CoVid-19: It’s not what you think

If there is one thing we can all agree on about this virus, this may be it.  We just don’t understand  CoVid-19.

Even with my  background as a biochemist, I have trouble knowing what to believe about CoVid-19.  In spite of all the hard work and the progress our scientific community has made,  there are still more questions than answers. This virus is not like any we’ve seen before.   CoVid 19 just doesn’t play by the rules; in fact, we don’t know what the rules are.

We tend to think of infectious disease as following a linear, or deterministic pattern.  In other words, if I have the virus and I infect three people, then those three people infect three more, etc.  But there have been instances in which many more people contracted the disease than the model would predict. The  most well known example is that of the  61 member choir practice in Mt. Vernon, Washington on March 10 in which 53 contracted the virus and two died. Conversely, other gatherings of similar numbers, venues,  climates, and age groups did not produce this high rate of infection.   https://bit.ly/3cQcwgJ   

It now appears that the virus can  spread in clusters, some think by “super-spreaders” who are especially efficient at  spreading the virus.  But there is no way to know what makes someone a  “super spreader.”  There may be some as-yet undetermined characteristic that makes an individual especially infectious.  Or, it could be that there are not “super spreader individuals”, but “super-spreader events”  where  people are singing, coughing, exercising, etc, especially in close, poorly ventilated spaces.   https://bit.ly/33BnnYF 

Think of the virus as second hand smoke. The  closer you are, the more you inhale. So there’s no guarantee that you won’t inhale the smoke if you are  6 feet away, especially if you are in a poorly ventilated space and/or the smoker is coughing, talking loudly, etc. Similarly,  even if you are outside, fresh air won’t protect you from the spray of virus from the shouting fan next to you in the bleachers.  We can easily distance ourselves from the offending smoker.  However, unlike the smoker, the infected person may be asymptomatic, have tested negative a week ago and is now positive, or be in the first few days of the incubation period.   The CoVid positive person can look and feel perfectly healthy. 

It is true that the death rate is low and some groups are more likely that others to have a serious infection.  But recovered patients are experiencing long-term damage to heart, liver and lung as well as damage to hearing and cognitive function. Some of it appears to be non-reversible.   https://mayocl.in/3nqPTUL

And there are so many unanswered questions.  Can you get the virus more than once? Are there in utero effects?  When will a vaccine be available and how effective will it be? What will be the effect of seasonal flu on the virus?   

No one knows.  But  I do know what to do. Sadly, just as there’s no magic diet, my  only way forward is the one I know so well; masks, social distancing and hand washing.

 I am SO tired of this whole CoVid scene; the masks, the social distancing, the confinement.  But the virus is not interested in my opinion.  This is not a well-behaved virus.  

 

It breaks my heart to think about the holidays this year. But like the Fauci’s we’ll be joining our family on Zoom.  https://bit.ly/3nGPEVP

Grief

For days, a cloud of malaise has settled around me, draining my energy,  blocking my spirit. Something I couldn’t name.   Today it came to me. This is grief.

I used to think that grief was reserved for loss of a loved one or other catastrophic events; other lesser losses being relegated to the “stiff upper lip” category.  But over time, I have learned that grief is a natural and necessary response to and eventually,  balm for any loss.

2020 has been a year of losses, relentlessly compounding like interest on a gambling debt.  At first COVID-19 was an exotic virus in a faraway village, no more than a footnote on the nightly news. And slowly, cases in other countries surfaced, but still, not here.  And the first few cases close to home seemed to be an oddity that surely would pass.  But slowly, insidiously, cases grew into thousands, deaths hit triple digits.   ICU wards were overcrowded, undertakers overwhelmed.   Even the most skeptical among us had to agree, this was something new, something terrible.  We had not been here before and did not know what to do

The economy ground to a crawl as quarantines were imposed.  Jobs were lost, families devastated. Schools and churches closed their doors, sports and entertainment events were postponed.  And behind the scenes, menacing storms were brewing in the Atlantic which would soon roar ashore, leaving  a swath  of destruction from the gulf to the eastern seaboard.

Long simmering just below the surface, painful race riots erupted, further dividing us at the precise time we were in most need of unity.  And waiting in the wings, devastating fires would soon ravage the west coast.  Now diminished, exhausted, and divided, we limp into what will likely be the most highly charged political season since the Civil War.

No wonder I am  exhausted, depleted, and drained.  We all are.

Grieving will not make the virus disappear, repair the economy, rebuild communities ravaged by fire and flood, or reunite friends and family alienated by social discord.

But still,  I need to name the pain, feel it, rage at it, and finally accept it.  Grief must have its day if I hope to meet the challenges of the new reality.   That familiar world of months ago is not coming back.

Time For A Change

 

 

Autumn has always been my favorite season.  It is a time of change, of new beginnings.  As a child, it meant  the return to school, reunion with friends, relief from the oppressive summer heat. I loved the smells, the sounds, the feel of autumn.  The rustle of wind through the falling leaves, the smell of apples cooking, the taste of pumpkin pies, the calls of the geese migrating south, the chill in the air.  I loved it all.

But this is an autumn like no other.  We are in the grip of a deadly and relentless pandemic on the threshold of flu season.  Within seven short months (can that be true?) we have lost over 200,000 lives to coronavirus in the US and ar eapproaching 1 million worldwide.  Over that same period, we have weathered devastating hurricanes, floods, and riots.  Fires still rage over much of the West coast. Unemployment is at unprecedented levels and we are in a contentious political battle for the presidency.  This is  uncharted territory.

