Issue 96

Covid-19 testing chaos, re-making existing drugs, all the Covid-19 vaccines in production

August 2, 2020

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here. Love Scrap Facts? Consider hitting the “like” button, or tell your friends to sign up!

The reason Covid-19 tests take so long? There are too many kinds of them.

Found while reporting: Why Covid-19 test results are taking so long.

In the US, we had a massive shortage of Covid-19 tests back in February because the ones from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were faulty. So the US Food and Drug Administration decided that the pandemic warranted the temporarily authorization of new tests. These didn’t have to go through the usual rigorous testing and evaluations, which would take a lot of time. The point was to get them out there.

Now there are ~150+ testing kits that can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 DNA. Hospital labs have ordered a hodgepodge of these testing kits—some from on company, some from another, and so on—just to be able to meet their testing demands.

They all do the roughly the same thing, but there are minor differences in the specific equipment they each need. If there’s a shortage of one type of hyper-specific plastic pipette, the whole machine or kit is put out of use, which puts even more strain on the other testing equipment in the lab.

Hospital labs are quickly overrun with Covid-19 test orders, which means they must outsource them to other hospitals or labs. Two of the biggest lab companies are LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics. Both of those groups boast being able to process between 135,000 and 180,000 tests per day. But they’ve also got their own tests to process—they take in tests from either local or state health departments or some of those pop-up testing clinics you may have seen.

So, even though tests should take a day or so for high-priority patients or a few days for low-priority folks, they end up taking two weeks or so. Which isn’t great—there’s a lot of time you could become exposed to the virus after getting your nasal or saliva swab.

The US government right now is giving millions of dollars in loans or grants to a handful of companies to find new ways to make drugs that already exist.

Found while reporting: The US wants to use Covid-19 to insource drug manufacturing.

The ballpark figure for how long it takes for a drug to go from research and development to the market is a decade. During that time, the company making it is spending millions (or even billions!) to bring it to market. Only about 1/3 of drugs in development actually make it to market.

All of this is to say, when drug companies find a formula that works, they don’t mess with it. Even if they could be making it more efficiently, with less waste or with fewer materials. Because drugs have to be chemically perfect (they’re dealing with human health, after all), it’s far too financially risky for a drug company to try to tinker with a recipe that works.

But if you could do it—find a better way to make exactly the same product—you could make things a lot cheaper. Which theoretically could mean that drugs could cost less (although the cost of making a drug is only loosely reflected in the price consumers pay). And, more importantly, the US could stop buying drugs from foreign companies. Which could be a measure of safety if supply chains were messed up because of a global pandemic (which they were), but it’s a bit nationalistic too.

So that’s why the US government has decided to invest in Kodak (a former photography company) and Phlow, a newly-created (as of 2020) drug company. The hope is that these companies will be able to make the manufacturing shifts that existing drug companies can’t.

And finally, a breakdown of all the statuses of the Covid-19 vaccines farthest along in development.

Found while reporting: Why the US’s vaccine investment isn’t purely driven by speed.

A couple of notes:

  • Clinical trials have three phases: 1, 2, and 3. Phase 3 is the last trial a drug or vaccine must pass before gaining regulatory approval.

  • The bolded companies are those that have received grants from the US government to buy pre-emptive vaccines, assuming their clinical trials continue to go successfully.

  • The US has not invested in three of the five vaccines that are in Phase 3 trials.

Bonus fact: One man voices all your favorite cartoon characters.

I’ve needed to find happy outlets to recharge. For me, that’s been Avatar: The Last Airbender. (Yes, it’s a cartoon children’s show—just trust me on this one.)

One day while watching the credits, I saw they credited the voice actor who plays Appa and Momo…who are both animals on the show, and make only animal noises.

Appa, a flying white bison (I think he’s a beaver-bison, but they only ever refer to him as a Sky Bison).

