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25 January 2021

  • Top 10 COVID Questions of the Week — Answered

    Well, hello there! Welcome to Greatist’s new quickie COVID-19 column, where we answer your burning questions for the week. Hopefully nothing is actually burning except for your desire to stay on top of pandemic — and vaccine — news! So let’s run through the topics on everyone’s mind.

    For reference, I am a medical journalist and fact-checker. I’ve been covering the pandemic since it started. So I live and breathe COVID-19. (Wait, that didn’t sound right!) What I mean is I’m obsessed with coronavirus info, and I promise to give things to you straight. No BS.

    Design by Mekhi Baldwin

    1. How many people have died from COVID-19, and how many more will likely die?

    We’ve been heavily reminded of COVID-19 deaths in recent days. On January 19, in a national memorial in Washington, D.C., and in smaller ceremonies around the nation, the country remembered and honored those taken by the virus. So how many people have we lost? We’ve topped 400,000 deaths in the U.S. so far. And projections show that we could reach 566,000 deaths by May 1.

    So it bears repeating: keep wearing your mask in public, maintaining a 6-foot distance from those you don’t live with whenever possible, practicing good hand hygiene, and setting your COVID-19 boundaries with people you do see. In addition to vaccines, these are the best tools we have for curbing the pandemic.

    2. We’ve heard a lot of bad AF news about COVID-19 lately. Is there any good news?

    Ugh, I know. This winter has been a doozie to say the least. In the last quarter of 2020, the 7-day average of daily reported cases of the coronavirus generally grew week over week. Insert poo emoji here.

    But here’s a glimmer of hope. We have now seen a drop in case numbers. The daily average of reported cases has dropped 11 percent from the average 2 weeks ago. And we’ve seen the first drop (although just by 2 percent) in hospitalizations since October. We’ll take the good news when it comes.

    3. I keep hearing about virus variants. What do I need to know about them?

    Researchers have known all along that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, would mutate. That sounds super science-fiction-like, but viruses do mutate often.

    Mutations are called variants. The variant known as B.1.1.7, which was first identified in the United Kingdom is now in the United States, with 144 confirmed cases so far. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a map that shows which states have reported cases of this variant.

    So what’s all the hullabaloo? Well B.1.1.7 is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original variant in the UK. It also caused a surge in infections in people under 20 there. #Grrrr! But researchers don’t know for sure if the variant is actually more infectious or if other factors are at play. They’re working on figuring that stuff out.

    Ultimately, right now, you should be aware that a potentially more transmissible variant of the virus is circulating in the U.S. and take measures to protect yourself and others. That means if you’ve gotten a little lax in your COVID-19 vigilance, tighten things up where you can.

    4. Will the available COVID-19 vaccines work against virus variants? 

    Whew! Say that question out loud 10 times fast. Word on the scientific street is yes-ish! Researchers have conducted a study on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and found that it’s likely effective against the current variants. We’re still waiting on word regarding the Moderna vaccine, but the same result is expected.

    5. I had COVID-19 last year and kicked it. Can I get it again? 

    If part of your saying good-bye to 2020 was toasting your recovery from COVID-19, congrats to that! But you may be wondering if the virus can infect you again. Researchers are still trying to figure this one out.

    A recent study found that immunity could last as long 8 months or more. But — there’s always a but! — since research in this area is still ongoing, health experts advise not taking any chances. In other words, keep wearing a mask — yada, yada, yada!

    6. Where is COVID-19 spreading the most right now in the new year? 

    According to their test positive rates, Iowa (46 percent), Idaho (40 percent), and Pennsylvania (35 percent) are the current COVID-19 hotbeds. The World Health Organization considers anything over 5 percent to be sketch. Okay, WHO doesn’t use that actual terminology, but you get the idea.

    And kudos to Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington D.C., and North Dakota, where the test positive rate is actually under that 5 percent mark.

    7. What are the new administration’s plans for curbing the pandemic?

    Another big newsy bit right now is that President Joe Biden and first-ever Madame Vice President Kamala Harris were just sworn in to office. Harris is also the first Black and first Asian-American VP. Anyhoo… What you may be wondering is what the new administration has in store for the ol’ virus. We’ve got the deets.