We’re all in this together; we hear this a lot. And we seem to agree on this.  But we don’t agree on how to get out the situation we find ourselves in.  The popular response seems to be to blame each other for our problems.  It  has become a national pastime. We need only to channel surf or go on social media to find a rabid champion for our cause.   No insult, no accusation is off limits.  We wear our stubborn allegiance  like a badge of honor. Vicious name-calling, unheard of a decade ago, is embedded in the national dialog. Common courtesy no longer unifies us; we are drifting into dangerous waters.

In a recent conversation with a friend, I railed about the corrupt and self-seeking motives of a certain political group, and threw in a few unflattering slurs for good measure. Surely she agreed with my position, after all, she is my friend, an intelligent and thoughtful person. But as her smile stiffened to a grimace,  it was clear she didn’t agree.  At. All. To my chagrin,  not only had my insensitive, and face it, tasteless,  comment threatened a friendship, it  had made meaningful discourse on the topic impossible.  Worse, I wasn’t presenting a reasoned argument, only popular opinions, not even my own.

I am not proud of this behavior.  I need to change.  Uncomfortable as it is,  I need to listen respectfully to the other point of view if I want peace in my family, with my friends, in my community.

But why listen to my opponent?  Why entertain her point of view, when she probably won’t listen to mine.  And even so, I’m just one person among millions.  Perhaps true, but more importantly, being that self-righteous, intolerant person just does not serve me well.  I don’t like how it feels.

And who knows, if a few people become open to listenIng and a few more listen to those people and a few more……

Wait!  Isn’t that how the virus spreads?

 

 

 

 

LONG SPOONS AND FACE MASKS

It is hard to comprehend the damage done by COVID-19 since its emergence in late 2019. The number of deaths from COVID-19 globally is over 900,000 and the number of infections almost 30 million with no foreseeable end in sight. And our only known defense is that as individuals, we commit to protecting others.

Survival by cooperation is part of the folklore in many cultures. https://bit.ly/3itNmX7   In its various forms, people are given spoons with  handles so long they cannot feed themselves and learn that they must  feed each other in order to survive.

Apparently we haven’t learned the lesson.

As the  COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread,  the only weapons we have; hand washing, social distancing and face masks, are unevenly applied at best.

Social distancing is inconvenient and lonely, and as evidenced by the crowds on beaches, rallies and conventions, many do not believe it’s important in spite of the  spike in COVID rates that inevitably follows. Face masks are uncomfortable, hot, and some say, an infringement of rights.  “Besides,” the argument goes, “face masks only protect others,  not me.  I don’t have it, and neither do my friends!”

There is a lesson from the introduction of seatbelts in the fifties and sixties.  When they were introduced, many people refused to wear them in spite of overwhelming evidence that they saved lives, even after they were required by law, insisting they were restrictive, uncomfortable and unnecessary.  In retrospect, this seems  almost laughable.   But the refusal to wear face masks and observe social distancing is no laughing matter.  It’s reckless.

If I choose not to wear a seatbelt, my life is the only one at risk. But  I can unknowingly carry the virus for a variety of reasons.   So if I choose not to wear a mask,  wash my hands or practice social distancing, I risk infecting everyone with whom I come in contact.  And the virus quickly spreads through the community. https://bit.ly/3hCWKpW

But all this requires that I trust you to protect me, something over which I have no control. “So,” some argue, “why not just go about my life and wait for herd immunity.  After all, if I get, it probably won’t be all that bad, and we’ll all be done with it in a few months.“

If only that could work.  Unfortunately, that ship sailed.

Herd immunity occurs when enough individuals in a population have become immune to a disease to significantly decrease the risk of spreading it to others. However, almost 30 million people worldwide have now been diagnosed with COVID 19 and over 900,000 have died. If no preventive measures are taken, the infected people will infect the others and
https://bit.ly/2E5Uk5C  the disease will spread rapidly though the population.  Ultimately the majority of the worldwide population will become infected, and millions  will die.  Moreover, even if a vaccine becomes available, many will refuse It.  The combined results of unprotected exposure to the virus would be a catastrophic blow to worldwide medical systems and economies.  Thankfully, we have the means at our disposal to prevent this.

But who can you trust?  You can hear almost any point of view you like by choosing your channel.  No wonder so many of us have turned off the news and given up on social media. The media serve a purpose but for scientific reliability, we have to trust the scientists.

Many looking to scientists for outcome predictions or black and white answers are disappointed when scientists can’t provide them.  Responsible scientists will not provide pat answers because science  is hypothesis driven.  Science can only prove what is not correct, not what is  https://bit.ly/3iE8mKH  The research process is iterative; it doesn’t follow a straight line. When we  think about it, we apply the scientific method every day.   For example, when I lose my keys, I find them by looking in  the places they are not.  I take a  lot of time looking in a lot of  wrong places before the lost is found.

Development of safe and effective vaccines and  treatments for COVID is especially complex  due to our lack of knowledge about this group of viruses. It takes time to build enough evidence to bring about effective treatments.  Consider that decades were required to produce the cancer treatments we now consider routine.

In the case of COVID 19, the journey has only begun.  We’re all in uncharted waters. Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOPE IS NOT QUARANTINED

In the early days of the pandemic, it was easier to stay hopeful.  After all, surely it would soon be over.  But as the days, weeks, months drag by, as our problems compound, it’s easy to become discouraged. But as Emily Dickinson reminds me in her beautiful poem, “Hope Is The Thing With Featuers,” hope is an inside job.

On the footpath where I walk in the mornings, people have begun leaving messages of hope painted on colorful stones.  As I walk by, my spirits are lifted by these small thoughtful gestures.  And they remind me  of all the goodness and beauty in my life. Hope is always there. I just have to look for it

HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
                          Emily Dickinson, 1891

The beautiful photo was provided by my good friend Carlton, a master photographer.