Coronavirus information

Vaccines are widely available in the US for walk-in service at medical providers and pharmacies. In Canada, first doses are available by appointment and second doses of are being prioritized by age group.

This is a list of official websites with information on COVID-19 coronavirus in the region.

Continue reading “Coronavirus information”

Morning lunar eclipse

The Total Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021; lighter areas saw more of the eclipse. (NASA GSFC)

A lunar eclipse greeted early risers on 26 May 2021. Earth’s shadow totally covered the moon for a few minutes at about 1119 UT. This was about the time the moon was setting over North America, and was after sunrise in the far north of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Goddard Spaceflight Center’s eclipse page is always an excellent resource to plan future eclipse viewing.

mtDNA helped foresters during Toronto beetle battle

In 2003, a humble cargo pallet set off a 17-year battle that struck at the heart of the Canadian identity. Larvae of the Asian Longhorn Beetle had emerged from their slumber deep inside the cheap timber and found their way into maple trees in Vaughan, Ontario, just a short distance from Toronto, the home of the Maple Leafs.

Dr. Amanda Roe (Natural Resources Canada / Algoma U) lectures 03 Mar 2021 on regional variations in mitochondrial DNA in the Asian Longhorn Beetle, comparing native range and invasion sites.

Dr. Amanda Roe is a researcher in molecular and functional ecology at Natural Resources Canada’s Great Lakes Forestry Centre, and a part-time lecturer at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Dr. Roe lectured on 3 March during Algoma U Research Week 2021 on the work scientists around the world are doing to control the spread of the Asian Longhorn Beetle, a species native to Asia that is a pest in Europe and North America.

Though Asian Longhorn Beetles are seldom seen on the bark of trees, the distinctive holes they make as they burrow through the tree, plus their fairly large size (~35mm) and their speckled body colour makes their presence fairly easy to spot. The beetle populations are also reasonably slow-moving, reproducing only once per year. This allows the relevant authorities – in this case, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Natural Resources Canada – to simply ban firewood movement in the area, identify affected trees, then cut down and burn any nearby tree the beetle might inhabit.

But where, precisely, are these beetles coming from? Molecular ecology makes it possible to go a step farther, and identify the home area that invasive species may have come from. Scientists do this by looking at mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA does not change due to an individual’s parents, but mtDNA does accumulate distinctive variations that can identify members of the same extended family or region.

Scientists have collected an mtDNA database of Asian Longhorn Beetles across their home range in China and Korea, a database that shows distinct geographic variations. So, when the same mtDNA tests are done on a captured beetle from an invasive infestation, the tests can help identify which general region the invader is from. The infestation in Vaughan likely originated from coastal regions of northeastern China or Korea.

Perhaps more importantly, it can help researchers pick up the pieces when initial control measures were ineffective. After the Vaughan invasion had been largely controlled, there was another outbreak of ALB in Mississauga. mtDNA tests showed that the second site was a satellite of the original invasion from Vaughan.

mtDNA can’t do everything, of course: a CSI-style trackback from mtDNA data, leading to a particular shipment or pallet supplier, is science fiction, partly because very few warehouse workers actually catch a beetle in the act of wriggling free. As plastic or metal replacements are also fairly expensive, the simple, cheap solution to the pallet problem is heat treatment and an ISPM-15 stamp.

Following a generation-long struggle that concluded with five years of carefully looking through trees in Toronto and Mississauga for any re-emergence of the pest, CFIA finally declared Ontario to be free of the Asian Longhorn Beetle in June 2020. Early detection makes all the difference in preventing future outbreaks of any invasive species, and members of the public can always help by sharing photos and samples of strange insects they find with agricultural extensions, forestry agencies, or research biologists.

US flights to Winnipeg halted; New quarantine rules in Calgary

At 0230Z 03 Feb 2021, SkyWest 4472 landed in Winnipeg, closing the book on international flights to YWG during the pandemic. Later in the day on 03 February, new restrictions by the government of Canada took effect in order to limit the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19.

SKW4472 on 03 Feb 2021. (FlightAware/OSM/Fargo Orbit)

The move echoes Canada’s measures earlier in the pandemic that limited most overseas passengers to landing in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal. US flights, though not originally limited in the same way, were still rapidly dropped as US carriers reduced service. With the new measures in force, US flights cannot return to Regina or Saskatoon for the forseeable future.

