Wednesday, April 29, 2009

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TUE 29 APRIL - 4:00 pm. The World Health Organization held an emergency briefing in Geneva, Switzerland today at 4:00 PM EST, to raise the Pandemic Alert Level to Phase 5, indicating a "pandemic is imminent." President Obama will be holding a news conference at 8:00 PM EST today. The tone of officials today transitioned from "be cautious" to "strongly recommend contingency plans." Earlier today at a 3:00 PM news conference, the Secretary of Homeland Security advised all U.S. parents to begin contigency plans in the event their child's school was temporary closed if a suspected or confirmed case of H1N1 was identified in the student population of that institution. That has now come to pass in Maryland with six suspected cases in two counties: Baltimore Co. and Anne Arundel Co. Two of the six are school-aged children, and according to ABC2 News, neither child has been in school since last week. Please continue to post your questions or observations in the comments, as there will be no major updates until after the evening news.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


WED 29 APRIL - 9:00 AM. Today's quick links: For a worldmap view of current confirmed or suspected cases, view this BBC report as of 6:30 AM 4/29. Educators and health professionals should find useful the following two documents from the CDC: a 1-page poster called "Ounce of Prevention" and a more specific brochure on Seven Keys to a Healthier Home. This third document is a much larger PDF file from the US Dept of Education, and thoroughly discusses all considerations for pandemic preparation in the school community.
1. How is pandemic flu different from seasonal flu?
Visit this pop-up from the US portal for quick definitions. As widely reported in the media, seasonal flu claims over 30,000 victims per year in the U.S. alone, but the vast majority of those cases are the very young, elderly and those with weakened immune symptoms or have a pre-existing illness. While this strain of influenza has not been confirmed as a pandemic, it is exhibiting similar characteristics. Those include a short incubation period (24-48 hours), most victims are healthy teenagers or adults ranging in age from 16 (the median age of infections) to people in their 50's. Seasonal flu traditionally follows the change of seasons, starting in the fall, reaching mid- to late-winter peak, and fading into summer. Pandemic flu can occur at any time of the year, and has historically traversed the globe in several waves in six- to eight-week periods each. It is uncertain at this time if we are currently experiencing the first wave of a possible pandemic.
2. Why is "washing hands" a good first line of defense? What about hand sanitizer?
According to WebMD, the physical and chemical interactions of soap, water and abrasion creating by rubbing your hands together not only kills most bacteria and viruses, it eliminates them from the surface of your hands. That's provided you scrub 20 seconds or more. Hint: Sing the Happy Birthday song twice, and the job is done! According to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol are as effective as hand-washing.
3. Can I catch this virus from eating pork? Why did some countries ban pork imports?
A chorus of medical and agricultural professionals have made it clear the transmission pathways of viruses like these are NOT through handling or eating pork. For that to occur, the virus would have to somehow survive the slaughtering, processing and cooking. The CDC states "Swine influenza viruses are not transmitted by food. You can not get swine influenza from eating pork or pork products...Cooking pork to an internal temperature of 160°F kills the swine flu virus as it does other bacteria and viruses." The current strains of H5N1 avian influenza produce a different outcome, as we all heard reports of people in Southeast Asia and elsewhere falling ill from eating improperly cooked chicken. US and Mexican officials have expressed great displeasure at those countries whom have irresponsibly projected a link between swine products and suspectibility of the current influenza strain.
4. Does the appearance of "mild cases" in the US mean the worst has passed?
Historians and disease researchers alike point to similarities between this outbreak and previous global epidemics, and those indications tell us a trend could be developing. As Dr. Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy said on April 25, 2009, "Milder cases, on one hand, are good, but that may mean little," Osterholm said, adding that, during the first wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic in the spring, many cases were mild, but by late July and early August, the virus caused widespread, severe illness. Source: CIDRAP.
5. How might this affect school schedules since we're so close to June?
President Obama is reported by Reuters as asking schools "to consider closing" if there is a confirmed or even suspected case. The short- and long-term impacts of these decisions are nearly imcomprehensible for most of us. But the Dept of Health and Human Services has a detailed links on strategies for preparation, mitigation and likely impacts of system-wide school closures. The MD Dept of Mental Health and Hygiene conducted a strategy session in 2006 on how to deal with these issues and it provides excellent insight on the challenges.
With increasing awareness of the rapidly evolving flu outbreak, we all will have many valid and sensible questions. This site has been redesigned to provide accurate, reliable information aimed at addressing those questions. We're all on a collective global learning curve, so the teachable moment for everyone is now. As time permits, you will notice answers being added to emphasize authentic scientifically-based or government-supported sources. Any of you are welcome to hunt down sources and references yourself and post in the comments. In addition, feel free to post new questions there or to me directly by email ( and we address those in upcoming Q & A sessions.

