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Engineered decoys trap virus in test tube study; healthcare workers at high risk even with protections

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a brief roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Open https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/yxmvjqywprz/index.html in an external browser for a Reuters graphic on vaccines and treatments in development.

Engineered decoys trap virus before it can enter cells

The new coronavirus enters cells by attaching to a protein on the cell membrane called the ACE2 receptor. Scientists have now developed a decoy version of ACE2 that lures the virus and traps it, preventing it from infecting human lung cells in test tubes. “We have engineered our ACE2 Trap to bind 100 to 1,000 times tighter to the virus than normal ACE2 that is on victim cells. This provides even more potent blockage that is comparable to neutralizing antibodies,” Dr. James Wells of the University of California

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Middle East mythbusters battle virus ‘infodemic’

Baghdad (AFP) – Browse through Arabic-language social media pages and you could walk away thinking COVID-19 is an American hoax, isn’t deadly and can be swiftly cured with a garlic clove.

Arabic pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are brimming with fake news stories on the novel coronavirus, from benign inaccuracies to full-throated conspiracy theories.

As authorities work to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, activists across the Middle East are stepping up to combat the Arabic “infodemic” they say is as dangerous as the infection itself.

“We correct the news and save lives,” said Baher Jassem, an Iraqi activist from the Tech 4 Peace collective, which switched from its four-year campaign against fake political and economic news to setting the record straight on COVID-19.

Every few hours, the collective’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages publish screenshots of fabricated news stories about the virus, from claims about new remedies

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As the Virus Deepens Financial Trouble, Colleges Turn to Layoffs

Dorms on East Green at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, June 21, 2020. (Maddie McGarvey/The New York Times)
Dorms on East Green at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, June 21, 2020. (Maddie McGarvey/The New York Times)

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Hammered by mounting coronavirus costs and anticipating lost revenue from international students, fall sports and state budgets gutted by the pandemic, colleges and universities nationwide have begun eyeing what until now has been seen as a last resort — thinning the ranks of their faculty.

The University of Akron this week became one of the first schools in the country to make deep cuts in the number of full-time professors on its staff, with the board of trustees voting Wednesday to lay off about a fifth of the university’s unionized workforce to balance its budget, including nearly 100 faculty members.

Other universities have also trimmed teaching positions, although most have limited themselves to those without tenure. This month, the University of Texas at San Antonio laid off 69 instructors,

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The Inventor of the Emoticon Tells All: ‘I’ve Created a Virus’

Gene J. Puskar/AP
Gene J. Puskar/AP

In September of 1982, a handful of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University using the ARPANET, the proto-internet network established by the Department of Defense that included several forum-like bulletin boards, got into a multi-day discussion about the behavior of elevators in free-fall. It involved several physics questions. What would happen if someone left a lit candle in there? A small puddle of mercury? A helium balloon? Let’s say several two-pound pigeons flew the coop straight into the cable-cut elevator—would they fly around in panic? If they sucked up the helium from the balloon, would their squawks reach whistle range?

The answers flitted between sincerity and sarcasm, theoretical physics and the empirical fact that every poster shared the same university building. “Because of a recent physics experiment, the leftmost elevator has been contaminated with mercury,” one researcher joked. “There is also some slight fire damage.” For some, the

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Trump’s grand GOP convention plans shrink as virus surges

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s plans for a grand convention keep shrinking.

The Republican National Committee announced Thursday that it is sharply restricting attendance on three of the four nights of its convention in Jacksonville, Florida, next month.

As the GOP looks for ways to move forward while coronavirus cases are spiking in the state, party leader Ronna McDaniel said in a letter to RNC members that only the roughly 2,500 regular delegates to the convention would be permitted to attend the first three nights. Delegates, their guests and alternate delegates would be allowed for the final night, Aug. 27, when Trump is set to deliver his acceptance speech.

The GOP already was forced to move most of the convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, after local officials ruled out a full-capacity crowd during the pandemic.