Alberta’s measures to contain the virus now include up to 24 days of quarantine, with 14 days of quarantine for everyone in the household, following 10 days of home isolation for any confirmed positive case. Measures are even stricter at Calgary Airport, with all arriving passengers getting an additional COVID test, a police escort to a quarantine hotel for at least 3 days of isolation, a $2000 fee, and only then, if released, entering into a 14+ day home quarantine.

Governor General Julie Payette, former astronaut, resigns

Governor General Julie Payette, famously in past years a Canadian Space Agency astronaut, resigned today following an investigation into her workplace behaviour at the Office of the Governor General. Also departing is Payette’s secretary, Assunta Di Lorenzo, who also engaged in mistreatment of employees. The mistreatment included verbal abuse and public shaming for minor issues.

Following publicized problems interacting with staff members, an independent panel investigated for Prime Minister Trudeau. Payette resigned when it became clear the report established that her leadership and behaviour was incompatible with the dignity and storied history of Rideau Hall.

Payette was selected as a CSA astronaut in 1992 and trained at NASA starting in 1996. She flew on two Space Shuttle missions (STS-96 and STS-127) in 1999 and 2009, and was one of the most prominent francophone science and technology leaders in Canada. The PM may have rushed to make such a stellar candidate the viceroy, missing concerning incidents with co-workers during Payette’s stints at the Montréal Science Centre and Canadian Olympic Committee.

Payette’s storied career may still be an example for aspiring young pilots and engineers to follow, but it is a reminder that the skills to survive on the flight line may not be the same as are needed to lead an office workspace, let alone a multicultural nation. The role of Governor General is an important position that requires a regal composure, deep patience, and tact. Payette, for her part, has taken the effort to leave with dignity.

This is not to say that all astronauts make bad managers, even to Canadian sentiments; Trudeau’s recent cabinet shuffle gave MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau the high-profile role of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Michigan factory sends out first COVID vaccines

Pfizer’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan shipped operational doses of a COVID-19 vaccine across the United States on 13 December 2020. UPS and FedEx are carrying the shipments across the United States. Healthcare workers will be among the first to receive the doses.

This follows the FDA’s emergency use approval for the vaccine on the 12th, shortly following Health Canada’s approval on the 9th. The earliest shipments will provide enough doses to vaccinate 124,500 Canadians and 1.5 million Americans. In this phase, health care workers receiving the vaccine will be receiving it nearly immediately. Though procedures will vary, for the moment states and provinces will receive doses, then send out smaller shipments to health facilities. Those facilities have already pre-designated their most at-risk individuals to get the shot as soon as possible, and one additional follow-up dose a few weeks later.

Though the Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and warehoused at -70 C, the temperature of dry ice or specialized medical or scientific ultracold freezers, it has sufficient stability at standard temperatures to still allow for robust distribution options. These issues will not be a problem in the earliest stages of vaccine distribution. As this and other vaccines become more widely available, they will be offered to additional people based on local distribution plans. It will be at this stage that the Pfizer vaccine’s shelf life of a few days at standard -20 C and 4 C refrigeration temperatures is put to a real-world test.

Though work continues on other vaccines, the moment 18-wheelers and airplanes departed West Michigan represents a climactic moment in a banner year for biotechnology, as well as a triumph for science and industry in the Midwest.

Hot abort past fortnight

Orbital news
23 Aug 2020 0227 UT – Jiuquan CZ-2D Gaofen-9
29 Aug 2020 0728 UT – Canaveral Delta IV USMil (abort)
31 Aug 2020 0305 UT – Mahia Electron Sequoia Photon
31 Aug 2020 2044 UT – OGO-1 reentry (hangtime 55yr11mo26d 19h21m)
31 Aug 2020 2318 UT – Canaveral Falcon 9 SAOCOM 1B

03 Sep 2020 0151 UT – Kourou Vega rideshare mission
03 Sep 2020 1246 UT – Canaveral Falcon 9 Starlink

Regional news
21 Aug 2020 – Wildfire smoke reaches Calgary
21 Aug 2020 – Manitoba pilot hits glass ceiling in public service hiring
22 Aug 2020 – US domestic surveillance flights declared lawful
24 Aug 2020 – Dr. Cindy Blaha (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Kyle Fraser-Mines (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant

24 Aug 2020 – Carleton C galactic emissions study featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Dr. Ryan Terrien (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Eric Kuha, MS (Leech Lake TC) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – St. Catharine U Ballooning Team featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Leech Lake TC rocket team featured by Minnesota Space Grant

24 Aug 2020 – Freja Olsen (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Satellite imagery of Iowa derecho damage
24 Aug 2020 – Delta furloughs almost 2000 pilots
26 Aug 2020 – Carleton C stellar spectroscopy featured by Minnesota Space Grant
26 Aug 2020 – New North Dakota aviation scholarship

27 Aug 2020 – Omaha plans new science museum
27 Aug 2020 – Delta bans maskless fliers
27 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin gets data science grant
27 Aug 2020 – Saskatchewan will produce rare earth elements
27 Aug 2020 – Winners announced from 21 Aug SNOLAB Science Talks

28 Aug 2020 – Bozeman drone firm Ascent Vision Technology sold to CACI
28 Aug 2020 – Nebraska wildfire spreads over 16 sq km
28 Aug 2020 – Montana pilot dies in Oregon fighting fires
29 Aug 2020 – Skydiving fatality near Westlock AB
29 Aug 2020 – Lost drone returned to owner in Thunder Bay

29 Aug 2020 – Sun Country parcel deal keeps airline afloat
31 Aug 2020 – American Airlines will compete with Allegiant on Billings-Phoenix route
31 Aug 2020 – Mackenzie Klima (Iowa SU) featured by Iowa Space Grant
31 Aug 2020 – Restored Korean War B-25J flies through Missoula
01 Sep 2020 – Fatal case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Nebraska

01 Sep 2020 – Saskatoon library is local election issue
01 Sep 2020 – Art contest details from Iowa Space Grant
01 Sep 2020 – Drake U announces new partner 2-year institution: John Dee Bright C
01 Sep 2020 – Snowbirds flight team reinstated, fly Tutors back to Moose Jaw
01 Sep 2020 – WestJet passes higher Nav Canada fees to customers

02 Sep 2020 – U Alberta education servers crash on first day of class
02 Sep 2020 – Art contest details from Wisconsin Space Grant
02 Sep 2020 – Minnesota Space Grant cancels Midwest High Power Rocket Competition
02 Sep 2020 – MN-ROADS robotics program featured by Minnesota Space Grant
02 Sep 2020 – 16,000 furloughs planned at United Airlines

03 Sep 2020 – Concordia C plasma physics research featured by Minnesota Space Grant
03 Sep 2020 – Lisa Campbell now leader of Canadian Space Agency
03 Sep 2020 – TSB releases report on 10 May 2019 collision involving Sudbury-bound flight
03 Sep 2020 – North Dakota SU transportation studies count as STEM credit

Further news
23 Aug 2020 – PS752 flight data downloaded
25 Aug 2020 – Astronomers issue full report on how to see past glare of commsat clouds
25 Aug 2020 – Pulsar Fusion makes a plasma thruster, still chasing space fusion reactor
25 Aug 2020 – InSight detects Phobos transit
25 Aug 2020 – Tianwen-1 completes en route test

25 Aug 2020 – Crew returns to US side of ISS after leak check
25 Aug 2020 – Starliner plans for next three flights, starting as soon as December 2020
25 Aug 2020 – USPS mail processing sapped by cuts in Minnesota
25 Aug 2020 – Wildfire smoke billows into Iowa
26 Aug 2020 – ISS crew checks for air leak over extra day sealed in on Russian side

26 Aug 2020 – Hope probe images Mars
26 Aug 2020 – Skylab astronaut Jerry Carr dead at 88
27 Aug 2020 – Oneweb still getting new FCC approvals
28 Aug 2020 – SLS cost overruns
28 Aug 2020 – 787 defect grounds planes

29 Aug 2020 – Satellite TV operator DirecTV for sale again
31 Aug 2020 – Outage at CenturyLink affects over 3% of Internet traffic
31 Aug 2020 – Lucy, Jovian asteroid probe, starts assembly, may launch 2021
31 Aug 2020 – US mainline air carriers finally end onerous change fees
31 Aug 2020 – Teprel-B rocket engine passes test

