WATCH: Idaho COVID deniers encourage kids to burn their masks on state capitol steps

On Saturday, videos circulated of an anti-mask protest outside the state capitol in Boise, Idaho. People could be seen burning face masks in flaming barrels — and encouraging their children to join in.

According to KIDO talk radio, one of the demonstrators involved in the mask burning event said that it was organized in part by a "highly respected state legislator," although he refused to disclose who that legislator was.

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Senate hands Biden a win with passage of massive COVID relief bill

Early Saturday morning, after a night of frenzied negotiations, the U.S. Senate passed a massive COVID relief bill that will help out embattled states and Americans dealing with the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic that began during Donald Trump's last year in office.

Prior to the vote Politico reported, "As of Saturday morning, the Senate had been in session for more than 24 hours straight, with the vote-a-rama taking up most of the time and with several more hours to go. Senate Democrats largely stuck together throughout the night and staved off GOP efforts to drastically change the bill. While some Democrats defected on a handful of GOP amendments, those amendments required 60 votes to pass. Democrats also sidestepped a quagmire on undocumented immigrants that infuriated liberals last month after some moderates supported a proposal barring those immigrants from receiving checks. All 50 Democrats banded together to reject an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to bar relief payments from going to undocumented immigrants"

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Austin businesses slam Abbott for creating chaos with mask decision

On CNN Saturday, Austin Independent Business Alliance executive director Elizabeth Dixie Patrick slammed Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) for his repeal of a statewide mask mandate without consulting health experts, warning that it will cause chaos for Texas businesses.

"So it sounds like there is a lot of concern, maybe a little bit of panic going into next Wednesday," said anchor Amara Walker. "What are the conversations sounding like, and what kinds of plans are being made ahead of Wednesday when the mandates are being lifted?"

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Mars rover Perseverance goes for a 'spin'

The Mars rover Perseverance has successfully conducted its first test drive on the Red Planet, the US space agency NASA said Friday.

The six-wheeled rover travelled about 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in 33 minutes on Thursday, NASA said.

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Scientists look beyond solar system for traces of life

Searching for traces of life on Mars, like NASA is doing, is one thing.

But scientists are also looking further afield. Could it be found beyond our solar system?

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Galapagos island gets 36 endangered giant tortoises

Three dozen endangered giant tortoises, born and raised in captivity, have been released into the wild on one of the Galapagos islands, where their kind is from.

The Galapagos National Park said the 36 creatures were freed on the northeastern part of San Cristobal island, where an estimated 6,700 giant tortoises roam free.

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The daily life of a Neanderthal revealed from the gunk in their teeth

The typical vision of Neanderthals has not been particularly flattering, often featuring a giant club and spear and unfortunate sartorial choices. For years, researchers have worked to overturn this view, albeit with limited evidence.

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A 360,000-year-old ear bone forced scientists to rewrite the evolutionary history of cave bears

Cave bears were giant plant eating bears that roamed Europe and northern Asia, and went extinct around 25 thousand years ago. They hibernated in caves during the winter. This was a dangerous time, as those which had failed to fatten up enough during the summer would not survive hibernation.

As a result, many caves across Europe and northern Asia are now filled with the bones of cave bears, each one containing potentially thousands of individuals. In our new study, we analysed a bone from a cave in the Caucasus Mountains.

Our team recovered the genome from a 360,000-year-old cave bear, revealing new details of the animals' evolutionary history and almost rewriting their entire evolutionary tree. As well as what it can tell us about cave bear evolution, this discovery is a breakthrough for the field of ancient DNA.

February 2021 was an important month for the study of palaeogenomes – the analysis of genomes from extinct species. Two studies were published just one day apart, one reporting the oldest genome from a permafrost environment – from a 1.2 million year old mammoth tooth – and our new research, reporting the oldest genome from a non-permafrost environment.

Non-permafrost genomes

After death, the environment in which an animal dies in strongly affects the speed at which its tissues degrade. We see this every day in our kitchens – food left out on a hot day quickly spoils, but the same food stored in the freezer can last for months. DNA is no different, it survives a long time in the near perfect conditions of permafrost. But the warmer the storage conditions, like in non-permafrost environments, the faster DNA will degrade to a state where it's no longer recognisable as the original product.

Even if the DNA has survived all that time, a major challenge for palaeogenome recovery is ancient samples are also usually highly contaminated with microbial DNA from the external environment – like the bacteria that fed on the decaying corpse or live in the surrounding soil. These typically outnumber the sample DNA, which increases the cost of genome sequencing by up to a factor of 100. This make most palaeogenome sequencing of ancient samples simply too expensive to undertake.

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DeSantis slammed in Florida editorial for hiding COVID vaccine info as state reels

In a commentary that was both scorching and sarcastic, the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times took Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to task on Sunday morning for hiding information on when Floridians can expect to have access to the COVID-19 vaccines.

DeSantis, who has been resistant to taking the advice from the CDC to help stop the spread of the COVID-19, has recently hinted the age for those getting the vaccine might drop in March, but that wasn't enough the local newspaper's editorial board.

Under a pointed, 'Hey Gov. DeSantis, why so cagey with Covid vaccine details?" headline, the editors pointed out that the governor is already taking heat from his opponents for "not having a detailed plan for rolling out more COVID-19 vaccinations. Your 'no-plan is a good plan' mantra isn't playing well in some circles."

