My Twitter feed has become completely filled tweets on COVID-19. Tweets from people who are angry at the government’s response and others who are congratulating it, people being angry about the anti-maskers, the latest death figures for a particularly infected country, chats with doctors in the ER and more.
Sure it’s all informational and arguably valuable. But lately, it has started feeling a little too morbid.
Although useful, these pieces of information have a short half-life - Governments’ responses are changing every week, if not everyday. We see an unexpected number of new cases everyday because almost none of us are accustomed to exponentials. WHO and CDC are constantly working to tell us about their latest findings.
What I want to do is try to focus on things that seem to have a longer half-life. That’s what I’m trying to do with the Good Surfer newsletter. I write a newsletter to describe a surfing session that had me awestruck - whenever it happens (no weekly/bi-weekly publishing deadlines).
Here it is.
Cool, recent surfing sessions:
I came upon this article when it was shared by Barack Obama on Twitter:
Talking about USA's delayed response to testing, the article says:
"If the country could have accurately tracked the spread of the virus, hospitals could have executed their pandemic plans, girding themselves by allocating treatment rooms, ordering extra supplies, tagging in personnel, or assigning specific facilities to deal with COVID-19 cases. None of that happened. Instead, a health-care system that already runs close to full capacity, and that was already challenged by a severe flu season, was suddenly faced with a virus that had been left to spread, untracked, through communities around the country. Overstretched hospitals became overwhelmed. Basic protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and gloves, began to run out. Beds will soon follow, as will the ventilators that provide oxygen to patients whose lungs are besieged by the virus."
The article puts a lot of focus on the US in particular but statements like the above are also telling of how severely this virus can affect poorer countries like India and the ones in Africa - countries with a much worse health-care system.
Why you should dive deeper:
If you are not from the US, you might want to focus on the non-US specific parts of the article i.e, mostly in the second half. For example,
It talks about 3 possible end-games to this virus' shenanigans:
* one that’s very unlikely - every nation manages to simultaneously bring the virus to heel, as with the original SARS in 2003. Given how widespread the coronavirus pandemic is, and how badly many countries are faring, the odds of worldwide synchronous control seem vanishingly small.
* one that’s very dangerous - the virus does what past flu pandemics have done: It burns through the world and leaves behind enough immune survivors that it eventually struggles to find viable hosts. This “herd immunity” scenario would be quick, and thus tempting. But it would also come at a terrible cost: SARS-CoV-2 is more transmissible and fatal than the flu, and it would likely leave behind many millions of corpses and a trail of devastated health systems. The United Kingdom initially seemed to consider this herd-immunity strategy, before backtracking when models revealed the dire consequences. The U.S. now seems to be considering it too.
* one that’s very long - the world plays a protracted game of whack-a-mole with the virus, stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced. This is the best option, but also the longest and most complicated.
It also addresses the mental health issues arising due to all the isolation. “After infections begin ebbing, a secondary pandemic of mental-health problems will follow. At a moment of profound dread and uncertainty, people are being cut off from soothing human contact. People with anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder are struggling.”
I want to talk more about the three possible final outcomes that this article mentioned.
Actually, not giving any more thought to the very unlikely outcome, I would like to talk about the other 2.
It seems that the most dangerous path (herd immunity) is a one that no big country (except maybe, USA) seems to be considering. Almost all the highly infected countries have imposed some form a lockdown to curb the virus from spreading faster.
This brings us to the 3rd one - the very long outcome. The path leading to it involves social distancing and large scale testing. It focuses on "flattening the curve":
In my opinion, all of this means that we, humans, are going to live with this virus for a long time - until we develop a vaccine and develop an easy way to mass manufacture it.
"If this were a flu pandemic, that would be easier. The world is experienced at making flu vaccines and does so every year. But there are no existing vaccines for coronaviruses—until now, these viruses seemed to cause diseases that were mild or rare—so researchers must start from scratch."
"Berkley and others estimate that it will take 12 to 18 months to develop a proven vaccine, and then longer still to make it, ship it, and inject it into people’s arms."
So, we should talk optimism now!
It’s going to be a drastically new world for everyone now. If we focus on figuring out the green in this ocean of red, we just might become even better off than what we could have been before.
“Even the worst crisis creates opportunities”
This was the headline of AngelList’s last week’s newsletter.