    In a nutshell, the new administration has a proposal called the American Rescue Plan, a combo effort to mitigate virus spread and provide economic relief.

    Economic goals of the plan include a third round of stimulus checks (capped at $1,400). They also include increasing the per-week unemployment benefit to $400 through September, putting a halt to evictions for renters and to foreclosures for homeowners through September, and bumping the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. 

    Another goal is to ramp up vaccination efforts, meaning get shots in more arms faster.

    8. Speaking of COVID-19 vaccines, how do I know when I can get one?

    I’m glad you asked! Although I don’t have a perfect answer to this question. Unfortunately, vaccine rollout is not going as swiftly or as dreamily as a unicorn galloping through a forest of rainbows. Lots of factors have made rollout complicated for individual states, including supply-chain issues. And each state has its own rollout plan.

    Check your state’s plan and make sure you’re signed up for any alerts — either through your state or local health department or your health care provider. Some municipalities have standby lists and other options to avoid wasted doses. So it’s definitely worth checking into, even if you’re in a much later phase.

    9. How do I weed through conspiracy theories about vaccines?

    While you wait for your time to crop up to get poked in the arm, you might come across some vaccine info that wigs you out a bit. That’s because lots of false info continues to circle out there. Disinformation can also spread like a virus, and vaccine hesitancy is one of the greatest public health threats to our world, especially now during a pandemic.

    The two currently available vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective through large clinical trials. Yes, rare cases of allergic reactions have occurred. As I, a card-carrying member of the Epi-Pen club myself, I can understand why that news can be frightening. The CDC has a dedicated page about allergic reactions, including safeguards that are in place.

    If you have concerns about the vaccine for any reason, I encourage you talk to your health care provider rather than taking advice from some rando (or pal) on social media touting absurd conspiracy theories or false anti-vaxxer info.

    10. I’m still not feeling like myself after having COVID-19. Is this normal?

    For some people, fully recovering from COVID-19 can take longer, sometimes even a month or more. Additionally, the virus can have lasting effects on the body, and researchers are still trying to figure out for how long and to what extent. You can learn about COVID long-hauler symptoms and find resources here.

    Got COVID questions? DM me on Twitter or Insta: @jenchesak.

  • Introducing Halloumi, Your Cheesy New BFF

    Although I consider myself a foodie, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I first tried halloumi cheese on a visit to the United Kingdom. And there, in a crowded corner of the Borough Market in London, my life was irrevocably changed. 

    What is this crispy, grilled deliciousness? I thought, and why don’t we eat it stateside? 

    If you’re new to this wonderfully unique cheese, this article will get you caught up to speed on what it is, and how to cook, store, and substitute it. We’ve also got seven fab recipes to try.

    Irrin0215/Getty Images

    What is halloumi?

    According to a 2019 study, halloumi is a semi-hard, white cheese from Cyprus made of a blend of sheep and goats’ milk (sometimes with cows’ milk thrown in too).

    Like feta, halloumi is usually brined in a salty solution, giving it an unmistakably tangy taste. Its firm structure lends itself to cooking in large pieces for stand-alone eating, and its high melting point means it can hold up to grilling or frying without losing its shape.

    The nutritional value of halloumi

    There’s no denying halloumi is a highly saturated fat food at 6 grams per ounce, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it in moderation. Plus, with 7 grams of protein, a single ounce is a good source of high quality animal protein.

    As for how halloumi compares with other, more familiar cheeses? It’s lower calorie than cheddar, higher protein than feta, and one of the highest calcium cheeses overall.

    A 1 ounce serving provides:

    • Calories: 110
    • Fat: 9 grams
    • Saturated fat: 6 grams
    • Carbs: 0 grams
    • Protein: 7 grams
    • Calcium: 250 milligrams (25 percent DV)
    • Sodium: 350 milligrams (30 percent DV)

    *Info taken from the USDA database

    How to cook it

    Slap a slab of cheddar or mozzarella on a grill or in a frying pan, and you’ll end up with a melted — albeit probably delicious — mess. But solo cooking is where halloumi shines.

    In fact, halloumi needs such high heat to melt. So, don’t plan on grating it atop soups or laying it thin-sliced on a burger as a melty garnish.