Turns out the guy who voices Appa and Momo, Dee Bradley Baker, is an animal voice actor extraordinaire. He’s also the voice behind Lion in Steven Universe and Mandu in Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. He’s got some 600+ voice acting credits, including appearances on shows like American Dad and Family Guy. Can you even imagine having that job? Just to make fictional animal voices? And then, be one of the best in the world at it? Incredible!

Super bonus fact: Need some more funny distraction? Check out this work by Victoria Edel in the New Yorker’s Daily Shouts.

Also, subscribe to her newsletter.

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

If you love Scrap Facts, consider hitting the “like” button at the bottom of this page, or sending it to a friend. You can also send your own scrap facts to scrapfacts@gmail.com to be featured in future editions. Wanna keep in touch outside of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Top image by E. Y. Smith, headshot drawing by Richard Howard.

Issue 95.5

How do you measure the impacts of a pandemic?

July 2, 2020

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here. Love Scrap Facts? Consider hitting the “like” button, or tell your friends to sign up!

How do you measure the impact of a pandemic?

All of the numbers floating around in epidemiology these days—fatalities, case counts, percent of positive tests—have their own strengths and weaknesses. Alone, they can give snapshots of the pandemic, but you need several of them get the full story.

Next Thursday, July 9, at 11 am US eastern, I'll be interviewing Brooke Nichols, a public health economist and assistant professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health live (virtually) for Quartz. I’ll be asking her to break down some of these metrics, and also to explain which ones to follow as treatments and vaccines for Covid-19 progress.

Charging for an event? In this economy? No way—it’s F R E E! All you have to do is register here!

And here’s a teaser fact to whet your appetite for health stats:

In one metric used in public health economics, life expectancy is based on the longest living people on the planet—which now happen to be women in South Korea.

Found while reporting: How do you measure a Covid-19 fatality?

There’s a metric in public health called years of life lost, or YLL. It’s a way of looking at fatalities due to a given condition and factoring in when someone died. If someone was expected to live to 75, but died at 65 due to cancer, their YLL to cancer would be 10 (1 person x 10 years early = 10 YLL). Now the pandemic’s gone on for a bit, scientists have used YLL to publishing estimates saying that those who get sick with Covid-19 are losing over a decade of life on average.

YLL weighs young deaths more than older deaths. There may be a good reason you’d want to do that—like convincing non-health experts to fund a campaign to decrease diarrheal disease, which tends to affect and kill more children. That said, it can have some uncomfortable consequences when acted on at a state or national level (I’m looking at you, Arizona Department of Health).

But anyway, it presents an interesting issue: How do we know how many years of life were actually lost?

YLLs have been around for nearly a century, but they didn’t get off the ground in the public health world until the the 1990s, when researchers at the World Health Organization and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington published the first Global Burden of Disease study (it comes out every couple of years). This group estimated how long all people should live by looking at the longest some groups of people were living at the time.

From my article:

When researchers the first published the Global Burden of Disease report in 1993, they used women from Japan (pdf p. 5), with an average life expectancy of 82.5 years, as their baseline; for men, they assumed 80 years. In recent years, the WHO has switched to nearly 92 years for all genders, based on the predicted life expectancy for women living in South Korea in 2050.

But wait! Life expectancies differ drastically across countries—so it’d be better to use each country’s life expectancy, right? Wrong—it’s still complicated:

In the United States, the average life expectancy is 78.6 years for someone born in 2016. But even that doesn’t cover all the variation; systemic racism has reduced the average life expectancy for Black Americans born in 2015 to around 75, compared to 79 for white Americans.

So YLL can still exclude demographics within certain countries and undercount their pain.

YLL is one reasons many public health officials didn’t take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously at first; it looked like it was only affecting older adults, so it didn’t have a very high YLL. But now, we know better—younger people can become critically ill.

YLL isn’t necessarily a bad metric; it just has its shortcomings, which can have dire consequences if they’re ignored. But here in the US, we need to use all means necessary to convince public health authorities to take the pandemic seriously. Hopefully, reports showing that Covid-19 is having a substantial toll on YLLs can help that cause.

