The harbor city of Dunedin in New Zealand regularly shuts down roads during the summer months to allow safe passage to wildlife. These closures typically last no longer than one or two days at a time. This year though, the city council decided to close a popular road for an entire month in order for a sea lion to nest safely with its pup.
“A New Zealand sea lion and her pup have taken up residence at the golf course next door and are regularly crossing the road to get to the beach,” the council said. “You can still visit the area by foot or bicycle, but please give the sea lions lots of space (at least 20m) … New Zealand sea lions are endangered and one of the rarest sea lion species in the world.”
The month-long closure has been welcomed by locals, many of whom urged the council to make it permanent to protect vulnerable wildlife, such as sea lions. The animals have long been special residents of Dunedin City. As reported by The Guardian, pups who had been born in the city later return to have their own pups there, and have been found giving birth in paddocks, farm sheds, and beside motorways.
There are about 12,000 sea lions left in New Zealand and their main breeding population remains in decline, facing threats from fisheries, diseases, food availability, and human impact.
A silver lining in the grey cloud of the pandemic is that the dangerous potential intersection of Covid-19 surges and the flu season seems to have been largely avoided. Thanks to ramped up flu vaccine efforts and pandemic health precautions, the CDC has reported only 1,016 influenza cases this flu season.
This number is incredibly low compared to last year when the US recorded 65,000 cases of influenza between September 29 and December 28. The drop is even more impressive when you consider that testing for influenza at public health labs was ramped up this year and saw a sixfold increase.
Physicians are crediting increased vaccinations along with mask-wearing, social distancing, and other safety precautions for the dramatic drop in cases. Unfortunately, the reduced flu cases also highlights how much more transmissible Covid-19 is than the common flu as the US continues to see surges despite these public health measures. One primary difference between the two is that Covid-19 can be transmissible days before a patient begins exhibiting symptoms if they exhibit symptoms at all.
As health systems around the world face some of their most difficult days, it’s a small relief to see that, although the flu season is not over, it appears it will not compound the challenges medical workers and first responders are dealing with.
The online business review platform Yelp has really expanded its search and rating criteria over the past few years. Users can now not only rate whether restaurants are good for kids or groups, but also search based on specific categories such as “women-owned.” As of this week, Yelp users will now be able to also rate how well businesses and their customers are adhering to covid-19 safety protocols.
According to a statement released by the company, the platform’s new pandemic specifics allow customers to report if staff and other customers are following social distancing and mask protocols as well as confirm safety and environmental additions such as outdoor heating, temperature checks, and contactless menus.
The new details will be available under “health and safety measures” on the app and website. To protect businesses and ensure the system operates with integrity, the business must receive several reviews with corresponding consensuses about the breached safety protocols before it is publicly displayed. Additionally, responses are reviewed and eliminated after 28 days to accommodate for changes in both business behavior and local guidelines. If a restaurant has multiple locations, the safety review must specify which location was visited.
In addition to health and safety measures, Yelp is also offering businesses the opportunity to give their customers more operations details. They can now indicate whether they offer amenities such as DIY meal kits, heated outdoor seating, or one on one sessions (for fitness locations).
The new features are in place to help promote the health and safety of patrons and owners as well as provide clarity for customers seeking the safest experience possible. According to Yelp’s statement, the company has implemented “advanced technology” to monitor feedback and ensure the feature is not misused and even believes the features could boost patronage for businesses taking proper precautions. In trial runs, the platform saw “consumer interest increase 41 percent for businesses that added COVID-19 business updates” between September 1 and December 31, 2020.
A forest in Georgia covering nearly 11,000 acres was on the verge of being sold and developed when an unlikely savior appeared: Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant.
At the moment, Ikea is on a mission to become “climate positive” by 2030. Climate positive means Ikea wants to reduce more emissions than it emits through its value chain, and it’s doing that through sustainable initiatives such as investing in renewable energy, shifting to electric delivery vehicles, and implementing new business models such as taking back old furniture and repairing it for resale.
To further its commitment to the planet, Ikea acquired the forest in Georgia from a nonprofit called the Conservation Fund, which buys up forests that have been designated for harvesting wood. When the group buys a so-called “working forest,” it puts in place permanent easements that mean the land can never be broken up in a future sale and the native forest will be protected and restored as habitat for local species.
“We buy threatened forests, which are owned by investors that have perhaps short term tenure, and often they get broken up in this area—it’s a high-growth area and it’s prone to break up into subdivisions and smaller and smaller pieces,” says Brian Dangler, vice president, and director of the Working Forest Fund at the Conservation Fund. “And when you break up the function of large intact forests—tens of thousands of acres—it gets reduced very quickly. So we try to keep them whole.”
The forest that Ikea just bought from the Conservation Fund can be visited by hikers and is located near Georgia’s Altamaha River Basin, which is home to the gopher tortoise.
The forest is just one of a number of forests that Ikea’s parent company, Ingka Group, has purchased in America. The company now owns around 136,000 acres of forest in five states, with the primary focus being on sustainably managing these forests for years to come.
Many people who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) also have to deal with a condition called “foot drop.” Foot drop causes people to have difficulty lifting their feet or keeping their toes upward when they walk, which causes them to drag their toes and increases their risk of tripping.
In order to help those who suffer from foot drop, a man named Pierluigi Mantovani developed a wearable device called EvoWalk that combats foot drop by delivering electrical stimulation to the muscles in the leg. Mantovani was inspired by his father’s own battle with foot drop and used his background in neuroscience to develop the device. Although it’s not the first device of its kind, it may be the smartest and most affordable.
So, how does it work? EvoWalk wraps around a person’s leg, delivering electrical impulses as they walk. But unlike similar electrical stimulation devices, EvoWalk is paired with sensors and AI software that makes the timing of these pulses more precise, as well as recording real-time data on the wearer’s gait, which can help them get the most out of physical therapy.
Mantovani and his partners at the Berkeley-based startup Evolution Devices have conducted three, eight-week-long pilots of the latest version of the device. The pilots revealed that the system can increase walking speed by 20 percent and can help a person take up to 10 times more steps per day.
Moving forward, Evolution Devices expects to receive. FDA approval for the EvoWalk in 2021. Although there is no word on the final cost of the system, it is expected to only cost a fraction of the price of similar devices, which go for around $5,000.
Image source: Evolution Devices