national outbreaks of the virus, which had infected 85,915 people and killed 7,340 as of Monday, constitutes force majeure, making it impossible to stick to that deadline, the government said in a statement.
Madrid has told Brussels it will set a new deadline for the 700 MHz band depending on the eventual end-date for emergency measures including restrictions on people’s movements, it added.
Austria postponed a planned 5G auction last week, and the CEO of French group Iliad said one coming up in France would likely meet the same fate. 

Spain Tries Tracking Coronavirus, Sparking Privacy Concerns

In Madrid only a few weeks ago, thousands of demonstrators took part in a women’s march, defiant or unaware of calls for social distancing to stop what then appeared to be the distant threat of coronavirus. Now, Spain is one of the biggest battlegrounds in the global war against the pandemic.Spain’s health system is stressed to the breaking point. Coronavirus information hotlines have been jammed by frightened people desperate for information.Madrid city leaders launched a web and mobile service modeled after ones that South Korea successfully used to track those infected.
“Our sole objective at this time is to save lives,” explains Isabel Diaz Ayuso, President of the Community of Madrid.The CoronaMadrid website and the App – is a public-private initiative that involves giving citizens’ personal information to the government and to various companies whose names are not disclosed.  In these times of fear, few ask questions. 
“We are immersed in a state of extreme urgency or extreme need, that is when at least we begin to understand these rather awkward actions of various public administrations when developing technological solutions,” says Enric Lujan, a politics professor at the  Universitat de Barcelona. “The application of the Community of Madrid does not specify data protection clauses, of transfers to third parties and, it seems, these data can be transferred to companies.”South Korea’s tracking measures helped the government there flatten the contagion curve – and other countries have followed.  Israel has approved the use of counterterrorism technology to track the virus, and Iran’s official coronavirus app was recently pulled by Google from its Play Store, amid privacy concerns.
“Medical data is classified as highly sensitive,” Lujan says.  “The transfer to third parties of medical data is being left in the background when what is prioritized is the fact of having a lower number of deaths.”The coronavirus pandemic has made many people across the world feel afraid, helpless, and desperate for solutions.  It has also raised new questions about how much of their personal freedom and privacy they are willing to sacrifice.     

Tokyo Olympics Organizers Announce New Date

Organizers for Tokyo’s rescheduled Olympics have announced that the new dates for the Summer Games will be July 23, 2021, to Aug. 8, 2021.The head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, announced the decision Monday, after consultations with the International Olympic Committee.The IOC announced last week the decision to delay the games due to the coronavirus.
Mori said the Paralympic Games would run from Aug. 24, 2021, to Sept. 5, 2021. 

US Folk Singer-Songwriter John Prine in Critical Condition with Coronavirus

The family of Grammy- award winning singer/song writer John Prine says the artist is in critical condition with COVID-19 symptoms.The family made the announcement Sunday from the 73-year-old artist’s Twitter account, saying he had been originally hospitalized Thursday and that he had been intubated – a breathing tube was inserted – Saturday night. The Twitter post said “his situation is critical.”There was no mention of where Prine was being treated but the family lives in Nashville.Prine’s wife and manager Fiona Whelan Prine had announced earlier in this month that she had tested positive for the virus, and that the couple was quarantined and isolated from one another.Prine has been one of the most influential singer and songwriters in the U.S. country/folk genre for roughly 50 years.  His songs have been recorded by artists such as Bonnie Rait, Johnny Cash and Bette Midler. He was recently inducted in the U.S. Singer/Song writer hall of fame.Prine is a two-time cancer survivor and his bouts with the disease affected his voice. He recovered well enough to record and release an album last year and had plans to tour later this year before the coronavirus outbreak. 

Kyrgyzstan Cancer Patients Make Face Masks to Fight COVID-19

A group of cancer patients in Kyrgyzstan is working to meet the demand for protective surgical masks while earning funds to help pay for their treatments.The group is organized by an association known as “Together for Life,” established in July 2019. Originally, the group made handbags and purses as a kind of therapy, as well as financial aid for women overcoming cancer.But once the demand for masks increased, the president of the group, Aigul Kydyrmysheva, told The Associated Press that they received permission from the Ministry of Health to switch to making the protective gear.Kydyrmysheva said they market their products through social media and that while bigger factories can produce masks faster, many customers have turned to them, understanding that their profits go to a good cause.  The group works nearly round-the-clock, making as many as 1,000 masks a day, which earns them about $2,500 a month. In turn, they have been able to allocate about $770 a month to offset cancer treatment drugs. 