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

If you love Scrap Facts, consider hitting the “like” button at the bottom of this page, or sending it to a friend. Wanna keep in touch outside of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Top image by E. Y. Smith, headshot drawing by Richard Howard.

Issue 95

A second wave of grief, super-stable glass, and drug quarantines

June 28, 2020

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here. Love Scrap Facts? Consider hitting the “like” button, or tell your friends to sign up!

Friend, how are you? No need to actually answer (although you’re welcome to reach me at scrapfacts@gmail.com) but I ask you to take a moment to sit and look inward to notice how you are—how you really are.

It’s okay if you’re not feeling 100%. Since I last wrote, I’ve felt restless and irritable. I was quick to cry last week.

I had no idea why until last Tuesday when I was cleaning out the Quartz DC office (those of us outside of the New York office are fully remote now). On my desk, which I hadn’t seen for months, I found old notes I had written to myself as reminders of specific compliments my former boss, Lauren Brown, paid to me in 2016. They were simple, and arguably forgettable—stuff like “Lauren said she was proud of me”—but Lauren, although immeasurably kind, was a tough editor. Her praise was genuine and rare.

I wrote down her words then so that they could serve as future encouragement, and I’m very glad I did. (In general, I’ve found that if you have moments when you don’t believe in yourself, you can borrow from someone else’s belief in you temporarily.) But seeing them again in that quiet office brought up another feeling: grief.

Lauren died last October. She had terrible genetic luck, and developed breast cancer in her early 20s. She died before she hit 40. I wouldn’t say we were great friends, but she meant a tremendous deal to me. I wasn’t expecting to feel the mix of sadness for death, anger at cancer, and warmth from her memory like that.

But noticing that those words brought up remnants of grief made me realize that it’s the same feeling I’ve had over these past few weeks—albeit in a subdued form. In the United States, where I live, case counts of Covid-19 have creeped up ominously until this week, when they spiked violently. States are halting their reopening plans. Organizers are cancelling fall activities. It feels like we’re at the start of March again. As grief expert David Kessler pointed out then to the Harvard Business Review, it’s many types of grief, but wound up in there is a sort of anticipatory grief of not knowing when the pandemic will end, which is exacerbated by the ongoing reckoning the country is having with the systemic racism that has poisoned it for hundreds of years.

It’s understandable that you’d feel sad, defeated, or powerless. But, as I wrote in Quartz’ weekend brief yesterday, it’s important to remember that while these feelings can make us feel out of control, there are some things we can control. We can still wash our hands and wear a mask. We can call our friends and families to check in. We can practice patience and kindness toward strangers. We can take civic action like calling our representatives and peacefully demonstrating. We can educate ourselves on history. We can take breaks from all of that to find little bits of joy that recharge us, so we can keep going.

If you are going through more kinds of acute grief than these general feelings, my friend, my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry for your loss, and I hope that you can find moments of peace cherishing happy memories. If you’re feeling the way I’ve been—feeling like you can’t put your finger on why you’re upset or anxious or unproductive—I want you to know that you’re not alone. We’re going to get through all of this, and hopefully make some changes for the better along the way.

And now, for a few scrap facts:

Medical-grade glass is far more chemically stable than the material we drink from.

Found while reporting: The US government is spending millions to prevent a shortage of glass vaccine vials.

The vast majority of glass is silicon dioxide—the most abundant mineral in the world, often found as sand, whose chemical formula is SiO2. (Quartz is silicon dioxide in crystal form.) But the rest of the minerals that make up glass vary quite a bit—and it turns out, these changes matter.

The glasses we drink out of are SiO2 with a mix of sodium, calcium, aluminum, and magnesium (and combinations of these elements with oxygen). Together, this glass—called soda lime glass—is sturdy enough. We keep our glassware for ages, after all.

