A new piece on the LiveScience website covers recent developments in the biggest single current newsmaker around the world, the COVID-19 “coronavirus” outbreak. In listening and reading news from many sources, it appears that there is definitely great concern over this virus, but it is not always clear exactly why this is so. Today we are going to try to offer a definitive block of information about the virus, its spread, efforts to contain it and treat those afflicted, and what it really means for all of us around the world. Much of the information in this piece is derived from the LiveScience piece, though rearranged for our purposes. As always, any references to other sources will also be hyperlinked and / or referred to.
What is a Coronavirus?
A coronavirus is, simply put, a specific family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness. These range from the common cold to pneumonia and bronchitis. While the common cold itself is usually not deadly, the bronchitis and pneumonia it can progress to are sometimes extremely dangerous, especially for the very old, the very young, and those whose bodies are already substantially weakened by illness.
This particular virus is closely related, genetically an 88% match, to some coronaviruses that live in bats. It is not clear how the virus managed to mutate or become communicable to humans. The present “official” thought is that the pangolin, an ant-eating mammal that looks much like an armadillo combined with an anteater (and are sometimes called “scaly anteaters”) provided the bridge from bat to human. The origin of the virus is known to be in Wuhan, China, where there happens to be a bioresearch lab. While the official story talks about bats and pangolin, no bats were sold in the alleged origination spot, a market called the Huanan.
A piece in The New York Post makes note that on or near 14-15 February, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology released a new directive. This was its title:
“Instructions on strengthening biosecurity management in microbiology labs that handle advanced viruses like the novel coronavirus.”
That Wuhan lab is the only known bioresearch lab in the country that handles such material.
Coincidence or coverup? We don’t know, but the holes in the fish-market story indicate that this may not be the real origin point. The Post piece offers quite a bit of information to back up their allegation. However, at this point, the source of the virus may not matter as much as the fact that it is out in the world and it is causing some very well-known problems.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the symptoms of COVID-19 specifically are fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
This range of symptoms is not much different than that of a bad case of the flu or bronchitis, but it is presently believed that a person can carry the virus as long as fourteen days without showing any symptoms of the illness it causes. Normally, the symptoms appear around five days after infection, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Like many viral infections, there is no real cure that can be offered for one who is sickened by the virus. In most cases people who get sick recover on their own with rest and symptom-reliever types of medication. In this, COVID-19 is very much like the common cold. However COVID-19 is more severe, presently showing a fatality rate of about 3.4% among its victims, compared to 0.1% for the usual seasonal fatality rate for the regularly occurring range of influenza viruses.
At the time of this writing, the reported cases worldwide number 81,109. Of that number, 2,761 people are known to have succumbed to the illness, for a daily fatality reading of about 3.4% This number fluctuates from day to day, and the World Health Organization, which has been offering daily situation reports notes that the statistical growth of infected is still quite variable from day to day.
How fast is the virus spreading?
It is spreading quite rapidly, despite efforts to contain it. While China moved very quickly to make data about COVID-19 known to the world (another sign that the “official” origin story of this virus is not true), the fact that the virus can be carried asymptomatically means that short of closing all international borders, the virus will absolutely spread throughout all the world. While international border closures are helping to not spread the virus as fast as it could theoretically go, the key factor that is not solidly understood is its ability to be transmitted from person to person. There are strong indications that it does do this, so much so as to lead the United States’ own Center for Disease Control to issue a rather chilling warning:
Tucker Carlson gave a further thought that is quite logical: that the virus’s spread will indeed be of pandemic proportions, spreading to perhaps 70% of the world’s population. After all, it is a virus. Spreading is what viruses do.
Can the virus be stopped?
At this time, the answer is: no. There are reports of a vaccine being developed, and there are also reports of an anti-viral drug that has been developed and put into its first tests. This treatment, reported on by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a subsidiary of the National Institute of Health (NIH), specified that Remdesivir is the hoped-for magic bullet to stop the virus when it has already infected someone. This compound has shown signs of success with MERS and it was tested on victims of Ebola virus as well.
The Wall Street Journal and CNN both report that the biotech company Moderna says it has a coronavirus vaccine ready for first tests. However, inexplicably, the trials for this vaccine are not expected to begin until April, with the testing and approval process expected to take at least one year. This, believe it or not, is the “emergency” speed for such testing!
The upshot of this is that at present, the strategy to restrict travel and to establish quarantines where people test positive for the virus, is probably the only real recourse available. The goal, as noted in the video clip above, is to slow the transmission of the virus enough to buy some time for researchers to find a solution.
Tucker’s speculation appears to be quite logical, though of course, not very reassuring. It is quite likely that “cold and flu season” will become “cold, flu and coronavirus” season in the near future.
Does this mean we should worry?
This is the sixty-four thousand dollar question, of course. How does one answer it? Reports from Northern New Jersey at the time of this writing indicate there is a lot of worry, at least in some parts of the United States.
Some reports in real time (as of 4:15pm EST, 26 February 2020)
- One source told me this evening that that North Jersey region is sold out of face masks, and that hand sanitizer is also almost completely sold out.
- The City of San Francisco also declared a state of emergency. Given the atrocious state of that city’s streets, they have cause to worry, as do Los Angeles and other cities with rampant drug-use and homeless problems. That dovetails into politics and policy, but it is also a very real consequence of very poor handling of both of these.
- In Northern New Mexico, another source tells me there appears to be little to no concern.
- The same is true according to a source in Northeast Indiana.
- While North Jersey reports shortages, a source in the New York / Connecticut area reports nothing out of the ordinary.
- In Fort Collins, Colorado, there is an unconfirmed report of one case of Coronavirus infection, and everyone is being told to wash their hands… a lot.
In Moscow, Russia, where I live, I have seen a few people wearing face masks, markedly more than usual. Some people wear masks all the time in Moscow under the belief that the air quality in the city is bad, but that number is higher now, if only a little.
Russia presently reports only two cases of coronavirus, with both infected people having recovered. However, the media here tends to be a bit reluctant to rush to report on things like this, and while not anywhere close to the nightmare of “Soviet propaganda”, the way the media operate here is very different than the American rush to sensationalism. The media here will probably be a bit slow to respond to any changes in the severity of the outbreak unless it can also report verifiably that things are being done to help. That being said, the Russians are aware of the problem and know it is happening all around us, and it is certainly a present thought on their minds.
Should we worry? In the strictest sense, worrying does not accomplish anything. If anything it creates stress and stress can make a person more likely to get sick. It is still cold and flu season here in Russia, and a lot of people get sick here this time of year anyway. Worrying about the coronavirus, if and when an outbreak establishes itself in Russia, is not very productive when considered against the range of real issues we face every day here. This is true everywhere, even in China, which has borne the brunt of this outbreak thus far.
However, taking a little extra precaution seems to be a natural response. We will probably continue to see more face masks around here for a while. While we wait for the true development of antiviral meds and vaccines, and while we await the coming of warmer weather (which usually ends flu season – it is not known if it will end coronavirus season yet), there are a few more strained nerves. It is likely that those who like to focus on “the latest reason to panic” will be strongly tempted to do so, and for these people, a little extra work is in store to not panic.
We at The Duran will make every effort to cover this story accurately and dispassionately. This is a real crisis, but like most real crises, the sensational aspect is too easy to blow out of proportion. We will try not to add to any hype, but to simply offer clear information about this situation as it develops.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.