    Instead, like David S. Pumpkins of “Saturday Night Live” fame, it’s its owwwwwwn thing. Halloumi serves as a craveable main ingredient in kabobs, salads, curries, and even sandwiches.

    Frying and grilling are generally regarded as the best cooking methods for this thick Med cheese.

    How to pan-fry halloumi

    Need a quick, impressive appetizer? Pan-fry some halloumi!

    • Slice the halloumi into half-inch thick chunks.
    • Heat a nonstick pan (the nonstick part is critical).
    • Add a splash of a heart-healthy oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado, grapeseed, or canola oil. Alternatively, some chefs prefer to let halloumi’s natural fat content serve as oil.
    • Once the oil is shimmering, add the halloumi to the pan and cook on each side until a lattice of crispy, brown webbing appears on its surface. It’s about 2 minutes per side.

    How to grill halloumi

    Grilling it is even simpler!

    • Slice the halloumi into half-inch thick chunks.
    • Fire up the barbecue to medium-high heat (about 400°F).
    • Cook sliced halloumi for 2 to 3 minutes per side. (Grill marks make an even more enjoyable finished product.)

    7 halloumi recipes for cheesy inspiration

    1. Grilled halloumi

    New to halloumi? Start here. Once you’ve nailed this basic grilling technique from Kitchen Treaty, you’re free to create halloumi kabobs, salads, sandwiches, and more.

    Get the recipehere!

    2. Halloumi hummus bowls

    Halloumi gets on the grain bowl bandwagon in this easy, one-dish dinner from How Sweet Eats. Colorful veggies and a hummus of your choice pack this meal with nutrients.

    Get the recipehere!

    3. Spicy halloumi curry with potato

    Traditional vegetarian curries often use paneer, a firm Indian cheese, but halloumi works just as well for a satisfying protein. A spicy halloumi-potato curry from The Cook Report is just what a chilly winter night ordered.

    Get the recipehere!

    4. Smoky tomato and halloumi bake

    We already knew tomatoes and cheese were a match made in heaven (because #pizza). But this easy casserole from Happy Veggie Kitchen proves there are even more ways to enjoy this classic combo. Canned tomatoes and cannellini beans make this halloumi bake a snap for a weeknight dinner.

    Get the recipehere!

    5. Halloumi breakfast sandwich

    The fast food drive-thru’s got nothing on this halloumi breakfast sandwich from Naturally Ella. Pan-fry a batch of halloumi slices on the weekend to enjoy a cheesy, veggie-loaded breakfast all week long.

    Get the recipehere!

    6. Herby lemon risotto with halloumi

    We’re gonna go ahead and call this one from Kitchen Sanctuary a “sal-otto”: salad and risotto in one. A bed of leafy greens underlies creamy risotto and golden-brown halloumi, while a zesty lemon-herb blend amps up the flavor even further.

    Get the recipehere!

    7. Grilled whole halloumi with figs, thyme, and honey

    Cheese for dessert? Yassss. In this sweet treat from Abel & Cole, fresh, juicy figs and a swirl of honey join grilled halloumi for the perfect Mediterranean ending to a meal.

    Get the recipehere!

    Where to find halloumi

    Depending on your area, you might only be able to find halloumi at specialty food stores. FoodNavigator-USA reported, according to research firm Fact.MR, that as of 2018, the U.S. accounted for less than 10 percent of worldwide halloumi demand.

    In larger metro areas, though, it’s starting to make its debut at mainstream grocery stores.

    Not finding halloumi at your local chain? Try asking the friendly employee behind your deli counter to order it. They’re often happy to help customers get what they’re looking for (especially if you ask extra-nice).

    How to substitute and store halloumi

    Because of halloumi’s unique texture and consistency, it can be hard to substitute. You might be able to get away with using paneer (traditional Indian cheese) or a firm feta. Some folks also suggest swapping for tofu, but this will certainly change your dish.

    Unopened, halloumi will last for up to a year in the fridge. Once opened, it will keep for around 2 weeks in the fridge. Store it in salt water in an air-tight container, or wrapped in wax or parchment paper, or cheese cloth.