But on a molecular level, it starts falling apart almost immediately. Substances like water, which is the base of everything we drink, interact with some of these other elements. The effect is that these elements will leach out into our drink—although it’s never dangerous for us. The only time we notice, in fact, is after decades of use when the glass becomes foggy in appearance. That discoloration is not a buildup of drink residue, but the product of a chemical reaction.

For science and medicine, that interaction will not do. Liquid drugs—like injectable medications or vaccines—have to be exactly what they’re intended to be, for safety and efficacy’s sake. No added minerals whatsoever. So glass chemists have tinkered with the chemical compound and deduced that adding more aluminum and another element called boron is a much more stable substitute—and can even withstand different parts of the glass getting hot while other parts remain cold.

It’s much harder to make so-called borosilicate glass, which is why it’s only used in medical and scientific settings. And as scientists continue to fight against Covid-19, it’s critical that the supply chain can support their developments.

Bonus fact: TikTok—yes, that TikTok—is one of the hodgepodge of governmental and corporate donors trying to ensure poor countries can get Covid-19 vaccines.

Super bonus fact: Okay not actually a fact, but look at this toddler on TikTok. He’ll make you smile.

IV drugs go their own two-week quarantine for safety purposes.

Found while reporting: Dexamethasone’s supply chain is the most exciting thing about it.

If you stumble across a life-saving drug that needs to be mass-deployed immediately, cross your fingers that it’s in pill form.

This is because as far as drug-making goes, pills are much easier to mass-produce than liquid drugs. And after you make them, it doesn’t take nearly as long to do basic safety tests on them.

It may seem obvious that pills are dry (although liquid-gels fall into a more complicated category), but still, scientists have classified them as having “low water activity.” This means that it’d be much harder for contaminating bacteria to grow in or on them.

Liquid drugs, on the other hand, have “high water activity,” which means that, “they have to pass sterility testing which typically requires quarantining the product for two weeks,” Michael Ganio, the senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, told me. After two weeks, if there are no other contaminants like dust particles, and there are no chemical remnants of harmful bacteria known as endotoxins, the drugs can finally get shipped for use.

The advantage of liquid drugs is that they can often be injected, which means they work faster and can be stronger because they’ve bypassed the stomach and liver, which degrade and filter anything we take in orally. Pills have to contain active ingredients that can withstand this chemical and mechanical transformation, which can be harder to make in the lab—but typically faster to mass produce and more stable on the shelf later.

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

If you love Scrap Facts, consider hitting the “like” button at the bottom of this page, or sending it to a friend. Wanna keep in touch outside of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Top image by E. Y. Smith, headshot drawing by Richard Howard.

Issue 94

Words from Mary T. Bassett

June 6, 2020

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here. Love Scrap Facts? Consider hitting the “like” button, or tell your friends to sign up!

Friend, given recent events in the United States these past two weeks, I want you to read the piece below by Mary T. Bassett. She’s the former commissioner of health for New York City and is now with the Harvard School of Public Health.

It’s called “Public Health Meets the Problem of the Color Line.” It was the speech Bassett gave after she won the 2016 Calderone Prize, an award given out by Columbia School of Public Health to those who have made a “transformational contribution" to the field for her work in the Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, and the United States. You can access it here.

Found while reporting: How to address racism like the public health crisis it is.

Public Health Meets the Problem of the Color Line

by Mary T. Bassett

In her memoirs, Shirley Chisholm—the first woman to stand for the Democratic Party nomination and the first Black person to run for the US presidency—wrote, “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” Nearly 50 years later, her analysis stands. Congresswoman Chisholm has us consider how we lose sight of what is right in front of us.

For example, although we have never been more attentive to such concepts as the social determinants of health and health equity, our analysis is ironically myopic, a limitation that keeps us from realizing their full potential as frameworks.

Naming Racism

Today, we can speak of health equity without invoking race at all. Those who do speak of race seldom explicitly name racism, and even in those few forays into racism there is hardly mention of the history and contemporary situation of racial oppression or the staying power of White supremacy. This troubles me, because it does not take much for invisibility—what we do not see—to become blindness—what we can no longer see.

