Once the Epicenters For COVID-19, New York and Italy Reach Single Digit Numbers

They were the epicenters of disease in America and Europe, but now New York and Italy have both reached single-digit daily numbers for fatalities attributed to COVID-19 and plummeting hospitalization rates after valiant efforts to stop the spread.

The Ministero della Salute in Italy reported last week transmissions of just 5.86 per 100,000 inhabitants, while some news sources place the nationwide death rate as low as 6 on June 29th, down by 22 from just the day before.

While some clusters—particularly in the north where the virus has been the worst, and the south, where many Italians go on vacation—have appeared recently, the country is still recording the lowest numbers since mid-February.

Similarly, New York has achieved a complete turnaround, recording 5 deaths last Saturday, according to AP, the lowest since March 15th—down from 13 the day before.

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“We are on the exact opposite end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have plummeted, as well. Compared to 18,000 patients in March to under 900 last weekend.

Aljoscha Laschgari

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Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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Buried Roman City Mapped in Stunning Detail Using Ground-Penetrating Radar

For some years now, archaeologists have been employing a technology called ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to discover what lies beneath their feet without the risk of damaging ancient artifacts and structures with shovels and trowels.

Over the years the technology of GPR has advanced, and it was recently used to produce a map of an entire Roman city buried underground without overturning a single grain of soil.

The GPR produced images of the roman city of Falerii Novi in stunning detail, revealing the existence of a market, roads, a temple, monuments, and a bath complex with a network of underground pipes suggesting a sophisticated plumbing system.

The team, from the University of Cambridge and Ghent University, were able to map the city in layers, and deduce how it changed over time; something that could only be done previously with risky, costly, and laborious excavation processes.

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“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities,” said Professor and author of the discovery’s corresponding paper, Martin Millett from the University of Cambridge in a statement.

Furthermore, different kinds of radio waves can be thrust into the ground to create even more detailed images—including catching anomalies that not have been detected by other forms of radar. The forum tabernae (shop units) appear, for example, in an earlier magnetometer survey, but not in the GPR survey.

L. Verdonck, Cambridge

One small problem with the technology was encountered however: the sheer amount of data required for such detailed imagery necessitates around 4.5GB and 20 hours of manual computer work per-hectare surveyed, and the authors suggest that assistance from new computer processing programs may be needed in the future.

What was Falerii Novi like?

GPR works like regular radar, bouncing radio waves off objects and using the ‘echo’ to build up a picture at different depths. By towing their GPR instruments behind a quad bike, the archaeologists surveyed all 30.5 hectares (90 acres) within the city’s walls, taking a reading every 12.5cm.

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Falerii Novi was just under half the size of Pompeii and was located 50 km north of Rome. It was first occupied in 241 BC and survived into the medieval period until around AD 700. Although small, Falerii Novi is characterized by some truly remarkable details.

In a southern district, just within the city’s walls, GPR revealed a large rectangular building connected to a series of water pipes which lead to the city’s aqueduct. Remarkably, these pipes can be traced across much of Falerii Novi, running beneath city blocks and houses in a meticulously-organized system of plumbing, rather than only alongside them as has been documented in other places, such as Crete.

L. Verdonck, Cambridge

The team believes that the large-rectangular structure was a natatio, an open-air pool close to the bathhouses, forming part of a substantial public bathing complex—a sort of Roman waterpark.

Even more unexpectedly, near the city’s north gate, the team identified a pair of large structures facing each other within a porticus duplex (a covered passageway). They know of no direct parallel in existing Roman architectural sites but believe these were part of an impressive public monument.

Porta di Giove (Falerii Novi) – CC license

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“It is exciting and now realistic to imagine GPR being used to survey a major city such as Miletus in Turkey, Nicopolis in Greece or Cyrene in Libya”, Millett said. “We still have so much to learn about Roman urban life and this technology should open up unprecedented opportunities for decades to come.”

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Hundreds of Cities Worldwide Make Streets into Cycling and Pedestrian Walkways—With Plans to Stay That Way

With greenhouse gas emissions set to decline a record-breaking 8% this year, a happy accident of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been its positive impact on cities.

The World Health Organization says walking and cycling are considered the safest means of transport to reduce exposure to COVID-19. So cities around the world have been building new cycling paths and scaling up their car-free street initiatives.

Now, it looks like many of these environmentally-friendly changes will be permanent

Bogotá, Colombia had a head start when the virus began to spread in the city in mid-March. The city had an existing tradition, called la Ciclovía, where it closed its main roads to cars every Sunday. Mayor Claudia López decided to scale the program up, and according to one report, “within days, Bogotá opened nearly 47 miles of new temporary bike routes, adding to 340 miles of paved protected paths, and converted almost 17 miles of automobile lanes to bike routes overnight.”

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For years, Paris has been a leader in the car-free streets movement. Now the capital city is building 650 kilometers (about 400 miles) of new “corona cycleways.” Mayor Ann Hidalgo has said many of these will be made permanent as part of the city’s larger mobility plan. Among other initiatives, the city has accelerated construction of dedicated cycle highways in response to the pandemic, according to the BBC.

