By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
“Anxiety” is a word I hear a lot lately. It’s perfectly understandable during a pandemic—people are anxious about their health, their finances, their loved ones. It’s giving us weird dreams and zapping our energy and making everyone eager to sift through the daily news feed to try to find a glimmer of hope. I’d argue that’s why Anthony Fauci has emerged as such a prominent public figure during the COVID-19 crisis.
The longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become ubiquitous on news broadcasts and in the headlines not only as a scientific authority, but for his calm and plain speaking style, and his ease explaining complex and evolving research during these turbulent times. His persona has clearly struck a chord with American audiences: In addition to his near daily media appearances, he’s been made into a collectible bobblehead and played by Brad Pitt on SNL.
My colleague Nsikan Akpan and I spoke with Fauci this week, and he delivered his characteristic message of sound, thoughtful science combined with level-headed caution. He also offered us a glimpse into his daily routine, which definitely puts my own tiredness and anxiety into perspective. His day starts at 5 a.m., when he eats a quick breakfast while perusing a pile of new emails. Next, he heads into the office and checks in on developments at his $6 billion institution before heading to the White House mid-afternoon for meetings and press conferences. Then it’s back to the institute for more work, punctuated by conference calls with politicians and the press.
“A month ago, I was foolish in that I just thought I could get away with almost no sleep,” he tells us. “It really wore me down badly. Thank goodness I have a very intelligent and clinically skilled wife who turned things around and said, You got to remember to eat, and you've got to remember to sleep. So once I got on track, the day is still impossible, but I don't think I'm going to drop dead from it. I hope not.”
Amid this intense schedule, does he have a secret on how to unwind? “I power walk with my wife, usually at night or on the weekends. It's dark, but we still do it anyway.”
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Little Shop of Horrors: So pretty—and it eats animals for lunch, Nat Geo photographer Anand Varna says. Varna was in Botswana’s Okavango Delta when he took this image of an inch-long fragment of a carnivorous aquatic plant called a bladderwort. Those bulbous structures are the “bladders” that the plant uses to trap tiny aquatic invertebrates. The plant evolved this strategy to survive in nutrient-poor water. Look for the pairs of tiny hairs that look like whiskers on the bladders. “These act as triggers,” Varna says, “causing the bladders to suction up whatever critter passes by.”
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Today in a minute
The Swedish experiment: Will Sweden be able to defeat COVID-19 without a lockdown? An initial view, as Nora Lorek reports for Nat Geo, is that the nation of 10 million is trusting its people to follow its guidelines on hygiene and on how close to get to each other. Many upper-class Swedes remain blithe, but masks, strict social distancing, and self-quarantine abound in working-class neighborhoods, where people often do high-risk jobs, such as public transit or nursing home work. “What I heard most often was that people would like to see more restrictions—or just get more clarity on current guidelines,” Lorek says. Here’s a way to tell how your nation is doing on its coronavirus response.
Goodbye to whaling? Iceland is one of the three nations that have held out the longest against ending whaling. But now, Iceland has decided for the second year in a row not to hunt whales. The head of one Icelandic company said it would never hunt whales again. Another company cited the pandemic and the popularity of whale watching as a reason to hold off. The other two holdout whaling nations are Norway and Japan, writes Kieran Mulvaney for Nat Geo.
So long, Frank Lloyd Wright: Well, some companies may be saying goodbye to the famous architect’s idea of open office plans. After the pandemic, businesses are rethinking how to seat employees in ways that would leave them less vulnerable to infection, writes Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens. Employers also are considering staggering arrival times, directing office foot traffic, creating staging areas for elevators, and conducting temperature checks. Why go back to offices at all? A Gallup poll finds most adult Americans working from home would prefer to remain doing so “as much as possible.”
Can the chestnut be saved? The American chestnut once provided a nation’s railroad ties and telephone poles. Its wood also created barns, cabins, and churches; its nuts fattened hogs and humans. More than a century after a blight fungus killed three billion of the trees, scientists have a developed a blight-resistant variety, and the once-mighty chestnut may be on the road back to abundance, the New York Times reports.
This week in the night sky
Super Flower Moon: Look for a stunning full moon to rise tonight in the east and dominate the overnight hours. The May full moon is traditionally known as the flower moon, due to all the blooming flowers this time of year across the Northern Hemisphere. This silvery orb is a bit more special because the official full phase arrives at 6:45 a.m. ET on Thursday—just as the moon’s egg-shaped orbit brings it especially close to Earth, delivering a supermoon. This means the full lunar disk will be slightly bigger and brighter than the average full moon. As an added stargazing treat, set your alarm early on Tuesday to see the waning gibbous moon pay a visit to bright Jupiter during your local dawn in the southern sky. — Andrew Fazekas
The big takeaway
Help the kelp: An unlikely coalition of surfers, scientists, fishers, and entrepreneurs is banding together to save the rubbery kelp, which has been decimated as waters warm off California. Scientists call fast-growing underwater forests of kelp the “sequoias of the sea” for their ability to store large amounts of carbon dioxide, writes Todd Woody for Nat Geo. These underwater forests also are home to sea lions and more than 800 marine species.
Overheard at Nat Geo
We asked, you answered: One of the joys of working at Nat Geo is that queries are answered by readers worldwide. When we asked if you are growing some of your own food throughout this pandemic, we got responses from Lebanon, from the United Kingdom (with pictures), and elsewhere. Brent Goddard showed us the lettuce he’s growing in his basement in five-gallon buckets. Laura Florence wrote that potatoes and onions spouted in her cupboards and she replanted them. “I’m growing sprouts,” said Trish May, sending this photo. “I will do celery next.” OK, I’m officially hungry.
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Once a vast sea: More than a thousand miles from any coast, the marshes outside Lincoln, Nebraska, are among the only places in the United States where the naturally occurring water is saline. The remnant of a vast prehistoric sea protects against flooding and supports species uniquely adapted to the salty conditions. Development has filled in and paved over 80 percent of the marshes, Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens reports, but conservationists say society is waking up to their value. Above, a newly restored marsh, separated by a chain link fence from a housing development. Below left, a full moon rises over a field of sunflowers growing on the marshland; right, a black swallowtail lands on photographer Madeline Cass's hand.