My goal is to convince you that we must explicitly and unapologetically name racism as we protect and promote health; this requires seeing the ideology of neutral public health science for what it is and what it does. We must deepen our analysis of racial oppression, which requires remembering uncomfortable truths about our shared history. And we must act with solidarity to heal a national pathology from which none of us—not you and not me—is immune.

Muddying Clear Waters?

There are many well-meaning and well-trained public health practitioners who disagree that we must name racism. Those who make that argument will sometimes claim that public health is about helping people, pointing to increased life spans and decreased infectious disease outbreaks over time. They will at other times claim that we do not want to muddy the clear rivers of public health with the messy politics of race, that this issue is best left to protesters, opinion editorials, and campaign speeches. I have also heard the claim that identifying racism opens a Pandora’s box of problems that our modest field cannot hope to address—that identifying racism hoists too heavy a burden. Last, there are those who claim racism is not the core issue; instead poverty is. We cannot fix racism, but we can fix poverty.

Of these, I believe the most dangerous claim is the first: that our technical expertise is enough to meet the challenges of poor health, wherever they are. This mind-set presumes a neutrality of public health that has never been true; it ignores the fact that public health both operates in a political context and is itself, like any science, permeated by ideology.

Scientific “Objectivity”

Much is conflated when medicine and public health attempt to fly below the radar of politics by donning the armor of scientific objectivity—guarding the faith by positing the cold logic of the scientific method. Science is not all methodology: one simply cannot judge the prudence of a whole ecology of funders, research proposals, theory building, conferences, journals, institutes, and applications by reducing it to the scientific method. Each of these facets is fully penetrated by the biases of human behavior, by the ideologies of our time.

We must remember that objectivity is not a synonym for neutrality. Objectivity refers to the idea that independent researchers can independently seek to test the same hypothesis and, if the hypothesized causal processes are indeed going on, they should find the same results if they use the same methods. However, what researchers choose to study and how they frame hypotheses determines the context in which objectivity is deployed. Consider, for example, that a great deal of unacceptable actions have taken place when objective methodology was used without regard for the role of science in oppression: eugenics, forced sterilization, the Tuskegee study. Often these are dismissed as bad science or unethical science, when in fact they too were science.

Knowing this, we must name racism in our research proposals, in our theories, in our oral presentations and conference tracks, and even in our hypotheses. The essence of naming racism is this: how we frame a problem is inextricable from how we solve it.

This is also why it is important to name racism as something more than poverty concentrated in communities of color. Not only does poverty not explain why several disparities cut across classes of Black and Latino people, but starting our analysis of poverty through the lens of racism changes how we think and act with respect to poverty.

Pandora’s Box

The anxiety that a focus on racism opens a Pandora’s box and asks us to do too much when we are not equipped to change society or upend the prison-industrial complex is untenable. The conditions of our society are not the outcome of some vague social physics impenetrable to change: they are the product of decisions made at every level of power. In that respect, each of us has real power to make different choices.

The story of Pandora’s box seems to be relayed only partially when invoked in editorials like this. When Pandora opens the box, out flies all manner of evils into the world. But sitting there at the bottom of the box is its only remaining item, hope.

It is crucial that we name racism, but naming racism is only the starting point for the work we must do. The question arises—how do we act in solidarity?

Power to make different choices

We must use our tools to carry out more critical research on racism to help us identify and act on long-standing barriers to health equity.2 We can look inward to the makeup and conduct of our own institutions. We can lend our voice to advocacy for racial justice.

In time, more will come to see, as I do, that racial justice is not just a value for public health work but a necessary commitment if we are to do our jobs competently. The mission of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is to protect and promote the health of all New Yorkers. I do not believe that mission can be accomplished without regard for the pervasive reality of racial injustice. As New York City often leads the nation in innovating responses to disease response and prevention, so too should it use an antiracist approach to public health.