  • Hit ’Em Up Style with These 15 Awesome Punching Bags

    Ready to be your best Rocky? We put together a list of the 15 best punching bags for all boxing styles and skill levels. They’ll help you level up every time you hit the gym.

    The 15 best punching bags

    How we chose

    • Bag type. We focused on the best bags for home workouts. We also chose bags designed to develop skill rather than strength and power.
    • Size and weight. A punching bag should be about half your body weight. This prevents wild bag swings and offers muscle-producing resistance.
    • Bag material. Traditionally, leather is the crème de la crème of punching bags. It’s comfortable, durable, and (usually) PRICEY. So we picked high quality plastic and vinyl options too.
    • Fill material. We selected a mix of sand, water, air, and fiber fills. It all comes down to what’s more comfortable for you.

    Pricing guide

    Here’s a price key to help you find the best bag for your body and budget.

    • $ = under $100
    • $$ = $100–$200
    • $$$ = over $200

    The best bags for your buck (under $100)

    Best adjustable weight punching bag

    Price: $
    Weight:70–120 lbs.
    Size:3 ft.

    With an adjustable weight, the MaxxMMA works for folks of various sizes and strengths. The patented water/air technology includes a welted PVC bladder, which helps you customize the weight to your size.
    Bag bonus: The synthetic leather is durable and resists splitting and cracking.

    Best leather punching bag

    Price: $
    Weight: n/a
    Size: 3, 4, or 6 ft.

    This Muay Thai bag is narrower than the average heavy bag, so it’s better for mixed martial arts. The Jayefo Trexter comes unfilled, saving you some money up front. It’s made in three sizes — 3, 4, and 6 feet — and five colors.
    P.S. The leather exterior and industrial-strength straps come with an impressive 10-year warranty.

    Best punching bag alternative

    Price: $
    Weight: N/A
    Size: N/A

    A reflex ball is a good punching bag alternative if you’re tight on cash and space. It’s also great for increasing your speed, timing, and reflexes. This set comes with an adjustable headband and three balls. You can work your way up to heavier balls when you’re ready.

    The best punching bags for small spaces

    Best speed bag for beginners

    Price: $
    Weight: N/A
    Size: 9 L x 6 W in.

    Beginners get a chance to cut their teeth, er, knuckles on this medium-size bag. It’s great for building speed and shoulder endurance. You can refill the bladder as it starts to lose air (which it will every few days if used on the reg).

    PSA: The tough leather exterior holds up well, but you need to buy the anchor hardware separately. 

    Best double end punching bag

    Price: $
    Weight: 1 lb.
    Size: 7 or 9 in.

    Double end punching bags like the Pro Impact can improve hand speed and develop timing. It’s made of genuine leather with reinforced welted seams and loops, so it can def take a beating. You can choose either a 7- or 9-inch bag, based on your size and weight.

    Best water-filled punching bag

    Price: $$
    Weight:100 lbs. (filled)
    Size: 28.3 in.

    The HydroStrike isn’t as tall as a full-size heavy bag, but it has the same weight for a similar experience. The water absorbs the shock of each punch and mimics the feel of a human body. It comes with a nozzle, hanging bracket, and chain, so all you need to do is make sure it’s securely anchored to the ceiling.

    FYI: It ships unfilled and tips the scales at 100 pounds once full.

    The best freestanding punching bags

    Quietest freestanding punching bag

    Price: $$
    Weight: 182 lbs. with sand, 137 lbs. with water
    Size: 69 in.

    The Dripex offers an incredibly stable base that can be filled with either sand or water (but sand is recommended). Twelve suction cups hold this 182-pound monster in place. The weight and height make it fab for the whole fam.
    Our fave part is the shock absorbers that absorb the shock of impact and take pressure off your knuckles and wrists.

    Best real-life experience

    Price: $$$
    Weight: 270 lbs.
    Size: 60–78 in.

    Century Bob is a great workout buddy, especially if you want to practice self-defense. A realistic target lets you get a feel for the real deal without hurting a sparring partner. Bob adjusts from 60 to 74 inches in 6-inch increments. When loaded with sand, Bob comes in at 270 pounds. 

    Best heavy bag 

    Price: $$$
    Weight: 270 lbs.
    Size: 69 in.