Monday, April 27, 2009

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MON 27 APRIL - 5:00 pm. the World Health Organization has raised the Pandemic Alert System to Phase 4. After nearly five years of close calls with bird flu, this is the most significant public health statement of the 21st century, and will not be the last. That we are facing the possibility of a pandemic in the post-9/11 world should give you pause. This admission by the WHO indicates the world could already be in the first wave of an influenza epidemic. The current outbreak could extend another six to eight weeks and well into June. The case fatality rate (~6%) is already three times that of the 1918 Pandemic (~2%), unusual for a first wave. The summer could see a decrease in cases and a period of apparent recovery and improvement. One only hopes that a second wave does not occur, or at least that it does not mimic what happened in the Fall of 1918.

It should be obvious to anyone by now we are in uncharted, life-altering terrority. If someone you know is still in denial by now, then it's high time they start doing their homework. I started mine on this subject in 2005. As an intelligent, alert observer of the world around you, I maintain you have a "duty to act" in the best interests of your family, even if they are in denial. At the minimum, that duty involves staying informed and acting appropriately. I welcome anyone's input or questions, and I will update data trackers as time permits and information becomes available.

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UPDATE: MON 27 APRIL - 8:30 AM. Individual schools or districts in 4 states have closed on first signs of infection among students. The most significant example being a San Antonio district with 14 schools that is closed the entire week due to 2 confirmed cases in 1 building. In Ohio, a third-grader is recovering from a mild case, but the child's elementary school has closed for the week. The overall trend suggests school officials would just close the affected school first, and then wait to see what develops. With warm weather for the eastern two-thirds of the country, and increased mobility, we will probably see cases zooming like popcorn this week. It is not unreasonable to expect cases in Maryland by end of the week. If you consider how the virus is traveling by air routes from Mexico and from a world hub like London, then you could almost predict with some accuracy where it should appear next.
The time-honored advice remains true: Wash your hands correctly and frequently, and cover your cough or sneeze in the crook of your elbow if possible. Consider showing students this diagram to illustrate 6 easy steps that get the job done right. Links to PDF versions of Planning Checklists are in the previous post.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

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It's a Public Health Emergency

Enclosed are important informational links if you are concerned and wish to take appropriate but measured action. If you've just heard about this outbreak, a good place to start is this Q & A document from the WHO, posted by one of our readers. Then, if you're serious about being prepared, consider printing these useful Planning Checklists from the US government portal as follows:

Individuals & Families : K-12 Schools & Districts : Preschool & Child Care : Business & Work

SUMMARY OF DEVELOPMENTS: In White House briefing at 12:30pm EST 4-26, a "public health emergency" was declared by the Department of Homeland Security. The following alerts and advisories have been issued from the CDC, the WHO and Dept of Health and Human Services. A link to the CDC's confirmed US case tracker is also available. A San Antonio, Texas school district with 14 schools is closed this entire week because 2 students tested positive for the Swine Type A/H1N1 influenza. You can review the Superintendent's letter and related public health news release concerning the district's temporary closure.

Updated data on cases confirmed and suspected will be posted in the left sidebar. I recognize doing this will eventually become moot, as we may approach a point where tracking cases by state and country will get cumbersome. The best thing to do is be informed, prepared and prudent. The Texas district appears to be the first US school system closure in this outbreak. My bigger concern is what happens when several cases are reported in just one Maryland school. Do issues of public pressure, fear of infection or liability force the closure of that entire school system, or just the individual school? Image the impact on families and our local economy were one of the larger districts to close at this time of the year. How does this play into upcoming MD state-wide testing? Would MSDE quietly grant waivers to those systems allowing them ample cover before announcing a county-wide closure? Things that make you go hmmm, as one of my colleagues would say.