We have a real moment to make change, one that has been paid for in blood. There are many who resist, many who are unsure, but I believe that the tide is turning. Here, another one of Shirley Chisholm’s reflections is apt: “I don’t measure America by its achievement, but by its potential.”

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

If you love Scrap Facts, consider hitting the “like” button at the bottom of this page, or sending it to a friend. You can also send your own scrap facts to scrapfacts@gmail.com to be featured in future editions. Wanna keep in touch outside of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Top image by E. Y. Smith, headshot drawing by Richard Howard.

Issue 93

Molecular catfishing, hospital blood supplies, and the importance of fart jokes

May 17, 2020

Hello friend! Welcome to Scrap Facts.

I'm a reporter covering health and science with insatiable curiosity. I love everything I learn, not all of which gets its own story. Each week, I'll bring you some of my favorite facts that I picked up on the job or while out living life.

Archives from Tinyletter can be found here. Love Scrap Facts? Consider hitting the “like” button, or tell your friends to sign up!

The many Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline have their own ways of duping our immune systems.

Found while reporting: We’ll need extraordinary measures to produce a Covid-19 vaccine.

Vaccines are biological catfish. They have to trick your B-cells, a type of immune cell, to make antibodies—something they normally do only if there’s an infection present. But the whole point of vaccines is that there is no infection actually present.

Vaccine developers can go about this trickery in a couple of ways—each requiring their own set of specialized equipment. To explain, I’d like you to pretend that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a cartoonish villain. Like Yzma, from The Emperor’s New Groove:


Weakened or inactivated virus vaccines
take copies of virus itself, but physically or genetically modify it so it’s harmless. This would be like making replicas of Yzma but disarming her, like taking Kronk (her muscle man) away, or robbing her of her magical potions and capabilities. She’s suddenly just a little old lady that can’t do your body any harm, but she’s threatening enough that B-cells make defenses against her.

Subunit vaccines replicate a signature part of the virus. For SARS-CoV-2, that’s the S-protein it uses to enter our cells. For Yzma, it’s the purple and blue peacock-like piece on the back of her dress. They essentially tell B-cells, “If you see anyone wearing this peacock piece, they’re an infection.” The piece on its own can’t hurt the body, of course, but it’s still enough to get the B-cells into action.

Virus-like particle vaccines are a type of subunit vaccines, but take a slightly different approach: They mimic the virus’ outer shell, or Yzma’s purple dress and black cape. Like other subunit vaccines, they communicate that anyone with this particular covering is Bad News we need antibody defenses against.

Viral vector vaccines use another virus, like a genetically modified measles virus. This modified virus can sneak into our cells, but then replicate new genetic information that codes for a specific signature protein of another virus—like the S-protein of SARS-CoV-2, or Yzma’s signature peacock piece. Antibodies then learn to build up defenses against the signature protein, and anything else that has it.

Nucleic acid vaccines also sneak in genetic information that codes for a virus’ signature protein, but use our own cells to make it. It’d be like placing the instructions to make Yzma’s peacock piece on kitchen counter, or spamming your Instagram pages with ads about how cool Yzma’s piece is, and how easy it is to make on your own. Either way, your B-cells take the hint and still rev up their defenses against them—even though you made the threatening bit yourself, technically. No nucleic acid vaccines have ever been approved—but there’s a first time for everything.

Right now, the landscape of Covid-19 vaccines in the pipeline looks like this:

Each of these approaches to vaccines, called platforms, have to be made with their own, hyper-specialized equipment. Normally, it takes years to build up factories with this equipment. Realistically, existing manufacturing plants will have to repurpose their equipment for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, whenever one is ready. But this is the best case scenario because that way, there’d be a diverse supply chain that could meet the needs of billions of people globally.

US hospitals may be on the verge of a blood shortage.

Found while reporting: Why hospitals fear a critical blood shortage as the US reopens.

Blood supply and demand is a funny thing. Even though many blood banks were worried that there would be a shortage of blood (a concern with any kind of major disaster, like hurricanes or mass shootings), they couldn’t stock up on donations. This is because blood and its various components have limited shelf-lives.