    Ready to kick it up a notch? This 270-pound, 69-inch behemoth can take high kicks, punches, and everything in between. A wide, stable base keeps it upright even under heavy hits. The high density foam filling will protect your knuckles and wrists but still provides a real-deal experience.

    The top hanging punching bags

    Best kids hanging punching bag

    Price: $
    Weight: Varies based on filling
    Size: 2 ft.

    Kids need a stable bag that lets them learn technique and correct form. Enter the RDX. The leather exterior offers a comfy surface that can take the learning hits of a newbie. It also comes with a pair of gel-padded boxing gloves that reduce strike shock.

    Fair warning: The gloves are on the small side.

    Best for mixed martial arts

    Price: $$
    Weight: 70 lbs.
    Size: 3.5 ft.

    The MMA Heavy Bag Kit lets you jump into mixed martial arts with a quality bag, hand wraps, and gloves. It includes a bungee cord so you can add resistance to the bag in case the 70-pound fill weight isn’t enough.

    This model works with an Everlast stand or a ceiling anchor. The chain lets you adjust the height to fit your size too. 

    Best punching bag station

    Price: $$$
    Weight: 280 lbs.
    Size: Frame footprint 68 L x 44 W x 94.5 H in.

    The Everlast 2-Station Gym gives you pro equipment and adjustment options in your home. You can focus on speed, endurance, timing, and strength every day. Yes, it’ll cost you. But it’s a dope investment if you’re super dedicated to the sport.

    The best punching bags for beginners

    Best freestanding punching bag for beginners

    Price: $$$
    Weight: 270 lbs.
    Size: 47–68 in.

    Before you can “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee,” you need to learn the basics. This height-adjustable freestanding punching bag ranges from 47 to 68 inches and can be filled with sand or water. It also offers a flexible rebound that’s better for beginners.

    Best punching bag stand for beginners

    Price: $
    Weight: N/A
    Height: 48–58 in.

    This punching bag stand is a killer cardio workout. The inflatable bag sits on a spring-loaded shaft that builds timing and speed. The rebound effect will also help you develop more hand-eye coordination. Multiple users can adjust the height from 48 to 58 inches.

    Best hanging punching bag for beginners

    Price: $$
    Weight: 100 lbs.
    Size: 48.5 in.

    Ready to try a heavy bag? At 100 pounds and 48.5 inches tall, the Nevatear is perfect for a newbie who’s ready to start building strength and endurance. The fabric/sand filling offers good weight and resistance. It also has the perfect amount of give for a realistic experience.

    Bonus: It’s super affordable for a prefilled bag.
  • Night Sweats and Ankylosing Spondylitis: Why Oh Why?

    Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects your spine. And when it comes to sleep and AS, the struggle is real. 

    In addition to causing back pain and stiffness, AS can also lead to sleep disturbances. Falling asleep, and staying asleep, may feel like a climb Mount Everest-level feat.

    To make matters even less fun, according to the Arthritis Society, you might also wake up with soaked sheets from night sweats. Here, we take a look at the connection between AS and night sweats and offer tips for staying dry and getting a better night’s snooze.

    Why do they happen?

    Ugh, night sweats. Let’s first acknowledge how annoying they are. You wake up soaked, sometimes with chills because your body has cooled itself down. Meanwhile, you’re lying in a wet mess of pajamas and sheets. 

    BJC Health reports, according to Dr. Irwin Lim and a person living with AS, that the dreaded night sweats are a symptom of the condition. But what’s the connection between AS and waking up clammy?

    Having an autoimmune condition like AS can simply cause night sweats. According to the Spondylitis Association of America fever can also be a symptom of AS, and if your body is trying to lower its temperature, you will likely sweat. 

    Night sweats can also be a side effect of some medications you take for AS or something else. Sleep disruptions can also cause night sweats. Awakening at night feeling achy is also common with AS.

    Researchers are still studying the causes of night sweats in general. That said, an old, small 2006 study found a link between night sweats and daytime tiredness and also waking up with pain.

    So, AS pain alone may be causing you to wake up drenched — and so could the strain that AS places on you during the day. 