Sesame Workshop Enlists Elmo, Cookie Monster on Hand Washing

Elmo, Rooster and Cookie Monster are doing their part to help keep kids safe as the coronavirus pandemic grinds on.
The beloved Sesame Street Muppets are featured in some of four new animated public service spots reminding young fans to take care while doing such things as washing hands and sneezing.  
One of Elmo’s signature songs, the toothbrush classic “Brushy Brush,” has been updated to  “Washy Wash.”Rooster pops up in another of the 30-second spots  to remind kids to “wash hands now” before eating, playing sports or using the bathroom.
The new content on builds on last week’s launch of Sesame Workshop’s Caring for Each Other initiative to help families stay physically and mentally healthy during the health crisis. The overall project ranges from messages of comfort to learning activities in reading, math and science.  
The new spots will be distributed globally in 19 languages through partners that include HBO, PBS Kids, YouTube and the Ad Council.
“As families around the world adjust to their new realities, parents and caregivers are looking for help in creating new routines, staying healthy and fostering learning at home while little ones are out of school,” Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, senior vice president of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement.
The workshop will continue to roll out new resources for parents and caregivers on creating new routines, fostering playful learning at home and managing anxiety. Families can also watch Sesame Street episodes on HBO, PBS stations and the PBS KIDS 24/7 live stream. Free on-demand episodes of “Sesame Street” are offered on PBS KIDS digital platforms, along with more than 110 free “Sesame Street” e-books on all major e-book platforms.

