First up, the coronavirus shows no signs of abating.
Here are the latest updates on the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S:
- The U.S. is experiencing a deadly fall surge. Many states have implemented mask mandates, and New Mexico and the territory of Puerto Rico have implemented a stay-at-home order. California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Kentucky have issued stay-at-home advisories.
- In Illinois, total deaths reached 11,000 on Wednesday. Because of this, Governor J.B. Pritzker has announced new restrictions, including limiting capacity at shops and closing casinos and other indoor venues. Pritzker has also advised avoiding unnecessary gatherings, especially as Thanksgiving approaches. Chicago Public Schools announced that they would remain remote until after the new year, returning to a hybrid model on Jan. 11. The IHSA announced on Nov. 17 that Pritzker will pause the winter sports season.
- Because of the overwhelming amount of COVID-19 cases, hospitals nationwide have started converting cafeterias, parking garages and waiting rooms into treatment areas.
On a related note, the search for a vaccine takes an unexpected turn.
The cost of a COVID-19 vaccine is moving beyond our species.
- The liver oil found in sharks, known as squalene, can augment the effectiveness of vaccines by boosting the immune system. As biotech companies around the world race to develop a covid vaccine, at least 5 of the 202 candidates utilize squalene sourced from wild caught sharks.
- Of the tens of millions of sharks caught and traded each year, legally and illegally, around three million are harvested for their squalene. A potential increase in the demand for squalene as a COVID-19 necessity could be catastrophic for the vulnerable shark populations that supply it.
- In order to survive under thousands of atmospheres of pressure, deep water shark species contain the most squalene and thus are the most targeted; many are also considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, like the whale shark, longfin mako and the scalloped hammerhead. Because of their slow maturation and reproductive cycles, these deep water species are more susceptible to rapid population decline due to overfishing.
- Some companies have started exploring more sustainable sources of squalene. Plants like sugarcane, olives, amaranth seeds and rice bran all contain the substance, but are still undergoing clinical trials and pending approval from agencies like the FDA for final use in vaccines
Finally, NASA's SpaceX flight.
- On Monday, a SpaceX rocket carrying four astronauts and supplies arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), nearly 27 hours after launching from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. The launch was originally scheduled for Saturday, but was delayed until Sunday night because of weather conditions from Tropical Storm Eta, which could have affected the ability to safely recover the rocket booster.
- The crew of four is made up of three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The crew will stay at the ISS for six months, researching, performing experiments and executing maintenance tasks.
- In the future, NASA hopes to continually use private companies like SpaceX and Boeing to transport astronauts to and from space on their own rockets. Since NASA’s shuttle program ended in 2011, NASA had to buy seats on Russian rockets to send astronauts or supplies to the ISS, which cost upwards of $90 million. By hiring SpaceX and Boeing, NASA hopes to redirect funding for American space-exploration.
- With the ability to now send more astronauts into space for research and exploration, NASA and SpaceX plan to routinely launch researchers to the ISS. This will pave the way for further space exploration and advancement of humans in space.