FOR TEACHERS: I have a feeling district officials across the Mid-Atlantic will prepare a statement of some kind to help answer questions students, staff and parents may have. The challenge of this however is how quickly information on the outbreak is changing. For the week ahead, I see this as a great opportunity for parents and educators alike to model the right kinds of personal hygiene and prudent action. Instead of getting kids all fired up about end of the world...get them talking seriously about appropriate hand-washing, adequate rest (9 hours for a teenager believe it or not). Don't let them draw you into a gotcha game of "are you still coming to class?" or "are we all going to die?" My answer: "Hey, if I'm here, teaching you, answering your questions, I have already done the preparations that are needed."

UPDATE: SAT 25 APRIL - 10:00 PM. The focus of this website is temporarily reassigned to tracking the Swine Flu outbreak. I originally introduced my plan to track pandemic influenza in February 2006, so this is not a new development for me, but it no doubt a bit shocking for some of you. You can link the image above in your favorites, posted in this Google Map format by an influenza research named Dr. Henry Niman, whose website Recombinomics I have quietly followed since starting to track Avian Influenza in Fall 2005. Another site called TB2K provides insight from like-minded observers who post aspects of a story not widely reported in mainstream news. Please note I'm not a contributor to any of these sites.

As reader BioPat has outlined in the comments, this is extremely serious development. We have a novel (never-before-seen) virus which according to the World Health Organization and CDC contains genetic material from pigs, humans and birds. As of today, the WHO is starting to beat pandemic drums in a way I had to never hear. Eye-popping events akin to a Hollywood disaster movie have already happened. You've heard about the closure of most public gatherings in Mexico City and the shutdown of a high school in San Antonio for all of this coming week. But did you know an archaeologist welcomed President Obama to Mexico's Anthropology museum on April 16. That same man died of flu-like symptoms the next day.

If you or someone that you know is at risk of death by denial, let me put this in perspective: It took 3 years for H5N1 (bird flu) to cause 79 fatalities (source: WHO cumulative report) This virus, Swine Influenza Type A/H1N1 caused 62 fatalies people in ONE WEEK. This is not appearing in some far-flung part of the world, it is in your backyard, my fellow Americans. With an incubation period of 2-5 days, the virus is probably already in 25 states by now, but the symptoms are just appearing. Since yesterday, cases have been reported in Queens, New York and Kansas. Though no deaths in the U.S. have occurred, spring flu is absolutely no fun, and all the U.S. cases are under age 40.

The 1918 Pandemic began in the spring when a less complicated version of the H1N1 virus jumped from pigs to soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas. Public health measures were obviously less strigent then, and Armistice Day celebrations across the country that fall sealed the fate of untold thousands. Over an 18-month period, over 500,000 US citizens died.. with at least 195,000 of those in the month of October 1918 alone. The pandemic came in roughly three waves, starting with a mild onset that spring and summer. A second, more deadly wave in the fall was exacerbated by public gatherings due to commemorations marking end of "The Great War." In Baltimore, schools were closed for over a month from October to November as officials tried to quarantine the public as best as could be expected.

The best any person or government could do still resulted in 20 million deaths worldwide from 1918-1920. Our government is already doing it's best, but those efforts may be confounded by warm weather spawning large public gatherings. Your survival in this outbreak may come down to a slight modification of Allstate's slogan: "Are you in clean hands?" As time permits, I will post details on what appropriate precautions you can take for yourself and your family. Call me an alarmist.. but in order for the deniers to win this one, they have to be right every single day until this passes. I only have to be right once, and it's the one time I hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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(and other interesting climate topics)

WED APRIL 22 - 4:00 PM. Like many of you, we observe Earth Week in the Foot household by doing what we've always done: recycling, composting, minimizing water usage, keeping nighttime lights to a minimum. In honor of better care for the Earth, I'd like to share some global topics to whet your appetite for the upcoming "bridge lessons" that will transition us to tropical cyclone season. Keep in mind these topics are not meant to stir controversy, but given they are outside what you have believed up to now, the following might provoke strong reactions: (1) The death of La Nina (2) Is Global Warming Over? (3) Ozone layer: getting worse not better.

1. HAS THE WITCH (La Nina) FINALLY DIED? What are the implications for hurricane season and next winter in the Northern Hemisphere if eastern Pacific equatorial waters continue warming into the fall? The quick and dirty answer: Some of North America's most significant hurricane seasons/winter storm seasons since 2000 occured in periods of Nina/Nino switchover. Very recent examples: Winter 2002-03, Isabel, Winter 2003-04, the defanging of Florida in 2004, and the A-Z + season of 2005. The current Nina regime ramped up by 2006 and held forth until now. If we wander back into neutral to weak Nino on a "below the charts" solar minimum next winter...high school seniors in 2009-10 will be LOVIN' LIFE let me tell you!

