A Virologist On COVID-19

I grew up watching All in the Family. We loved good old Archie, the classic know-it-all who got very little of it right. Name a topic and Archie had an opinion. It was always politically incorrect and frequently wrong, but he held to that belief no matter what. Sadly, we may have become a nation of Archies.

Have you noticed that everyone’s a genius these days? Our good friend Google feeds us tidbits of information and suddenly we feel ready to pontificate on everything from global warming to pandemics. And if we don’t feel qualified to lecture on the pandemic, we’re ready to believe every doctor with something to say, whether or not he’s a specialist in virology, the study of viruses, or someone treating ringworm and runny noses.

Don’t get me wrong. As a healthcare practitioner, I have the utmost respect for those who dedicate their lives to caring for others. To a point. I don’t know about you, but there are only two people I want to hear from: the doctor who is treating these patients and the expert who spent a decade studying something so small we’ll never see it with the naked eye. My GP is a good man. I trust him with my regular maladies. Is he equipped to whip out his crystal ball and tell me what is going to happen with the COVID-19 pandemic? No. Not really.

We’ve been listening to doctors caring for these patients and our hearts go out to them and the families of the patients. The tragic loss of life sweeping hotspots and the valiant fight to save lives has touched us all. It leaves little to the imagination.

So what do the virologists, the ones who have been in the trenches with viruses for years, have to say? A Belgian Virologist, Guido Vanham, was interviewed by a writer for the World Economic Forum and he offered pertinent insights. We are in uncharted territory. The SARS outbreak was isolated to fewer parts of the world and more easily contained. This virus resembles the SARS virus genome, but it is much more infectious and much more deadly. This table has been extracted from the interview with Dr. Vanham.

Along with social distancing, new guidelines suggest increasingly stringent mask usage. The new CDC and US Surgeon General guidelines include protection from carriers who are not yet demonstrating symptoms. Looking at this chart from the World Economic Forum, it’s clear that without precautions, one person infects two people in five days and a whopping 406 people in thirty days.

Because pockets are hard hit with infection, notably major cities, and long term care facilities, the general public outside these war zones feels safe. But think for a minute. Imagine someone you love. Imagine losing that person to the COVID-19 virus. Will you still feel the same way? Just because you don’t currently reside in a pocket with a high death toll doesn’t mean it can’t strike your loved one down.

The best way to beat this pandemic is to reduce the number of hosts for the virus until our leading researchers can develop effective treatment protocols. When our treatments decrease the morbidity rate, we’re ready to start lifting restrictions. Should we open the economy? Of course. Can we do it safely? Yes, we can. That means we implement social distancing and yes, we may need to wear masks. Remember, the mask is not for you. It’s for someone you love.