In Italy, the city of Milan has announced that over 20 miles of newly installed cycling infrastructure will be kept in place after the quarantine has been lifted. Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Saik-Kahn, who is working with the Italian city on the transition, told the British news outlet, “The pandemic challenges us, but it also offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change course and repair the damage from a century of car-focused streets.”

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The city of Budapest, Hungary has also constructed temporary cycle lanes. Though they are currently due to last until September, the city has signaled a preference to leave them in place. “We are constantly monitoring the use of the temporary bike lanes, and we are hoping that a good many of them could remain in place,” the mayor’s chief of staff Samu Balogh added. “In the long term, we are working towards implementing traffic-calming measures and new bike lanes so we can create a more inviting environment for cycling and walking.”

In France, it’s not just Paris that is focusing on two wheels. The country’s Minister of Ecological Transition also announced a $22 million plan to support cyclists nationwide. Under the plan, all French citizens will be entitled to 50 euros ($55) in free bicycle repairs, paid for by the government. The program will also fund plans by cities to build more permanent bike racks, bike lanes, and cycling classes.

These initiatives, and many more eco-silver linings, have given hope to those who have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to make lasting changes to the way humans relate to the natural environment.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said on Earth Day. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future,” noting that—like the coronavirus—climate change knows no national borders.

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Italians Turn Old Tradition of Charitable Giving into Modern COVID Response With ‘Suspended Shopping’

Caffe sospeso—an Italian term which means ‘suspended coffee’—is what someone says in a Naples café when they’re feeling generous and want to pay it forward to someone less fortunate.

The tradition has come back into fashion in the last decade, but suspended coffee is an old Napolitano custom that actually arose after World War II, according to Luciano de Crescenzo’s book Caffe Sospeso, perhaps as a result of people wanting a release for their charitable urges.

Now, in their COVID-conscious culture, a more generous version of the tradition is sweeping Italy with ‘suspended shopping’ (la spesa sospesa).

COVID-19 has done more damage in Italy than almost anywhere else, and because of the extreme difficulties, people are going into shops and paying the grocery tabs for strangers who might be out of work.

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An estimated one in every two Italians has been out of work—or in ‘lavoro sospeso’, suspended work—since early March, and people are beginning to wonder how they will be able to afford to feed their families.

Shop owner Michela Buccilli in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni della Malva, says she has been matching the donations of anyone who has something to spare. One customer told NPR news, after she asked to donate a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of oranges to a local aid group, the store owner went ahead and sent a whole crate.

The Power of the Internet

COVID-19 has shuttered two million Italian businesses, and citizens often compare such challenges to the ones posed by World War II.

In 1940s and 50s, a happy-go-lucky person in Naples might make a humanitarian gesture, after picking up a coffee from a street vendor, as if he were “buying a coffee for the world.” Italy was in economic straights after World War II, and it was common for people not to have enough money for a coffee.

Now with the internet on their side, modern-day Italians have more opportunities to support local businesses. One Italian foodie website, Puntarella Rossa, recently launched il calice sospeso “the suspended wine glass,” where readers can buy vouchers worth 1 glass, or 1 bottle of wine from a local bar—redeemable after the lockdown orders are lifted.

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“We did it as a way to help these businesses economically,” Livia Belardelli, the site’s wine blogger told NPR. But it also nourishes the communities that support the shops.

Since April 1st, Belardelli says more than 150 readers and patrons have paid for wine-in-waiting at over 30 wine bars.

But wine, coffee, and groceries aren’t the only things being “suspended.” From sustainable clothing brand Re-Bello comes a crowd-funding campaign called One-for-One Mask.

An Italian news network described it as ‘La Mascherina Sospesa’—you guessed it, the suspended mask. A person can buy one washable, antibacterial mask, and the profits go to providing a second mask for a refugee in Cyprus through a European aid organization Refugee Support Europe.

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On the inside of every mask lies a simple line bending into a smile alongside an embroidered message “The world will smile with you”. So far, 7700 of the 27,000 Euro needed for the project has been accumulated. You can contribute to it on Indiegogo by buying masks for yourself and a refugee, (1 mask for you, and 1 for a refugee) or 2 for 2, or 5 for 5.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

(LISTEN to the NPR segment below)

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Countries Hit Hardest By COVID-19 Are Starting to Lift Social Restrictions After Encouraging New Recovery Rates

As the world continues its fight to curb the novel coronavirus outbreaks, several countries have announced significant recoveries this week.

France, Italy, and Spain—the countries with the highest numbers of confirmed cases outside of the US—outlined their plans for slowly lifting their various social restrictions as rates of infection and fatality continue to fall.

In light of Italy recording their lowest number of new cases since March 10th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte says that the country will begin reopening the economy on May 4th. Although schools will not reopen until September, small businesses and restaurants will soon be allowed to reopen so long as customers are limited to takeout options and social distancing guidelines. Factories will also be reopened for manufacturing and people will be allowed to visit their relatives in small numbers.

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Meanwhile, Spain celebrated a significant decline in coronavirus-related deaths, with daily counts falling below 300 for the first time since March 20th. Government officials say that they will be slow to reopen the economy; however, they will start to lift social restrictions by allowing children to play outside for one hour per day—a first for the nation’s youth after spending six weeks in isolation.