Coronavirus-Stricken Cities go Digital to Boost Solidarity, Wellbeing 

On the streets of Barcelona, a few lone shoppers and dog walkers, their faces obscured by masks, are the only signs of life in this once-vibrant city — but online it’s a different story.   In Spain, as in the rest of the world, increasing numbers of people are going digital to keep community spirits up and avoid feelings of isolation during the coronavirus crisis, which has infected about 725,000 people and killed more than 34,000 worldwide.   Since Spain’s population of 47 million went into lockdown on March 14, there has been a flourishing of virtual parties, online classes and remote cultural events as people rush to find new ways to stay connected during the pandemic.   On any given day, Barcelona residents can look at a list called #ElBarriDesdeTuCasa (“The Neighbourhood On Your Doorstep”), posted on the online community platform Nextdoor, and find five or six events in their neighborhood alone.   These kinds of online activities are useful for “keeping people motivated and giving them a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” Joana Caminal, head of community at Nextdoor Spain, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.   They are a good way of “getting people to interact more  at such a complicated time,” she stressed.   The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Spain has reached more than 80,000, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.   Since the start of March, 10 times more neighborhood groups than usual have been created on Nextdoor Spain, with the site’s number of global daily active users soaring by 80% in March from the previous month.   On Tuesday, California-based Nextdoor launched a “Solidarity Map,” letting registered users worldwide ask their neighbours for help or offer to help someone local in need.   FILE – The dating app Tinder is shown on an Apple iPhone in this photo illustration taken Feb. 10, 2016.Online dating app Tinder is also finding new ways to bring people together at a time when everyone is keeping apart.   The company has announced it is making its “Passport” feature free until April 30, meaning non-premium users, who can usually only connect with people in their current location, can “transport themselves out of self-quarantine to anywhere in the world.”Health experts say that the internet could be a useful tool for staying positive during the pandemic.   “In this unprecedented time, we are all, in most cases, very, very isolated from the world … never in our lifetime have we experienced isolation like this,” said Nathan L. Vanderford, an assisant professor at Kentucky University’s medical school.   “While the potential negative aspects of the internet still apply in our current situation, we can use these platforms to enhance our wellbeing,” he added.   However many elderly people are not plugged into social media and online activity also means we are “bathed in communication” about the pandemic, which could enhance stress, noted Sara Thomee, an assistant professor of psychology at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.  Virtual socializing  Many people are also finding solace in virtual socialising, with colleagues and friends the world over raising a glass via video-conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.   A man walks past hanging Koinobori during a snowfall in Tokyo, March 29, 2020. Tokyo governor has repeatedly asked the city’s 13 million residents to stay home this weekend, saying the capital is on the brink of an explosion in virus infections.In Asia, these sessions have become so popular they have given rise to a Japanese phenomenon called “on-nomi,” or online drinking.   With so many people working from home, virtual get-togethers are key to boosting team spirit, said Kate Walton, head of Steyer Content, a Seattle-based content agency.   “People crave connection. It’s a fundamentally human instinct,” she said, noting that since her 100-strong team began working remotely a month ago, it has bonded over drinks in several so-called “virtual happy hour” sessions.   Some online gatherings go beyond after-work drinks. In Malaysia, which imposed a partial lockdown on March 18, locals are organising online poetry readings, as well as a Stay at Home music festival to raise funds to buy food for medical workers.  Jabier Grey, a languages teacher in Madrid who participated in another online music festival, CoronavirusFest, in March, said the thriving digital scene is giving people the chance to experiment with different ways of coming together.   “It’s a great opportunity for everybody … I think some of the online [gatherings] are likely to remain online after [the crisis],” said Grey, who livestreamed a singing session from his flat via Instagram.   In Germany’s capital Berlin, the city’s famous nightlife has gone digital, with about 250 nightclubs joining forces on the website United We Stream to livestream DJ sets into people’s homes every evening from 7 p.m. until midnight.   In Italy, which has registered more coronavirus deaths than any other country, a group of artists and social media users have launched an Instagram account called My Sweet Quarantine to provide followers with a daily schedule of classes and performances.   Self-improvement  While many people are going online to meet up without leaving their homes, others are using the web to learn something new. In Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak, 24-year-old Zhao Xiaowei has discovered a new culinary passion after the country’s lockdown prompted him to start watching cookery classes on livestreams and the popular video app Douyin. “It’s easier to pass time with technology during lockdown, or our day can be very dull,” he said by phone.   Over in the United States, Valerie Canon, a 38-year-old ballet teacher from Kentucky, said she has been inundated with responses since starting a Facebook page called “My Friends Do Awesome Things. Let’s Learn from Them.”  The mother-of-three, who began by posting classes to keep her students fit during lockdown, said that within three days 1,500 people were using the page, giving her and others the chance to learn a host of “awesome and useful things.”   “In the past few days, I have learned how to put victory rolls in my hair, make a Manhattan [and] how to make an at-home cleaner with citrus fruit and apple vinegar,” she said.   A view shows the deserted area in front of the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, March 18, 2020.Museums from Paris to Tbilisi have also moved online, providing virtual tours of their collections or letting artists film live performances in empty rooms.   “We wanted to show that even though we are physically closed, we remain open as an institution that produces culture, disseminating experiences and knowledge,” said Stefano Boeri, president of the Triennale Art & Design Museum in Milan.   Malaysian yoga instructor Susan Tam, who has moved her classes online, said staying digitally active is important for bridging the gap between people caused by self-isolation and social distancing.   “We are used to having these social connections,” she said.   “Doing live online classes means we can still have the community connection without the risk — it’s good for our health.”

Democratic Leader Dies as Missouri Coronavirus Cases Top 900

A Democratic Party leader in western Missouri died Sunday after contracting COVID-19 as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state exceeded 900 and the death toll reached 12.
The death of William “Al” Grimes, the Henry County Democratic Party chairman, was announced in a tweet from state Chairwoman Jean Peters Baker. It came after the Henry County Health Center in Clinton, about 60 miles (96.56 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City, announced that a man in his 70s had died.
“We will miss you, Al,” Peters wrote. “The stars will not shine as brightly.”
Peters said that Grimes, a Navy veteran, had been active in campaigns throughout eastern and central Missouri. He also ran for the Missouri House in 2014 and 2016.
Grimes was first hospitalized in Clinton before being transferred on March 8 to a Kansas hospital, The Kansas City Star reported.  His positive test for coronavirus was reported March 13, but he was among the state’s first confirmed cases.
His death was among two new deaths reported Sunday by the state Department of Health and Senior Services. There were no details about the other new death.
The number of coronavirus cases confirmed in Missouri rose by 65 from Saturday to 903, according to the department, but the increase of 8% was considerably lower than the 25% increase Saturday and the average daily increase of 45% over the past week.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Meanwhile, a third St. Louis-area police officer tested positive for the coronavirus and was in isolation.
The St. Louis County Police Department said Saturday that one of its officers had contracted the virus, but the agency does not believe it happened while the officer was on duty. The department provided no other details.
The St. Louis County police said affected work areas and vehicles have been thoroughly cleaned and they don’t know of any other cases associated with the officers.
Two officers in the St. Louis city police force’s traffic division also have tested positive for the virus.
Also, Jim Edmonds, a broadcaster for baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals said he underwent tests at an area hospital for coronavirus after going to the emergency room. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the 49-year-old former outfielder said he has pneumonia and was awaiting the results of other tests. 

