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Science + Tech

Where the Next Coronavirus May Originate. And More Science Journal News

The latest roundup of COVID-19 findings gathered by The Tyee.

Brian Owens 8 Jun 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Brian Owens is a freelance science writer and editor based in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His work has appeared in Hakai Magazine, Nature, New Scientist, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Lancet.

Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.

Vitamin D may not protect against COVID-19

Early in the pandemic, there were suggestions that vitamin D might cut the risk of severe COVID-19. The vitamin plays a critical role in developing a healthy immune system, and there appeared to be a correlation between vitamin D levels and the number of cases in a population. But researchers at McGill University looked at people with genetic variants linked to naturally high levels of vitamin D and found no association between vitamin D levels and the likelihood of being infected or falling seriously ill. The researchers say their work suggests that vitamin D supplements are unlikely to improve outcomes for those with COVID-19.

PLOS Medicine, June 1, 2021

Urban crime fell by more than a third during lockdown

Crime fell dramatically in cities around the world last year as a result of lockdown policies. Researchers looked at crime rates in 27 cities across 23 countries and found that daily police-reported crime fell by 37 per cent overall. Assaults fell by an average of 35 per cent, and robberies fell by 46 per cent. Other types of theft, from pickpocketing to shoplifting, fell an average of 47 per cent. Homicides fell by 14 per cent. In Vancouver, crime fell by 15 per cent overall, but burglaries went up by around 20 per cent.

Nature Human Behaviour, June 2, 2021

Why we need to keep up precautions during vaccination drive

Ending non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask wearing and physical distancing while vaccines are still being rolled out would result in a substantial increase in infections, hospitalizations and deaths, according to a computer simulation based on the U.S. state of North Carolina. The simulation found that if such interventions were maintained during a six-month vaccine rollout that reaches 75 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, cases would decline to almost nothing. But if precautions were lifted early, the simulation showed a sudden spike in daily cases, which was worse with lower vaccination rates.

JAMA Network Open, June 1, 2021

Hot spots where the next coronavirus might come from identified

Changes in land use around the globe — including forest fragmentation, agricultural expansion and intensive livestock production — are creating “hot spots” favourable for the bats that carry coronaviruses and where conditions are ripe for the diseases to jump to humans. A study used remote sensing to analyze land use patterns throughout the range of the horseshoe bat (the prime suspect for where SARS-CoV-2 originated), which extends from western Europe through Southeast Asia, and identified places where the bat’s habitat overlapped with fragmented forests, human settlements and intensive agriculture. Most of the current hot spots are clustered in China. But parts of Japan and the north Philippines are at risk of becoming hot spots with further forest fragmentation, while parts of Southeast Asia may become hot spots with increases in livestock production.

Nature Food, May 31, 2021

The five Cs for overcoming vaccine hesitancy

Researchers have suggested a five-pronged strategy to tackle reluctance or refusal to accept COVID-19 vaccinations that addresses the behavioural and socio-demographic factors behind vaccine hesitancy. The approach focuses on what they call the five Cs: confidence, complacency, convenience, communication and context. Vaccine messaging needs to build confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the shots, but also address complacency — the idea that the virus is not a big deal — especially among young people and those of lower socioeconomic status. The delivery of the vaccines also needs to be convenient, communication should combat misinformation, and should take into account context including people’s ethnicity, religion, occupation and socioeconomic status.

But no amount of careful messaging will be sufficient to reach some people. A survey in the United States found that about 22 per cent of people self-identify as anti-vaxxers — and embrace the label as a form of social identity, making it very difficult to change their minds with reasoned arguments.

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, June 2, 2021

Politics, Groups and Identities, May 30, 2021

Postpartum mental health visits went up during pandemic

Mental health visits for new mothers in Ontario went up by 30 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research. The increase began in March 2020, although the state of emergency was declared only midway through the month, suggesting that distress related to the pandemic translated into an increased need for care very quickly. Patients in the lowest-income neighbourhoods had the smallest increase in mental health visits compared with people in other neighbourhoods, which raised concern about the potential for unmet need because low-income patients may have greater barriers to accessing care, even virtual care.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, June 7, 2021


Plant and fish-based diets may protect against severe COVID-19

Plant-based and pescatarian diets may help to reduce the odds of developing moderate to severe COVID-19. A study of frontline health workers in the U.S. and Europe found that those diets were associated with 73 per cent and 59 per cent lower odds, respectively, of severe disease. Those who ate a low carb-high protein diet were nearly four times more likely to have moderate to severe COVID-19 infection than those on plant-based diets.

BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health, June 7, 2021

Post-pandemic baby boom may be coming soon

The COVID-19 shutdown initially reduced pregnancy and birth rates, but there are signs that trend is reversing and a summer baby boom is on the way, according to research from a large hospital system in Michigan. Pregnancy volumes decreased by about 14 per cent between November 2020 and spring of 2021, which the researchers associate with a conception window starting during the U.S. COVID shutdown in March 2020. But their statistical model now anticipates a birth surge. The hospital is planning for a 10- to 15-per-cent increase in births over what would normally be expected in the summer and fall of 2021.

JAMA Network Open, June 3, 2021

Majority of international travel restrictions were ineffective

The majority — 63.2 per cent — of international travel restrictions introduced at the beginning of the pandemic last year were ineffective because they were done in a haphazard and unco-ordinated way, according to a new study of airline connections between countries. The remainder, however, succeeded in delaying the arrival of the disease in new areas by an average of 18 days, and prevented more than 13 million infections. More strategic and co-ordinated travel restrictions early on in the pandemic likely could have dramatically reduced the spread of COVID-19.

Communications Physics, June 4, 2021  [Tyee]

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