That said, the editors pressed the governor to be more transparent with his longterm plans -- if he has any.

"This isn't spycraft," they wrote. "Giving Floridians a basic understanding of who comes next in the vaccination queue won't somehow give the virus a leg up, like spilling the details of the D-Day invasion. This isn't poker where deception is paramount. Show Floridians a few of your cards. They can handle it."

The editorial pointedly jabbed the Republican governor for "selecting two wealthy and predominantly white Manatee County ZIP codes to distribute an 'extra' 3,000 vaccinations," before applauding him for moving frontline health care workers and seniors to the front of the vaccination line -- but said beyond that, the public is being left in the dark.

"The main bottleneck has been the supply of vaccines, something largely outside of a governor's control," the editors admitted before adding, "All the more reason for you to dole out a few more details. Lately, you have indicated that teachers and law enforcement over the age of 50 could be next, but even then you couched it with 'probably' and 'I think.' On Thursday, you said the state will lower the age of eligibility for shots 'sometime in March.' You didn't say what the new age might be — 60? 55? Again, we don't need a 100-page treatise on where and how the state plans to distribute the vaccine over the next few months. But give us more than just dribs and drabs."

"A little more communication will allay fears and quell anxiety by helping Floridians determine where they fall on the schedule. Most residents are willing to wait their turn. They understand there isn't enough vaccine to go around yet, and they don't blame you for that. But you can help them by being more forthcoming, by treating your plan as less of a secret," they wrote before concluding, "We'd like to know a few more details about the rest of us."

You can read the whole piece here.

'Their blood has the death shot in it!': Anti-vaxxers freaking out over blood donations from the vaccinated

According to a report from the Daily Beast, the anti-vaxxer movement is now having a meltdown over the fact that blood banks are accepting blood from people who have had their COVID-19 vaccination shots and they are spreading unfounded rumors that receiving the blood could be dangerous.

As with many conspiracy rumors, the latest wave of attacks on vaccines is coming from a far-right Facebook page where the anti-vax crowd is whipping up the hysteria that the vaccines may be more dangerous than the coronavirus that is still sweeping the country.

Among the comments reported by the Beast's Daniel Modlin, was one person wrote, "There are people donating blood after being shot up with the covid crap. This terrifies me."

Another added, "Are people that stupid to donate blood after getting a shot?"

In an interview with the Beast, one member of the group who wrote, "In the future ONLY the vaccinated will be able to give blood. Think I am joking? Just watch," and then said is meant to be tongue in cheek, said their worries are that COVID-19 isn't that dangerous while the newly-developed vaccines represent a great unknown.

"We know the health risk of COVID pretty well now," Nick Savoy of Houston said. "We don't know those from the vaccine. It might be minimal. However, unknowns rank higher in my risk ranking."

As the Beast's Modlin wrote, "While there are typically deferral periods for donating blood after receiving a vaccination for diseases like rubella, measles, and chicken pox, in most cases there is no such period for people who received the COVID-19 vaccine as long as they are feeling well. As a precaution when donating, potential donors must provide their vaccine manufacturer's name. If they cannot, they are instructed to wait two weeks before donating," before adding, "Regardless, anti-vaxxers believe without evidence that the lack of a deferral period—and in some more extreme cases, allowing the vaccinated to donate blood at all—is a backdoor to genetic modification."

According to Dr. Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania, the anti-vaxxers are letting fears of getting shots override the science.

"Vaccinations and transfusions are frightening to people who don't understand them or don't trust the science behind them," she explained.

Dr. Brittany Kmush, an assistant professor of public health at Syracuse University agreed.

"The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are not live vaccines," she noted. "The reason we have deferral periods for donating blood after receiving a live, attenuated vaccine is because… in immunocompromised people, even a weakened virus could potentially be dangerous. And since people who are receiving transfusions are typically immunocompromised, there's a two-week window for added safety."

Dr. Alyssa Ziman, the chief of transfusion medicine for UCLA Health added that, as Modlin reported, "There is no evidence that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted via blood transfusion."

You can read more here (subscription required.)

A third vaccine just got approved. Does that mean more vaccines will soon be available?

On Friday, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee authorized Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine, determining it to be safe and effective. This makes it likely that the FDA will allow the vaccine to be distributed throughout the United States potentially as early as Saturday. (It has not yet done so at the time of this writing.) When it does this, Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine be the third vaccine allowed for distribution the United States, as well as the first designed to be given in one dose and to not utilize new mRNA technology.

This article first appeared in Salon.

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CDC director warns of a 'very concerning shift' in the COVID-19  data

With many millions of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 every week and infection rates decreasing in recent weeks, medical experts have been expressing some optimism about the future course of the pandemic. But Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned on Friday that the declines are now "stalling."

In a briefing on Friday, the CDC director explained, "Over the last few weeks, cases and hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January — and deaths had been declining in the past week. But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling, potentially leveling off at still a very high number. We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory."

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Teenage T-Rexes edged out smaller dinosaur species, says study

A team of US scientists has demonstrated that the offspring of huge carnivorous dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex, who grew from the size of house cats to towering monsters, reshaped their ecosystems by outcompeting smaller rival species.

Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, helps answer an enduring mystery about the 150-million-year rule of dinosaurs: why were there many more large species compared to small, which is the opposite of what we see in land animals today?

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