Belarus Does Not Give Up on Football

Football leagues around the world have canceled soccer games for the foreseeable future as one of the measures to slow a rapid COVID-19 spread. But soccer, or football, as it is called in much of the world, continues to be played in Belarus where the number of confirmed infections is still relatively low.The country’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the virus scare as overblown and has advised his people to continue business as usual, especially agriculture. Local media published photos of the Belarus president playing ice hockey.Top Belarusian football division, Vysheyshaya Liga, is run by the Belarusian Football Federation and currently includes 16 teams. The country has never excelled in soccer and has never qualified for the World Cup or the European football championships.But with sports fans around the world deprived of their favorite pastime, Belarus is getting attention and signing broadcasting contracts with a growing number of countries to carry their games. People in India and Israel, not just neighboring Russia, could soon become familiar with members of teams such as FC Minsk or Dinamo Minsk and their individual styles.Belarus soccer fans hope the exposure will inspire their teams to play better and qualify for the next UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) champions league. UEFA Championship is also known as the European Cup.The spokesman for the Belarus Football Federation Aleksandr Aleinik said the organization is respecting the recommendations by the Sports Ministry.  “All those who are in contact with fans were given protective gloves,” he said. But images of fans from some of the games Saturday show very few wearing masks and some of them cheering without any shirts on.The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has been especially deadly for the northern city of Bergamo. The unprecedented toll has been traced to a February football match in Milan. More than 2,000 fans traveled from Bergamo to Milan to watch the Atlanta vs. Valencia match at Milan’s San Siro Stadium February 19. As they chanted in the packed stadium it is believed they picked up the new coronavirus strain and took it home to Bergamo. Two days later, Italy confirmed the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19.  Six weeks later, Italy reported that the number of deaths from the coronavirus had topped 10,000. Bergamo is struggling to bury and cremate the number of bodies after several hundred people sometimes die in one day.   European football leagues have canceled local soccer matches until at least the end of April to help slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. The European championship has been postponed until the summer of 2021 because the domestic competition cannot be completed in time for this summer.Most European countries have locked their borders and ordered closures of schools and all but essential businesses. People are asked to stay at home, gather in very limited numbers, sometimes no more than two, and keep a distance from others when they have to go out. In some cases, governments have imposed strict measures such as curfews and mandatory quarantine.  But measures vary from country to country.  In Sweden, restaurants and bars in some cities seemed as lively this month as ever, with the government allowing people to choose how to protect themselves. Schools, day care centers, gyms and beauty salons remained open even as they closed in neighboring Denmark and Norway.  The government announced tougher measures last week after the number of infections and COVID-19 deaths suddenly soared.  But Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said you cannot legislate everything and that individuals also have to take responsibility.Some experts also say that it is counterproductive to impose measures that cannot be sustained for a long period of time. Meanwhile, ordinary people in countries hit by the virus may have to weigh daily the pros and cons of stepping out of the house for weeks or months yet to come.   

Singer-songwriter Jan Howard Dies at 91

Singer-songwriter Jan Howard, who had a No. 1 country hit “For Loving You” with Bill Anderson and wrote hits for others like Kitty Wells’ “It’s All Over But the Crying,” has died at age 91, according to the Grand Ole Opry.The Opry, of which she was a member for nearly 50 years, announced her death on Saturday.”Jan Howard was a force of nature in country music, at the Opry, and in life,” said Dan Rogers, the Grand Ole Opry’s vice president and executive producer, said in a statement. “We were all so lucky so many nights to hear her voice on stage and to catch up with her backstage. We’re all better for having had her in our lives.”The Missouri-born Howard had her first hit in 1960 with “The One You Slip Around With,” and had a string of others including “Evil on Your Mind” and “Bad Seed.”But she had her biggest success as a duo with Anderson, including “I Know You’re Married,” “Someday We’ll Be Together” and”For Loving You,” which spent four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart in 1967.She also wrote for others, including Wells’ song and Connie Smith’s hit “I Never Once Stopped Loving You.”Her most personal song was perhaps “My Son,” which she wrote as plea for her son Jimmy’s safe return from the Vietnam war. He was killed two weeks after its release in 1968. Another son later killed himself.Howard documented her triumphs and struggles in the 1987 autobiography “Sunshine and Shadow.”She is survived by her remaining son, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. 

