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Friday, April 24, 2020

COVID-19: What You Need To Know

Let’s talk briefly about COVID-19.

 I recently did an episode of my podcast on the subject of coronavirus (this is contextually relevant. I’m not trying to baldly self-promote). I’ve been researching the data since this pandemic started, and I MAY be able to shed some light here.

 While I can’t encapsulate the entirety of months worth of research here and now, I will say this. As a research, data, and biology wonk, I happen to know (as many of us do) that it is of grave importance that we get over this curve (which IS currently happening! As long as we follow this directive to stay at home for just a little while longer, we’ll be golden).

 This is not the common cold, nor is it the flu, though, fun fact, the common cold is another coronavirus, which happens to mutate and return regularly to invade our bodies, seasonally, in a normally much less serious manner.

 What we are experiencing now is a coronavirus called SARS COV-2, which bonds to the ASE-2 proteins within human cells, via the spike proteins which stick off of the SARS COV-2 cells, and the cells of all coronaviruses, for that matter (this is why it is called a “coronavirus.” The spike proteins sticking off of it give it the look of having a halo or a crown, when looked at via a microscope.).

 The way that this virus, which happens to be what is called an RNA transcription virus, bonds to the human body via the ASE2 proteins inside our cells and the RNA information which is transcribed therein, upon first contact between the virus and the cells within our bodies, before they self-destructs and send out information, telling other cells inside of us to reproduce, based on the information received upon first contact with those coronavirus cells (SARS COV2), ends up sending the virus, and, consequently a later immune response it to a specific area of our bodies—the lower lung.

 This is what makes this particular coronavirus—SARS COV2, which, again, for posterity, causes the illness known as COVID-19, to settle in the lower lung. That’s not all it does, though.

 As I touched on a moment ago, the real one-two punch this virus gives to our bodies is that it kicks our immune reactions into high gear.

 While this might sound good, it isn’t, because just like humans who hadn’t experienced novel influenza viruses when the Spanish Flu hit, our population has no established experience with, and therefore no frame of reference for, and no immunity to SARS COV2 (aka the icky virus which causes COVID-19), which means that our immune systems often fight the virus off inappropriately, causing inflammation in the lower lung, rather than efficiently and effectively fighting off the virus before things get to that point.

 Then, the third act of this story begins. Due to the inflammation and the ham fisted way our bodies, caught unaware, are trying to fight off the virus, and the inflammation in the lower lung and fluid leakage and build-up caused, we often develop secondary pneumonia infections, which can be deadly.

 If that sounds good to you, and you’re willing to risk the lives of yourselves, your family whom you could end up carrying the virus home to, and others, then go for it. Go on out there without masks.

 If we don’t blunt this curve before we reopen businesses, then those I mentioned (seniors, babies, immunocompromised folks—even some healthy folks) and untold others will be put at risk as a direct result of your actions. If that doesn’t sound so hot to you, and you’d like to act as a if you’re a decent and caring person, then your path is clear. Wear your personal protective equipment. It makes a substantial difference in transmission rates and contagiousness of the virus.

 SARS COV-2 (the virus which causes the illness we call COVID-19), while not a strictly airborne pathogen, CAN be aerosolized briefly when we talk, walk past each other, cough, sneeze, and even when we breathe. Masks help to prevent us from both passing on and receiving SARS COV-2 (i.e. they seriously restrict our chances of giving or getting COVID-19).

 I feel like this information gives us an opportunity to help ourselves and each other.

 While it’s no fun to have to do things we don’t like, it feels like a no-brainer to follow life-saving measures and to think beyond our own noses right now.

 In the long term, doing things like staying mostly at home and wearing masks won’t be a necessity, but right now, it’s the most important thing we can do. Blunting the curve is the most important first step measure we can possibly take, while we are working on vaccines, improved testing, and treatments for the SARS COV-2 virus.

 The great news is that we are doing it! We’re effectively turning the corner. We need to hold on a little longer, and we’ll all have gotten through this.

 In the long term, there are two possibilities, regarding our relationship with SARS COV-2 (the cause of the COVID-19 illness).

 The first is that we will end up living with this virus, and that it will become seasonal and much less life-threatening, which would mean that RT-PCR testing (what we’re doing now to see if people are currently ill with COVID-19), and serology testing (immune testing, which happens to be something we’re starting to do, to see how people’s immune systems are fighting this off, and, essentially, what works, vs what doesn’t within the human body, which will help us to advance our research toward a vaccine AND treatment options) will be key components in moving forward with a solid seasonal treatment and prevention plan. This will include the possibility of symptom treatment which we are currently in the process of working on R&D for, and seasonal vaccines like those upon which we currently rely to prevent us from falling ill with the seasonal flu.

 The second future possibility is a complete vaccine which eradicates this illness in it’s entirety. To get there, however, we must first blunt the curve, before we do anything else, and it will take awhile to see whether this will end up being a seasonal and less harmful visitor (scenario #1), or something we can eradicate and put behind us (scenario #2).

Let’s touch briefly on vaccines. No matter what sort of vaccine we develop, whether it ends up completely eradicating this virus, or whether we need to develop a new vaccine on a seasonal basis, vaccines are extremely important.

 Vaccines establish herd immunity and disease eradication, and are a major reason why human life has been extended and improved in quality and quantity in modern times. This, combined with the fact that they help to reduce the effective R factor (i.e. make the virus less contagious over time) means that vaccines are crucial in this case, no matter which of the two possible scenarios I’ve described above plays out.

 I hope that this has helped answer any questions that folks may have on the subject. I’d be happy to answer any further relevant questions or at least to direct anyone who is concerned to the appropriate data sources.

 It may sound hokey, but we truly are all on this together, and we’ve got to get on the same page here, in order to save lives. I know—staying at home and being afraid sucks. It’s stressful. It’s upsetting. It frays our collective nerves. But this isn’t just about our own egos or personal wishes. This is about what’s best for all of us. So, as I said, we really are all in this together, like it or not. Let’s all educate ourselves and let’s do our best to be decent people.

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