I came across it in my inbox because I am a subscriber (it’s one of those newsletters that give me a FOMO).
This newsletter talks about how the pandemic has deepened reliance on services from the technology industry’s most prominent companies while accelerating trends that were already benefiting them.
There is an increase in the demand for cloud computing platforms. Increase in the usage of remote and collaboration tools. A surge in the demand of grocery delivery apps. Increase in traffic to video streaming sites and social media platforms. An increased usage of apps in general.
And a lot of it isn’t your normal growth; it’s crazy growth. Here’s a tweet from the founder and CEO of Slack:
Why you should dive deeper:
The newsletter talks about the specific companies in each of the areas that I mentioned and how they are doing well.
I believe it might just fill you up with ideas on how you can improve your own life by driving along these very green trends.
The newsletter itself is a short read.
The tweet linked above is a part of a tweetstorm in which Stewart goes into some details of the past few weeks at Slack. It’s a good read:
I came upon this article when it was shared by Bill Gates on Twitter:
Now remember, Bill Gates is not just the Microsoft guy, he has also started The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates Foundation had a huge role to play in eradicting the polio disease from the planet.
Keeping this in mind, let me share some particularly “long half-life” Q&A from the article:
8. TEDMED: What is the difference between SARS-CoV2 and COVID-19?
SARS-CoV2 is the virus; COVID-19 is the disease which that virus spreads.
13. TEDMED: How many different coronaviruses affect humans?
There are 7 coronaviruses that have human- to-human transmission. 4 generate a mild cold. But 3 of them can be deadly, including the viruses that cause SARS and MERS, and now the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV2.
14. TEDMED: Why is it called the “novel” coronavirus?
Novel just means it is new to humans, meaning that this specific virus is one that we’ve never seen before. Our immune system has been evolving for 2 million years. But since our bodies have never seen this virus before, there has been no opportunity for humans to develop immunity.
15. TEDMED: How often does a novel virus emerge that we need to care about?
It’s rare… but it happens. Examples include the viruses that cause diseases such as HIV, SARS, MERS and a few others. It will happen again.
18. TEDMED: How is this new virus different from the earlier known coronaviruses that spread SARS or MERS?
SARS-CoV2 is different in 4 critical ways:
First, many infected people have no symptoms for days, so they can unknowingly infect others, and we don’t know who to isolate. This is very worrisome because SARS-CoV2 is highly infectious.
Second, 80% of the time, COVID-19 is a mild disease that feels like a minor cold or cough, so we don’t isolate ourselves, and infect others.
Third, the symptoms are easily confused with the flu, so many people think they have the flu and don’t consider other possibilities.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the virus is very easy to spread from human to human because in the early stages it is concentrated in the upper throat. The throat is full of viral particles so when we cough or sneeze, billions of these particles can be expelled and transmitted to another person.
23. TEDMED: How likely is it that scientists will develop a vaccine to prevent people from getting infected?
It is reasonably likely, but there are no guarantees that we will even have a vaccine. Failure is possible. For example, we’ve been searching for an HIV vaccine for 35 years and we still don’t have one. I’m optimistic that we will develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV2, but we will have to extensively test it for efficacy and safety – which takes a lot of people and time.
26. TEDMED: Have we made progress already?
The good news is that only weeks after the discovery and isolation of SARS-CoV2, which occurred in early January of 2020, vaccine development started immediately.
28. TEDMED: Can’t we develop a vaccine faster?
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. The human body’s immune system is complex and unpredictable. Viral mutations may occur. Children are different from adults. Women may respond differently than men. We need to be sure that any vaccine is 100% safe for everyone who gets it.
32. TEDMED: Which groups of people are most at danger here?
First of all, older people like me: I'm 71. The older you are, the higher your risk. Also at greater risk are people with underlying diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive lung disease and pulmonary disease or cardiovascular disease or immune deficiencies.
38. TEDMED: We often hear COVID-19 compared to the seasonal flu. What’s the right way to frame this comparison? For example, are the seasonal flu and coronavirus equally dangerous?
The seasonal flu typically infects up to 30 million people a year in the U.S., and fewer than 1/10th of 1% of the infected group will die – but that is still a big number. Worldwide, in an average year, a total of 300,000 people die from seasonal flu. But, on an average basis, the new coronavirus is 10-20 times more deadly, and in contrast to influenza, we cannot protect ourselves through vaccination.
