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.   

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. 

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.

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.


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.   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.

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  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  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.