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"Cascading effects": Excess COVID cases and deaths linked to wildfire smoke in new study

Exposure to high levels of fine particle pollution produced by wildfires may have led to thousands more COVID cases and deaths, according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Why it matters: Research has shown that smoke can have dangerous health impacts, a correlation that is putting more and more at risk as the pandemic collides with the climate crisis.

Details: Researchers tracked more than 90 counties in California and Washington that were ravaged by wildfires last year, and found that nearly 20% of COVID cases in certain counties were linked to elevated levels of wildfire smoke.

  • In some counties, an even higher percentage of COVID deaths could be associated with wildfire smoke.
  • Their models accounted for other variables, including weather, population and general COVID trends, to control for factors that might influence the findings.
  • "Scientists who study air quality say it is possible that smoke particles could carry the virus," the Washington Post writes. "There are also other possible dynamics involved, such as people tending to gather indoors to avoid wildfire smoke, which could lead to more interaction with infected people."

What they're saying: "This illustrates the systemic and contingent nature of crises and how the effects of one global crisis (climate change) can have cascading effects on concurrent global crises (the COVID-19 pandemic) that play out in location-specific ways (increased COVID-19 cases and deaths due to wildfire)," the authors wrote in the study.

The big picture: Climate change is increasingly inducing wildfires, and they won't stop anytime soon. Rapid global warming is reaching across the globe and making the world a more volatile place, per a recent UN-sponsored report.

Go deeper... In photos: Where wildfires are blazing around the world

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

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Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

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Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

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"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

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What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

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