2. GLOBAL WARMING MIGHT BE OVER...FOR NOW? Over-estimates of solar output may have skewed climate modeling to the point that even the IPCC "low-end" projections of 2.4 to 5.3 deg C warming by 2100 may be too high. A number of reseachers, professional and amateur alike, have been comparing actual global temperature data to what the models predicted. I've got scathingly bad news. The IPCC "likely range" of annual temperature increase was set to 0.3 to 0.9 deg C. As reported by climate monitoring agencies such as the Hadley Centre, global temp increased is BELOW this range.
Example: The 2008 global temperature anomaly was projected to be +0.4 degrees C. ; the actual came in at +0.2 degrees C. Doesn't sound like much, right? That's technically 50% error on a planetary scale of average temperatures. Folks that deviation is so huge it's beyond ginormous as the students would say. How does this compare to current CO2 levels as measured by the Mauna Loa, Hawaii observatory? It depends on your perspective. The reported 2008 CO2 level was 387 ppm, but the "annual mean growth rate" of CO2 from 2007 to 2008 decreased from 2.17% to 1.66%. Yes, CO2 is rising, but aside from the seasonal flucuations, why did the Earth cool more than expected last year if CO2 levels still increased?
Is it fair to say one year's data constitutes a trend? Probably not, but the planet cooled last year for more than one reason, and many suspect the real culprit is the current solar minimum.
There's no question human activity has produced enormous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. However, what is to explain the apparent disparity between expected global temperatures and current solar activity? The UK-based Hadley Climate Center says this about the sun:
"Changes in solar activity do affect global temperatures, but research shows that, over the last 50 years, increased greenhouse gas concentrations have a much greater effect than changes in the Sun's energy."
Is there a correlation between 2008 being the coldest year globally since 2000 and the fact that sunspot frequency on the sun is lowest since 1913? Something worth investigating. For more hard data, take some time to read this well-done report by the Science and Public Policy Institute... it'll challenge your beliefs if you are a diehard Global Warming fan. They're not a front for FOX or MSNBC. Trust me, it's not politics, just plain good old-fashioned solid scientific data gathered from reputable agencies around the world.
3. YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A CONNECTION (between Ozone depletion and Global Warming). I know, science teachers everywhere will revolt in embarrassment over this one. We've all been told in class for years that the ozone hole has NOTHING to do with climate change. Ozone layer depletion: that problem is purely interference by CFC's from aerosols, right? Global warming: totally separate topic, right? Wrong. Sources: This
I've learned from the Environmental Science I'm taking presently that warming and expansion of the troposphere has caused cooling and contraction of the stratosphere. Scientists realized in recent years these colder stratospheric temps are allowing aerosol chemicals to more efficiently breakup existing ozone into O2 and atomic oxygen, as well as preventing formation of ozone in the first place. I know, you thought banning CFC-12 and -14 from spray cans, refrigerators and AC units would do the trick, right? Problem is, all the decaying appliances elsewhere in the world are still leaking chlorofluorocarbons. Even worse, any of us who use albuterol in a nebulizer are adding millions of CFCs to the atmosphere with each daily use. Just ONE chlorine atom can neutralize 100,000 ozone molecules. (This is a terrible admission, but my child might be a "climate killer" - she's been on albuterol for 3 years! We didn't know, I'm so sorry everyone! We put the machine away last week so as to not upset you all during Earth Week). Sources: 5/30/2008 FDA report and 8/25/2008 EPA report.
More sources, graphics and other supporting data to be added over the next month. Eventually each of these topics will become their own separate post with a full writeup complete with links to the appropriate VSC's for my science colleagues.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

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Celebrate Earth Day by knowing "the last day"

TUE APRIL 21 - 1:00 PM. This is a short news item for those curious the details of a possible "last day" decision by BCPS. It has been PROPOSED to the Baltimore County Board of Education that the last day of school COULD be Friday June 12 according to Exhibit EE in the board agenda for tonight's (4/21) meeting. Please note the following KEY statement in this exhibit:
"This proposed revision will go into effect upon the granting of a waiver for one (1) instructional day for the elementary school level by the Maryland State Board of Education. The waiver request will be considered at State Board’s meeting on 4/27 and 4/28/2009."
So be cautiously optimistic if on Wednesday 4/22 the Superintendent's Bulletin reports this calendar revision as tenatively approved. Being that tomorrow is Earth Day, any celebration of this news should be done in an environmentally appropriate way. As to why Friday 6/12 was proposed, I shall leave that speculation up to the economists and climate scientists among us.