Polish Composer, Conductor Krzysztof Penderecki Dies at 86

Krzysztof Penderecki, an award-winning conductor and one of the world’s most popular contemporary classical music composers whose works have featured in Hollywood films like “The Shining” and “Shutter Island,” died Sunday. He was 86.In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, the Ludwig van Beethoven Association said Penderecki had a “long and serious illness.” He died at his Krakow home, the association said.The statement called Penderecki as “Great Pole, an outstanding creator and a humanist” who was one of the world’s best appreciated Polish composers. The association was founded by Penderecki’s wife, Elzbieta Penderecka, and the communique was signed by its head, Andrzej Giza.Penderecki was best known for his monumental compositions for orchestra and choir, like “St. Luke Passion” and “Seven Gates of Jerusalem,” though his range was much wider. Rock fans know him from his work with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.  A violinist and a committed educator, he built a music center across the road from his home in southern Poland, where young virtuosos have the chance to learn from and play with world-famous masters.  Culture Minister Piotr Glinski tweeted that “Poland’s culture has suffered a huge and irreparable loss,” and that Penderecki was the nation’s “most outstanding contemporary composer whose music could be heard around the globe, from Japan to the United States.””A warm and good person,” Glinski said in his tweet.Penderecki’s international career began at age 25, when he won all three top prizes in a young composers’ competition in Warsaw in 1959 — writing one score with his right hand, one with his left and asking a friend to copy out the third score so that the handwriting wouldn’t reveal they were all by the same person.He would go on to win many awards, including multiple Grammys, but the first prize he won was especially precious: It took him to a music course in Germany, at a time when Poland was behind the Iron Curtain and Poles couldn’t freely travel abroad.  In the late 1950s and the 1960s, Penderecki experimented with avant-garde forms and sound, technique and unconventional instruments, using magnetic tape and even typewriters. He was largely inspired by electronic instruments at the Polish Radio Experimental Studio, which opened in Warsaw in 1957 and was where he composed.”In my works the most important is the form and it must serve the purpose,” Penderecki said in a 2015 interview for Polish state news agency PAP.He said he begins composing with a “graphic sketch of the entire work and then I fill in the white spaces,” he said.His 1960 “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima” won him a UNESCO prize. Written for 52 string instruments, it can be described as a massive plaintive scream.In the 1970s, believing that avant-garde had been explored to the full, Penderecki embarked on a new path, writing music that, to many, sounds romantic and has the traditional forms of symphonies, concertos, choral works and operas. A Catholic altar boy who grew up in a predominantly Jewish environment, he was largely inspired by religious texts: Catholic, Christian Orthodox and Jewish.But his first opera, the 1969 “Devils of Loudun,” based on a novel by Aldous Huxley about the Inquisition, put him at odds with the Vatican, which called on him to stop the performances. He refused.Penderecki wrote music for various historical celebrations, and conducted around the world. Among the works are the 1966 “St. Luke Passion,” commissioned by West German Radio to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Muenster Cathedral, and the 1996 “Seven Gates of Jerusalem” to mark 3,000 years of the titular city.  In 1967 he composed a major choral work, “Dies Irae,” known also as the “Auschwitz Oratorio,” in homage to the Holocaust victims.His second opera, “Paradise Lost,” based on the John Milton poem, seemed to reconcile him with the Catholic Church, and in 1979, he conducted a concert at the Vatican for Polish-born Pope John Paul II.In 1980, the leader of Poland’s Solidarity freedom movement, Lech Walesa, called him and commissioned a short piece that would honor Poles who lost their lives fighting the communist regime. Penderecki composed “Lacrimosa,” which led to the larger “Polish Requiem” that premiered in 1984 in Stuttgart.  Penderecki wrote for virtuosos and friends like violinists Isaak Stern and Anne-Sophie Mutter and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. In 2012 he recorded an album with Greenwood, Radiohead’s guitarist.”Because of the complexity of what’s happening — particularly in pieces such as ‘Threnody’ and ‘Polymorphia,’ and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you’re there,” Greenwood said in a 2012 interview with The Guardian.Penderecki said at the time that Greenwood is a “very interesting composer” and that working with the guitarist made him see his own music from a new perspective.Greenwood tweeted Sunday to say “What sad news to wake to. Penderecki was the greatest – a fiercely creative composer, and a gentle, warm-hearted man. My condolences to his family, and to Poland on this huge loss to the musical world.”Penderecki’s rich, powerful, sometimes menacing music, especially in his early works, was used in Hollywood movies including Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” David Lynch’s “Inland Empire” and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.”It was also a personal matter for Penderecki to have parts of the “Polish Requiem” used in the Polish World War II movie “Katyn” by Oscar-awarded director Andrzej Wajda, about the 1940 massacre of Polish officers by the Soviets. Penderecki’s much-loved uncle was killed in that massacre.  But Penderecki said his “greatest fascination in life” was not music — it was trees. Around his manor house, he arranged a scenic arboretum featuring the various kinds of trees and plants that he brought from the most distant corners of the world where his music was played.  “It takes generations to plant a garden,” he once said. “I will do it over some 40 years, but this garden is like an unfinished symphony. Something can always be changed, you can always add new trees, find new species.”Although he was a recluse, he liked to write music on a Baltic Sea beach in Jastrzebia Gora with his close family near him.Penderecki was born Nov. 23, 1933, in the southern Polish town of Debica. His maternal grandfather was German and his grandmother was Armenian. His father, a lawyer, loved to play the violin and instilled in his son a love of music.Penderecki studied violin and composition at the Krakow Conservatory, where on graduation in 1958 he was appointed a professor, and next a rector. From 1972-1978 he also taught at the Yale University School of Music.Penderecki won a number of Grammy Awards during the course of his career. The Recording Academy awarded him the special merit National Trustees Award in 1968. In 1988, he won a Grammy for the recording of his 2nd Concerto for Cello, with Rostropovich. Two more came 11 years later, for his 2nd Violin Concerto, “Metamorphosen,” written for and performed by Mutter, with Penderecki conducting. Most recently, a Grammy for best choral performance came in 2017 in recognition of the “Penderecki Conducts Penderecki” album.  He is survived by his second wife, Elzbieta, who as a girl was a piano student of his first wife Barbara, and by daughters Beata and Dominika and son Lukasz.His ashes will be buried in the National Pantheon, the crypt of Krakow’s St. Peter and Paul Church, according to the head of the pantheon’s foundation.The funeral is being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