46. TEDMED: Has mankind ever wiped out a virus completely?
Yes. Smallpox, which used to kill millions of people. And, we’re very close with polio thanks to the Gates Foundation and many governments around the world such as the U.S. Let’s not forget what a terrible plague that was in the world.
52. TEDMED: If I get infected, are there drugs I can take to make the virus less severe, or make it go away entirely?
No drugs have yet been proven effective as a treatment or what doctors call a “therapy.” A lot of different drugs are being tested in clinical trials, so hopefully that will change for the better soon.
53. TEDMED: How likely are we to come up with new therapeutic drugs, and how soon?
I'm quite confident that probably in a matter of a couple of months, we are very likely to find “off-label” uses of current drugs that help treat an infected person. In other words, we'll have a new use for existing drugs that were originally used against other viral infections such as HIV. It will take time and a lot of real tests to be sure though. New therapeutic drugs are being tested in clinical trials, particularly in China, but also elsewhere. It looks promising.
57. TEDMED: What are the advantages of masks when used properly and who should wear masks?
The best masks, carefully fitted and worn properly, slow down the spread FROM sick people coughing. Meaning, the mask is not to protect you from other people; it is to protect other people from you. It is a courtesy to others to wear a mask when you get what you think is a cold, and you start coughing. Masks have an additional benefit: they make it less likely that you will touch your mouth, so it becomes less likely that if you have the virus on your hands, you will transfer it into your body. Masks provide benefits for healthcare workers. If you work in a healthcare setting or in elder care, masks are mandatory.
69. TEDMED: What is the main symptom that people should be on the lookout for?
Coughing is the #1 symptom
70. TEDMED: Is fever a good way to identify infected people?
A high fever may be cause for concern and is worth getting medical attention. But screening for fever alone, at an airport or checkpoint for example, lets a lot of infected people pass.
71. TEDMED: What percentage of the people who tested positive in Chinese hospitals arrived without a fever?
About 30% of Chinese coronavirus patients had no fever when they arrived at the hospital.
79. TEDMED: Should I be worried that I’m going to get COVID-19? How worried are you, Peter?
If you’re not at high risk, I wouldn’t worry too much, but I would do everything I can to avoid becoming infected as you don’t know individual outcomes. Everyone is eventually going to be at risk for acquiring this infection in the next few years, just as no one avoids the common cold or the flu over time. So all of us should be ready to stay home at the first signs.
82. TEDMED: It appears that after people recover from the new virus, they may still be contagious. Is that true?
We don’t know, although it appears that may be the case for a while after recovery. We are not totally sure. More research is needed.
90. TEDMED: The greatest pandemic of modern times was the 1918 flu pandemic right at the end of World War I. In that pandemic, influenza simply mutated – it was not a new virus. How does SARS-CoV2 compare to that mutation?
SARS-CoV2 is just as contagious as the 1918 influenza pandemic and appears to be nearly as lethal, but time will tell. Remember, back in 1918 there was no medical system anything like what we have in the developed world, and there were no antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia, which was a major cause of death.
92. TEDMED: It’s hard to believe that suddenly a truly new virus that mankind has never seen can infect millions of people. When is the last time that happened?
SARS and MERS were new – but they did not reach scale. HIV was new to the world and has infected 70 million people – of whom 32 million have died from the HIV Pandemic.
99. TEDMED: Who are you most worried about?
It’s the low-resource countries that I am very worried about. Each death is a tragedy. When we say that on average, 1% to 2% of infected people will die from coronavirus, that is a lot. After all, 1% of a million is 10,000 people, and it is the elderly I am very worried about. But 98%-99% of people won't die from this. The seasonal flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year and you don’t panic – even if we actually should take flu far more seriously and make sure we are all vaccinated against it every year. Just as we have learned to live with seasonal flu, I think we will need to learn how to go about our lives in a normal fashion, despite the presence of COVID-19, until an effective vaccine becomes available.
Why you should dive deeper:
That’s all from me for now. I’ll try to dive deeper into the web more often. And when I do, I’ll be sure to share them with you in this Good Surfer newsletter!
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Until then - stay safe, tune out the misinformation and try staying optimistic!