    Additionally, a 2019 study found a link between AS and a risk for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes disruptions in breathing.

    According to a small 2013 study, night sweats are a common symptom of sleep apnea, especially when it’s left untreated. So, it’s possible that your night sweats could be related to disordered breathing while you sleep.

    What to do for night sweats

    If you wake feeling like you’re in the middle of a hot yoga class, try to cool yourself down so you can get back to sleep. Keep a glass of water on your nightstand to quickly replenish lost fluids. Place an athletic cooling towel on your neck to chill you out while you head back to dreamland. 

    If you’re drenched, you may need to change into fresh pajamas or simply strip off the ones you have on and sleep the rest of the night in the nude.

    Swapping sheets in the wee hours will add to lost sleep time. Instead, keep a microfiber towel handy to lay between you and the wet area. Or, if possible, simply shift to a dry spot on your bed.

    If you wake up with chills after a sweaty sleep session, resist the urge to bundle up with more layers to get back to sleep. This can cause you to overheat again and start a frustrating cycle of interrupted Zzz’s. Instead, take steps to get dry, which can warm you up without adding extra heat.

    How to prevent night sweats

    A few tricks may help keep you from waking up a hot (or cold) sweaty mess.

    Invest in some new digs for yourself and your bed. Cooling sheets, made from breathable, moisture-wicking materials, as opposed to cotton, can help draw heat away from your body. 

    Grab some new PJs while you’re at it. Sleeping in an old band T-shirt can trap heat and sweat against your skin and make you wake up feeling like you’ve actually been to a raucous show. 

    If you have your heat cranked in the winter to keep you cozy, turn down the temperature at night. The ideal temp varies person to person, but experts say setting the thermostat between 60 and 67°F might help you get a better night’s sleep. 

    In the summer months, temperature control can get a little trickier, unless you’re cranking the AC. If it’s warm, try sleeping with just a sheet over you. You can also opt for a bedroom fan. As an added bonus, the whir can help block out the ambient sound of your roommate’s TV.

    Alcohol, cigarettescaffeine, and spicy foods have all been proven to be triggers for night sweats in different groups of people.

    Keep caffeine consumption to the morning hours and booze consumption to a minimum. If you’re planning on curry for dinner, order that takeout early or skip the heat altogether. 

    According to the Arthritis Foundation, cigarettes can also drive inflammation and exacerbate other AS symptoms. So, if you smoke or vape, ask your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

    Some medications can also help with night sweats. If you’re continuing to experience dreamland drenching, talk with your healthcare provider about your options. 

    Should I be concerned?

    The occasional sweaty night is nothing to worry about. But if night sweats continue on the regular even after you’ve made a few of the suggested tweaks above, talk with your healthcare provider.

    Although night sweats can be related to AS, they may also indicate that something else is going on. 

    The takeaway

    Hopefully, the above tips and tricks can help prevent you from waking up and feeling like you’ve been in the sauna or gone for a swim. 

    Sleep is such an important part of managing chronic pain and stress, and you deserve the best rest possible. If you continue having night sweats, don’t hesitate to talk with your doc, who might just have a solution to keep you dry.

  • The Way Boundaries Make Intentions Easier

    You’re here! That means it’s Monday, or it’s feeling like one. Don’t worry Greatist has your back. Subscribe to our newsletter for direct access to Mondays with Minaa, a mental health column by our resident self-care expert, Minaa.

    Design by Alexis Lira

    Hi Greatist readers and Happy Monday!

    I can’t believe we’re already this deep into January! It makes me think about how sacred time is and how we can do our best to make the use of our wants, needs, and desires with the time that we have.

    This is why intention setting is so important. It helps us to lean deeper into the daily tasks we commit to. By being intentional we learn to create boundaries through the process so that we can take ownership of what’s ours, and delegate what’s not.

    For this week, I’d love for you to think about how you can be more intentional with your boundaries. I’m talking about boundaries with others, but also boundaries with yourself.

    Last week we touched on this very briefly, but this week I want you to think about the things and people who are getting in the way of your wellness. Ask yourself what boundaries you need to erect with them or with yourself?

    I’ll be back next week to check in with you and dive into this topic even deeper. Stay tuned!

    With love,
    Minaa B.