If donations couldn’t be used in the specific timeframe, they’d be wasted.

Blood donation centers try to only collect what they need. And even though many people generously donated at the beginning of lockdowns here in the US, some had to actually shut their doors or turn donations away, because they didn’t want to over-collect. Hospitals didn’t need as much blood as they typically do because elective surgeries were postponed, and car crashes were down because fewer people have been driving.

But now, some hospitals have opened back up again for surgeries or other procedures that may require transfusions. And centers haven’t been able to collect their usual numbers of donations. Several of the folks I spoke with for this story were worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with increasing hospital demand for blood.

This is in part because most centers are trying to keep more space between donors to reduce any possible spread of infection. (All blood centers only collect from healthy donors anyway, but just in case.) This means fewer people can come in at a time. More significantly, however, blood drives at offices or high schools and universities have been cancelled. Blood drives bring in between a quarter and nearly half of all donations, depending on the center.

If you can, please consider looking up your nearest independent blood center or Red Cross location to make an appointment in the next couple of weeks!

We need moments of joy to get through the hardest times in our lives.

Found while reporting: Finding moments of joy is the key to staying resilient.

In the last month, I came to my own mental crash as a result of constant reminders of a global situation that can feel hopeless. I took a few days off, felt refreshed, and came back to work excited to start reporting again. But then, last week, we had more awful news at my place of work. I still have my job, but so many of my wonderful, talented coworkers—so many of whom have been featured in this newsletter—have lost theirs. It sucks.

I’ve been thinking about happiness recently, and how in a lot of ways, that feeling of contentment feels so out reach right now. For a lot of reasons, we don’t feel secure or at peace, which are requisites happiness.

But joy, on the other hand, is still very much within our reach. Unlike happiness, joy is fleeting. It’s any kind of moment of pure delight or wonder. It can be silly—like taking time to see who can make the best fart noises by blowing raspberries—or it can be unbelievably tranquil, like catching the sunrise one early morning. Just any kind of moment that provides you a bit of escapism from the reality weighing on us.

Joy can tend to feel inappropriate, because it contradicts the gravity of a lot of situations. It also feels childlike, because it often comes from something so simple, and not all all complex like the majority of the problems adults face.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, a designer and writer, is a champion of joy. Joy is something that acts like a reset button for our our sympathetic nervous systems, which kick into gear when feel threatened. Stress responses are supposed to be temporarily, but for many of us, they’ve become prolonged. Experiencing moments of joy, she told me, allow our bodies a temporarily respite from stress, which helps us endure it in the long run. Holocaust survivors have said that humor—a form of joy—helped them make it through their horrific treatment.

Joy isn’t a replacement for happiness, and it’s certainly not the solution for the grief, financial stress, or loneliness many of us are feeling right now. But it’s what we’ve got. So, look for these moments when you can: smell homemade tacos, share dumb memes with friends, watch well-written sitcoms, read an incredible books, take a deep breath outside or through an open window, away from technology.
You can do this. I believe in you. ❤️

Animals of the week: Pets

With so many of us home for the foreseeable future, a lot of us in the United States have had the same thought: Now is finally the time to get that rescue cat or dog we’ve always wanted.

Counterintuitively, overall pet adoption hasn’t gone up. While there were initial spikes at first, it seems like overall adoption has gone down because shelters haven’t been able to stay open to take in new animals to rescue.

We got on this train, too.

This is Penelope. Or Lil Peen, Peener, Queen Peen, or OPTIMUS PEEN. These nicknames are silly and bring us joy. And it’s not like she answers anyway. She’s a cat.

That’s all for now—stay curious, friend ❤️

If you love Scrap Facts, consider hitting the “like” button at the bottom of this page, or sending it to a friend. You can also send your own scrap facts to scrapfacts@gmail.com to be featured in future editions. Wanna keep in touch outside of this newsletter? Follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

Top image by E. Y. Smith, headshot drawing by Richard Howard.

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