How to Stop a Killer

More deadly than influenza, COVID-19 is a coronavirus – part of a large family of viruses that include the common cold as well as more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Coronaviruses look like a ball surrounded by a crown.Here’s an animated look at how the coronavirus gets into lung cells — and how it might be stopped.Sorry, but your browser cannot support embedded video of this type, you can
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COVID-19 Started in China. To Change the Narrative, China Started to Tweet

Jeff Kao is a ProPublica reporter who FILE – In this Feb. 16, 2020, photo, a policeman stands guard at Tiananmen Gate following the coronavirus outbreak, in Beijing.Twitter continued, “Based on our intensive investigations, we have reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation. As Twitter is blocked in PRC, many of these accounts accessed Twitter using VPNs.”The accounts belonged to a “larger, spammy network of approximately 200,00 accounts” that the platform suspended for violating a range of rules covering all users.“I think when social media was created, people in general hoped that it would encourage a more open civil society, discussion of opinion would be easier,” said Vincent Wang, dean pf the College of Arts and Sciences and political science professor at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.“But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took advantage of the open society and freedom of speech in the West and made it a tool for its own propaganda against democracy,” he said.Kao told VOA Mandarin that he noticed the accounts tweeting about Hong Kong changed.  As the coronavirus spread, the accounts focusing on Hong Kong changed to focus on the epidemic initially covered up by Beijing after it was linked to a market in Wuhan selling wildlife, such as bats, for human consumption. Many coronaviruses, such as COVID-19, start out in animals and jump to humans.As the epidemic raged through China, many of the accounts “became cheerleaders for the government, calling on citizens to unite in support of efforts to fight the epidemic and urging them to ‘dispel online rumors,’” wrote Kao. As the epidemic spread worldwide and became a pandemic, the accounts pointed out China’s response at home.FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing face masks work on a car seat assembly line at Yanfeng Adient factory in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, February 24, 2020.“We were not scared during the outbreak because our country was our rearguard. Many disease fighting warriors were thrust to the front lines” said one. Others pointed out Beijing’s aid to countries such as Italy to ensure Staff members move barriers in front of a railway station of Wuhan on the first day of inbound train services resumed following the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Wuhan, China, March 28, 2020.“So, it’s a pretty vast effort, and it really makes it pretty difficult for people to understand what’s the truth, particularly if the whole thing is just designed to create one narrative.”Calls to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment Friday evening were directed automatically to an operator, then went to music before cutting off.Wang called for congressional hearings on nations’ use of Twitter and other platforms to spread disinformation. He wants lawmakers to find a way to protect the principle of freedom of speech while stopping the Chinese Communist Party from “making negative use of the technology for its own propaganda.”He said he believes it would be futile to block China’s accounts.“If you do that, China would have a lot of ways to cope with it by setting up even more new accounts.Wang told VOA Mandarin the best way to combat China’s disinformation efforts is “to raise (the) public’s awareness, so that people using social media can understand that if a so-called news (item) is bad quality information, a lie or disinformation, no matter how many times it is repeated, even if thousands times, it still will not become truth.”Yuwen Cheng and Zhan Qiao of VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.   