31 Aug 2020 – Amazon approved to fly drone deliveries in US airspace
01 Sep 2020 – JAXA moon rover named ‘Lunar Cruiser’
01 Sep 2020 – Small nuclear reactor from NuScale gets US safety approval
01 Sep 2020 – Airline internet provider Gogo bought by Intelsat
01 Sep 2020 – Jetpack operator spotted too close to LAX

01 Sep 2020 – FAA approves Electron launches from Virginia
02 Sep 2020 – Plasma thruster research featured by ESA
02 Sep 2020 – The Register interviews Rocket Lab exec
02 Sep 2020 – Minuteman III test launch at Vandenberg AFB
02 Sep 2020 – SLS booster test

02 Sep 2020 – SpaceX seeks FCC broadband funds
03 Sep 2020 – FAA awards airport grants
03 Sep 2020 – US drone part import ban affects firefighting
03 Sep 2020 – Starship SN6 test flight

COVID-19 matters
21 Aug 2020 – Ontario finalizes 3M PPE factory deal
22 Aug 2020 – Canada Post closes Edmonton plant for cleaning after COVID case
22 Aug 2020 – South Dakota COVID data hacked
22 Aug 2020 – U North Dakota surge in COVID cases
22 Aug 2020 – 42 cases sets new record in Manitoba

23 Aug 2020 – VIDO-InterVac vaccine building own production line, other delays
24 Aug 2020 – COVID-19 can be caught multiple times, body does not stay immune
25 Aug 2020 – FDA resets expectations for convalescent plasma: safe but only slightly effective
25 Aug 2020 – North Dakota SU prof publishes roundup of COVID drugs
25 Aug 2020 – COVID outbreak follows Sturgis rally

25 Aug 2020 – Nebraska COVID data struck by computer glitch
25 Aug 2020 – Minnesota requires COVID testing for nursing home staff
25 Aug 2020 – Hy-Vee pharmacies added to drive-through COVID test effort

26 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin redesigns the facemask
26 Aug 2020 – Minnesota sticks to wider COVID test plan
26 Aug 2020 – Kenosee water park reopens after closure
27 Aug 2020 – New antigen tests need less lab equipment, demand still outpaces supply
28 Aug 2020 – ASM Logic of Burnsville MN creates software to coordinate COVID supplies in Cameroon

28 Aug 2020 – Lengthy recovery from COVID for ND Supreme Court justice
29 Aug 2020 – Major outbreak at U Iowa
29 Aug 2020 – Manitoba fighting outbreaks at nursing homes
31 Aug 2020 – Roblin MB fights to keep full hospital services in town
31 Aug 2020 – US cancels ventilator order

31 Aug 2020 – U Calgary dorms are 70% empty this year
31 Aug 2020 – Canada buys Novavax, J+J vaccines
31 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin joins Phase III tests of AstraZeneca vaccine
31 Aug 2020 – Travel restrictions return to Northern Manitoba
31 Aug 2020 – One fifth of COVID tests at Iowa SU are positive

31 Aug 2020 – Iowa reaches highest COVID rate in US
31 Aug 2020 – Sweden strategy, poor in hindsight, considered for United States
01 Sep 2020 – Biohackers test experimental vaccines on themselves
01 Sep 2020 – U Nebraska-Lincoln greek houses quarantined
01 Sep 2020 – Phase II/III study of Regeneron antibodies in Sioux Falls

01 Sep 2020 – U Minnesota reopens after 2 week delay
02 Sep 2020 – US not joining international vaccine effort
02 Sep 2020 – Phase III test of AstraZeneca vaccine at HealthPartners in Minnesota
02 Sep 2020 – Studies continue to confirm steroids help COVID patients in hospital
02 Sep 2020 – Medtronic announces restructuring and layoffs

02 Sep 2020 – Likely first US vaccines will ship frozen: Moderna at -20C, Pfizer at ultracold -70 C
03 Sep 2020 – Manitoba will launch PPE test centre
03 Sep 2020 – Iowa schools reopen in COVID wave, lawsuits fly

August 2020 aviation safety roundup

Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and northwest Ontario that were reported to the Transportation Safety Board through 15 August 2020:

17 Jul 2020 – C-FHBS gear up landing at Olds-Didsbury AB
17 Jul 2020 – C-GDUK load jettison near Slave Lake AB
18 Jul 2020 – C-GUSD emergency landing near Winnipeg-St.Andrews
21 Jul 2020 – C-FFVS load jettison north of Red Lake ON
21 Jul 2020 – C-FVIY landing gear issue at Lethbridge
21 Jul 2020 – C-GQNS wire strike at Medstead SK
23 Jul 2020 – C-GRGO equipment failure near Calgary
24 Jul 2020 – C-FBRG damaged on landing at Chapleau ON
27 Jul 2020 – C-GEDF damaged on takeoff near Calmar AB
28 Jul 2020 – N370JA, N53134 loss of separation at Fort McMurray
29 Jul 2020 – AMT200 gear up landing at Regina
30 Jul 2020 – Learjet bird strike on takeoff at Thunder Bay
31 Jul 2020 – C-GKGA cowling separation incident at Regina
01 Aug 2020 – C-FSCT damaged on landing near Sault Ste. Marie ON
04 Aug 2020 – C-FCJZ icing incident at Regina
04 Aug 2020 – C-FHZB damaged on landing at Springbank AB
04 Aug 2020 – C-FSPN control issues at Leaf Rapids ON
04 Aug 2020 – C-GKIB damaged on landing at CFR7 (AB)
08 Aug 2020 – C-GQIF fuel spill at Estevan
11 Aug 2020 – C-FAJR hit by drone at Winnipeg-St.Andrews

Here is a list of recent aviation safety incidents in the Dakotas, Iowa, upper and western Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, as reported to the Federal Aviation Administration through 14 August 2020:

17 Jul 2020 – N1962N damaged on landing at Osceola WI
20 Jul 2020 – N47T gear up landing at Burlington WI
20 Jul 2020 – N570WH wire strike near Dickeyville WI
21 Jul 2020 – N208MP damaged on landing at Thompson Falls MT
21 Jul 2020 – N2943C damaged on landing at Cambridge MN
25 Jul 2020 – N327WB crashed near Imperial NE
25 Jul 2020 – N502KJ fatal crash near Grant NE
27 Jul 2020 – N9278G emergency landing at Hartington NE
27 Jul 2020 – N53163 fatal crash near Corsica SD
27 Jul 2020 – N570WH collision on landing at Dakota WI
27 Jul 2020 – N771GB emergency landing at Hebron NE
29 Jul 2020 – N22709 emergency landing near Watertown SD
30 Jul 2020 – N4388T emergency landing near Powell WY
30 Jul 2020 – N337V fatal crash in Madison County MT
31 Jul 2020 – N16810 wire strike at Hubbard NE
01 Aug 2020 – N58B emergency landing near Helena
03 Aug 2020 – N45303 downdraft crash near Jackson Hole
03 Aug 2020 – N185GK runway excursion on landing at Kalispell
03 Aug 2020 – N67CD gear up landing at Sioux City
08 Aug 2020 – N5580W runway excursion on landing at Sparta WI
09 Aug 2020 – N89LA crashed near Logan IA
09 Aug 2020 – N6849B crashed in residential area near Burlington WI
10 Aug 2020 – N298WY crashed near Grover WY
12 Aug 2020 – N6299R emergency landing at Mosinee WI

ExpressJet regional airline shuts down

The Summer 2020 Midwest route network for ExpressJet. ExpressJet announced its imminent shutdown on 30 Jul 2020. (ExpressJet)

United Express regional airline ExpressJet is shutting down. The metro Atlanta-based airline announced the move in an e-mail notice to staff on 30 July 2020. Most ExpressJet staff have already been laid off, and have now lost their jobs.

CommutAir, another United Express regional airline based in metro Cleveland, will now operate the aircraft and destinations previously used by ExpressJet.

The move affects the United Airlines network at all remaining ExpressJet destinations, including Fargo, Sioux Falls, and Peoria. In October 2019, before the pandemic reduced demand for airline tickets, ExpressJet was serving Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Fargo, Grand Rapids, Green Bay, Lincoln, Madison, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Peoria, Rochester, and Winnipeg.