Al Jazeera reports that France also hailed their largest single-day drop in COVID-19 deaths after it fell by more than 33% in just 24 hours. The country also recorded their lowest number of in-hospital deaths in 5 weeks.

New Zealand was quick to enact some of the world’s strictest social restrictions after confirming just a few cases of the virus back in March. Now, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says that the nation’s pre-emptive shutdowns has succeeded in eliminating community transmission of COVID-19 this week. This means that while there will still most likely be new cases of the virus, healthcare officials will know where it is being transmitted.

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Although New Zealand has had 1,500 confirmed or probable cases of novel coronavirus over the course of the last two months, government officials report that they will still be cautious in gradually lifting social restrictions, starting with some non-essential businesses.

South Australia also announced that they are considering easing travel restrictions after the nation made it 7 days without a new recorded case. This accomplishment is largely credited to the province testing more than 15,000 people within a two-week period. There are now currently only 14 active cases.

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Taiwan has been celebrating its own milestone of 17 straight days without any new local cases as well as its first 4-day streak without any new domestic or imported COVID-19 cases.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

Representative photo by Airman 1st Class Elora J. Martinez

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These Optimistic COVID-19 Updates Give Us the Evidence We Need for Hope in April

This week’s news headlines from around the world have brought together another batch of COVID-19 updates that are both positive and noteworthy.

For starters, the number of novel coronavirus deaths in Spain dropped for the fourth consecutive day in a row, which has inspired hope that the nation is now past the peak of their outbreak—especially since the decline marked the lowest recorded number of deaths in two weeks.

Spain has experienced the most recorded cases of the virus in Europe, although other European nations have reported some hopeful trends of their own.

In France, the number of COVID-19 fatalities and new daily cases fell by more than 50% over the weekend, according to datasets from Worldometer.

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Italy, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, has now recorded three straight days of decline in new cases. Additional datasets from Worldometer show that yesterday marked the lowest number of new cases since March 17th—roughly half of the nation’s peak number of new cases which was recorded on March 21st. After several consecutive days of decline, April 5th also marked the lowest number of Italian deaths since March 19th.

Meanwhile, less than two weeks after New Zealand enacted strict nationwide lockdowns, the nation reports that they have not only flattened their curve of cases, they have “squashed it”.

On the US front, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says that the number of deaths statewide fell for the first time and remained flat for new days, raising hopes for a flattened curve. New hospital admissions also fell across the state from 1,427 on April 2nd to 358 on April 5th, according to Market Watch.

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Furthermore, Cuomo added that 75% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the state have been discharged.

Worldometer goes on to confirm that the number of collective new cases and deaths in the US have actually fallen since April 3rd which affirms evidence that social restrictions have been effective in curbing COVID-19.

Although national responders are still anxiously anticipating new problems posed by the pandemic during the coming weeks, the nation’s most influential statistical model has predicted that there may be fewer shortages of medical equipment—and fewer deaths—than we may have previously thought.

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While authorities remain vigilant in the face of cautious optimism, weather reports are showing positive environmental progress as well.

Following similar reports in China and the US, air pollution is continuing to plummet in countries with social restrictions, such as the UK and India. In New Delhi alone—which has some of the worst air pollution in the world—airborne particulates plunged by 71% in just one week.

Particle pollution in major UK cities have also dropped by as much as one-third—and the rates are expected to fall even further as lockdowns continue.

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“These are big changes—pollution levels are the equivalent at the moment of a holiday, say an Easter Sunday,” Professor James Lee from York University and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science told The Guardian about the data.
“And I think we will see an even starker drop off when the weather changes.”

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Chinese Company Ships Crates of Masks to Italy Covered in Italian Poetry: We Are ‘Leaves of the Same Tree’

A Chinese company has shipped crates containing tens of thousands of respirator masks to Italy in her time of need.

And it has done so with the artistic flair of a true Italian romantic.

Consumer technology giant Xiaomi mailed the shipment to the Italian Civil Protection Department, and they stapled to the side of the crates an ancient line of poetry from the Roman philosopher Seneca:

We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, and flowers from the same garden.

Siamo onde dello stesso mare, foglie dello stesso albero, fiori dello stesso giardino

The European country has had a terrible time of the pandemic, and Xiaomi International (pronounced Sheeow-mee) announced the donation on its Facebook page March 5, saying the company felt a responsibility to a market which had welcomed them so warmly when the smartphone maker expanded into Italy two years ago.

“Since we arrived two years ago, we have felt loved and deeply integrated into the life of the country. This is also why we felt the duty to support Italy in the management of the COVID-19 epidemic, by donating a first important quantity of FFP3 masks.”

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They also uploaded the photos showing the lovingly prepared crates in their post.

The company’s chief financial officer called it a “source of great pride” to be able to offer the help, and praised the Italian government’s “excellent job for the benefit of the whole community.”

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Medical shortages of masks, test kits, respirators, and other goods are one of the major reasons why a country might find it difficult to control an outbreak, and the quality of the FFP3 masks sent from Xiaomi are the most effective available.

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