In search of...ground truth
Enhancing data-driven relevancy of this site
This post is to introduce you to a plan for raising value of this site for all readers in advance of tropical cyclone season and the 2009-10 winter storm season. I wanted you to have an early look at the proposals in order to gather your feedback and recommendations. Details and graphics will be added over the next few weeks as your "real-time" input helps to refine the features in design. To familiarize you, let's start with an overview:
COCORAHS: A data-driven Professional Learning Community. Between April and September, a precipitation tracking and reporting network will become a central feature of this site. This will be accomplished by promoting and integrating features of the pre-existing CoCoRAHS network. This stands for "Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network" about which many of you are already aware. Our efforts will start with the Baltimore metro region, with the goal by September 1 of adding at least 10 new reporting stations to the City-County area as shown on the linked map. However, anyone in Maryland, across the Mid-Atlantic or around the country is welcome to join. If interested, please review their background, registration details and requirements.
Please know this is not a reinvention of the wheel. We are focusing solely on precipitation data. Granted there are already many other observation portals (wunderground, weatherbonk, the ABC2 weathernet and more). This project aims to provide a new service not readily available to teachers and others... a map-based, interactive, real-time format showing simply precipitation data during a high impact inclement weather event. For educators interested in relevant applications of weather to their lessons, this can serve as a professional learning community of like-minded science teachers. For weather enthusiasts, parents, emergency managers or even school officials, this "invitation only / password protected" feature will provide an instant and centralized snapshot of "what is on the ground, where and when it fell."
That's the "ground truth" we all seek during inclement weather, high-impact or not. My aim is to put in your hands the most cutting-edge tools and information available so we can all benefit from the collaborative observations of our online community. Check back later for details on how you can join this exciting development, and become a "Foot's Forecaster!"

Monday, April 6, 2009

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This week: Spring goes on break
The biennial bomb: Snow in Baltimore on Tuesday? Surely you jest.

MONDAY, APRIL 6: By now, you're well aware that things are getting wild again, and you thought, "wonder what Mr. Foot says about this?" So here you are, and I caught snooping again! Knew you'd be back here soon. I wish my snow predictions could be that good. Well it's true, things will go WAY haywire again starting today. Planning to attend Birdland's 4:05 pm season opener at Camden Yards? Better plan for a double-header, because this game might take that long in-between the rain delays, if it's not called outright before hand due to thunderstorms. Too bad the game wasn't held in Philly on Sunday.

My definition of the "biennial storm" refers to an uniquely unseasonal storm occuring on the same date every 2 years. April 7, 2007, was the Saturday before Easter and in tropical Dundalk, MD we awoke to 1/2" of snow. Friends of mine from our Adventure Booster Club were enroute to BWI airport for a southern Caribbean cruise. How ironic was snows the morning of your cruise vacation, talk about the ultimate pre-flight hassle!

STORM SUMMARY: The 2009 version of the biennial storm will much more "Fast and Furious" than the 2007 incident. The "Iowa Irritator" now blasting through the Ohio valley will by Tuesday 4/7 have blitzed into upstate New York. Even for Maryland, Monday into Tuesday could be a "four season day:" Mild in the morning, strong thunderstorms and isolated tornadoes by afternoon, with breath-whipping winds by evening which could deliver rain mixed with snow by nightfall. The NWS has hinting at this possibility on and off, so better keep checking your local forecast. By end of Tuesday, we might not be sure of the month.

Another Unlucky 7th?

At the mininum, most of the Mid-Atlantic will see monstrous but brief rainfall with the frontal passage. Behind that front, well... never mind. Let's just say it might be a good idea to wander on over to Netflix, round up some movies and get 'em in the pipeline. If you're waiting for the nice long stretches of 60's and 70's, I suggest arranging that escape from reality for most of this week. Just be back by Easter Sunday, for early indications are all will be right again with sunshine returning and seasonally acceptable highs in the 60's.

Following this storm, I will be posting an outline of upcoming plans for this site heading into hurricane season and the 2009-10 school year.