“When we made these changes, we had hoped to be able to plan a

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Virus worries and FOMO drive options bets on surging tech giants

By April Joyner

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Options investors are ramping up bets on some of this year’s biggest winners, including Amazon.com Inc, Netflix Inc and Tesla Inc, even as they turn cautious on the wider market amid a resurgent U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

Investors are betting that tech-related stocks will remain comparatively resilient to the coronavirus-fueled economic disruptions that have battered sectors such as retail and travel, despite growing concerns about stretched valuations following steep rallies.

Analysts also see another factor driving the momentum stocks: fear of missing out, or FOMO.

The rocket-like rise of such stocks has driven year-to-date gains for the S&P 500 technology, consumer discretionary and communication services sectors, though the broader S&P 500 benchmark index remains negative for the year. Amazon is a component of the consumer discretionary index, and Netflix is a component of the communication services index.

“The flight to safety is in tech,”

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NJ June gambling revenue down 65.6% amid virus closure

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — The final month of coronavirus-mandated closures for New Jersey’s casinos and racetracks was predictably bad.

Figures released Tuesday by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement show the nine casinos and two horse tracks that offer sports betting won $97.5 million in June, a decline of 65.6% from a year earlier, and virtually the same percentage decline that they posted in May, when revenue was down 65.4% from a year earlier.

June was the last full month that New Jersey’s casinos were shut down due to the virus; most of them reopened in the first week of July except for the Borgata, which will reopen on July 26.

With the casinos remaining shut since March 16, June’s winnings came online — nearly $85 million, up from $38 million a year earlier — and from extremely limited sports betting, including European soccer, Asian baseball and mixed

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Virus spread, not politics should guide schools, doctors say

As the Trump administration pushes full steam ahead to force schools to resume in-person education, public health experts warn that a one-size-fits-all reopening could drive infection and death rates even higher.

They’re urging a more cautious approach, which many local governments and school districts are already pursuing.

There are too many uncertainties and variables, they say, for back-to-school to be back-to-normal.

Where is the virus spreading rapidly? Do students live with aged grandparents? Do teachers have high-risk health conditions that would make online teaching safest? Do infected children easily spread COVID-19 to each other and to adults?

Regarding the latter, some evidence suggests they don’t, but a big government study aims to find better proof. Results won’t be available before the fall, and some schools are slated to reopen in just a few weeks.

“These are complicated issues. You can’t just charge straight ahead,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of

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Google, Amazon Funnel Money to Virus Conspiracy Sites: Study

(Bloomberg) — Digital advertising platforms run by Google, Amazon.com Inc. and other tech companies will funnel at least $25 million to websites spreading misinformation about Covid-19 this year, according to a study released Wednesday.

Google’s platforms will provide $19 million, or $3 out of every $4 that the misinformation sites get in ad revenue. OpenX, a smaller digital ad distributor, handles about 10% of the money, while Amazon’s technology delivers roughly $1.7 million, or 7%, of the digital marketing spending these sites will receive, according to a research group called the Global Disinformation Index.

GDI made the estimates in a study that analyzed ads running between January and June on 480 English language websites identified as publishers of virus misinformation. Some of the ads were for brands including cosmetics giant L’Oreal SA, furniture website Wayfair Inc. and imaging technology company Canon Inc. The data exclude social-media and online-video services, so

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Trump Hits CDC School Rules; N.J. Requires Masks: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — U.S. President Donald Trump, in a tweet, called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening schools too “tough and expensive,” and said he would meet with the agency to review them. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he anticipates a “blended” program when schools reopen, with students in class two-to-three days a week.

New Jersey’s governor, meanwhile, said he will require the public to wear masks in outdoor crowds. And Brooks Brothers Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy, becoming the latest veteran retailer to succumb to the pandemic’s impact on clothing sales.

Britain’s finance minister unveiled a plan to save jobs, and cut taxes on property and dining out to stimulate spending. France’s new prime minister said he would back targeted restrictions to preserve the economy if the country has a second wave of infections. Violence flared in Serbia, with Belgrade facing lockdown … Read More