Covid Update, Brain Fog Research, Toilet to Tap. Aug 18, 2023, Part 1

Episode 608,   Aug 18, 07:00 PM

As COVID-related hospitalizations once again surge, virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen answers listener queries about the latest variant. Plus, research into the ‘brain fog’ symptom. And a trip to Reno, NV to check in on a wastewater recycling program.

Youth Climate Activists Score A Win In Montana

This week, a state court in Montana ruled in favor of a group of 16 youth climate activists, who argued that a state environmental law was in violation of a provision in the state constitution. The Montana constitution states: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”  The ruling will allow (but not require) regulators to consider climate impacts when evaluating proposed energy projects for approval.

Umair Irfan, staff writer at Vox, joins Ira to talk about the decision and what it might mean for other climate-related litigation around the country. They’ll also discuss other science news of the week, including some strange particle physics from Fermilab,  the end of the road for the common incandescent light bulb, and how researchers decoded a snippet of song — using electrodes on a brain. 

COVID-19’s Summer Wave Raises New Questions

Step outside into a public place, and you may experience some deja-vu: Masking is back up, the coughs and sniffles are echoing, and coworkers are calling in sick. It’s not just your imagination—hospitalizations from COVID-19 are up 14.3 percent for the week of August 5. This new wave has a name: EG. 5, named for the recent Omicron variant that is now the most prevalent.

With new boosters on the horizon, Ira catches up with Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist at VIDO, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, at the University of Saskatchewan. They answer questions about the new monovalent booster, testing guidance, and why COVID-19 is still a public health problem.

New Research Suggests Neurological Culprit For COVID Brain Fog

Among the most debilitating symptoms of Long Covid is brain fog, a condition which includes symptoms like confusion or inability to concentrate. 

A recently published study using mice cells in petri dishes suggests that brain fog might be the result of neurons fusing together. The results have yet to be tested in live animals or humans. 

SciFri producer Kathleen Davis talks with study author, Dr. Ramón Martínez-Mármol, research fellow at the Queensland Brain Institute, at the University of Queensland, based in Brisbane, Australia, about what his research might help us better understand about brain fog. 

Reno Is Preparing To Turn Its Wastewater Into Drinking Water

Inside a water treatment plant in north Reno, Nev., on a recent Wednesday, recycled wastewater was running beneath a floor grate inside a small testing room. Inside the space is a system of serpentine-like PVC pipes with 19 different ports, used to test water samples at different intervals.

“It’s about halfway through the treatment process at the wastewater facility,” said Lydia Teel, an engineer with the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, or TMWA, which serves about 440,000 people in the greater Reno area. “So, it’s clean, but there’s still some color, there’s bacteria in it, some solids.”

Teel spearheads a demonstration project called OneWater Nevada, an effort to show that the region can recycle the water that flushes down people’s toilets and shower drains and – eventually – turn it back into clean, pure drinking water flowing from faucets, effectively creating a new water resource. The project is a collaboration between TMWA, the cities of Reno and Sparks, the University of Nevada, Reno, Washoe County, and the Western Regional Water Commission.

The Reno area doesn’t have a history of threatened water supplies, and historic snowfall this past winter eased drought conditions in Nevada and across parts of the Mountain West. But that could shift quickly with climate change.

To stay updated on all-things-science, sign up for Science Friday's newsletters.

Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on