Smithsonian Museums Meet Visitors’ Needs Online

Museums across the U.S. have closed to the public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But that hasn’t stopped the guardians of some of the greatest art collections in the country from sharing their national treasures with people around the world. VOA’s Julie Taboh spoke with the director of one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most popular museums about the many ways they’re reaching their audience.

Reaction to News UK’s Johnson Has Tested Positive for Coronavirus

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday he had tested positive for coronavirus and was in self-isolation at his Downing Street office.
Here is reaction to the news.
   Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of UK’s Opposition Labor Party 
“I wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery and hope his family are safe and healthy. Coronavirus can and does affect anyone. Everyone be safe. Our own health depends on everybody else.”   
 Indain Prime Minister Narendra Modi 
“You’re a fighter and you will overcome this challenge as well. Prayers for your good health and best wishes in ensuring a healthy UK.”
 Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster 
“Best wishes to the Prime Minister and Carrie (Symonds, Johnson’s fiancee). No one is immune. Let’s all follow the guidelines.”
 Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon 
“I send my very best wishes to Boris Johnson and his family. I don’t underestimate for anybody how difficult it is to be positive for this virus so I certainly send my best wishes to him for a very speedy recovery.”

US Apartment Residents Dance COVID-19 Blues Away

COVID-19 has forced people all over the world to stay at home on strict quarantine, but some folks manage to find a way to stay positive. While Italians sing from their balconies, and the French applaud their doctors, neighbors in Bethesda, Maryland, are dancing and singing together — while keeping their distance.  Ann Johnson, a retired artist, and Michael Fetchko, a biologist, are doing their best to lift spirits at their apartment complex. They organize daily “drive the virus away“ performances to distract people from everyday worries, if only for a little while.  “We are trying to raise people’s spirits, that’s what we’re doing,” says Johnson. “It started with my neighbor in the other building. She called me and she said, ‘Come out to the balcony. We’ll wave because we hadn’t seen each other for a while.’ We did that a few times and we thought maybe other people would like to do it, so we passed the word.”   An apartment resident cheers her neighbors on as they sing and dance to lift the community’s spirits while in isolation, Bethesda, Maryland.Johnson is joined by Fetchko, her neighbor.“Part of it is just to make sure that everyone has some outlet each day where they get to see their neighbors,” he says. “You feel very isolated when you are inside. You are doing the right thing, but you want to remind yourself that you are not alone in this. So it’s just a matter of getting people to know that everyone is in this together.” Otherwise, the neighborly singers spend the rest of their day like most Americans — staying at home following the guidelines of local and state authorities.  “My husband and I are trying to keep a schedule,” Fetchko says. “We have a dog, so she keeps us up and out when she needs to go. So that helps.”Johnson says she looks forward to her daily musical time-out from self-isolation. “It’s so nice to be with my buddies, too, even if it’s at a distance,” she says. “It lifts me for the whole rest of the day.” The song-and-dance enthusiasts intend to continue their performances, doing their best to help cheer up their friends and neighbors. Because, in a time like this, they believe even 15 minutes of dancing can make a difference.