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Core researchers: Sofia Qureshi, Adam Jaffer, Apurva Joshi, Alyssa Gould, Mukundh Murthy , Ria Dani, Carina D’Souza, Tatyana Okanlomo, Victoria Dmitruczyk, Eshan Rasul, Arqish Minhas, Rosa Li, Kael Lascelle, Khalid Filali, Safwan Khan, Hailey Vallabh, Mazin Hussain, Roxy Jones + Caitlyn Coloma
Now, onto everything you need to know about COVID-19.
Our goal was to tackle 6 pressing areas:
Let’s dive in 🚀
In this section we’re going to break down:
Time and time again, history has provided the world with deadly viruses that have shaken and disrupted everything we know. Humanity is no stranger to pandemics, which is why it is hard to believe that most people don’t even know the difference between the words “pandemic” and “epidemic.” Both are thrown around carelessly in the media, often leading to confusion and even the spread of misinformation.
As many continue to practice social distancing, a barrage of articles and videos claiming to tell you everything you need to know about the progression of COVID-19 have been flooding the internet. It’s hard to know where to start with so many resources available; in our experience, it’s best to start at the beginning. How can you understand the coronavirus if you don’t understand the basic facets of epidemiology?
Reading this article will provide you with the background knowledge necessary to distinguish the important information disseminated by news stations regarding the COVID-19 outbreak from the media outlets looking to profit off the fear of the uniformed public.
Beginning with a term less frequently used, an endemic disease is one that is at predicted or normal levels for a certain time and area. One example of this is chicken pox in the United States; it has not been eradicated, but there is a predictable number of cases each year that occur seasonally, and the disease is under control with treatment and vaccines.
When an endemic expands so that the levels of the disease are higher than predicted in an area, this is called an outbreak or epidemic. Epidemics usually mean that there is a more sudden increase, but both terms are pretty similar.
Pandemic doesn’t actually mean that levels have increased, but instead refers to the geographical spread of a disease to multiple populations around the world. Using COVID-19 as an example, when the virus was contained in China, it was an epidemic, but when it spread to Italy, South Korea, the United States, and many other countries, it became a pandemic.
When discussing epidemiology, it’s also important to know a few other terms. Hyperendemic is kind of a mix between endemic and epidemic, and it means that a disease is at high levels in a certain population, but is constantly at these high levels and is predicted every year. An example of this is malaria in Africa, since about 90% of malaria deaths occur in Africa every year. This is a concern, since these levels are very high compared to other regions, but they are predictable and occur at a constant rate every year.
In contrast, sporadic means that a disease is occurring infrequently and is scattered geographically. Lastly, cluster means that a disease is occurring largely in one area with the majority of cases grouped together. Now that these terms are separated, we can better understand past epidemics and pandemics, and the current coronavirus situation.
Each outbreak has different causes and escalates differently, but most commonly a pandemic is caused by a new virus strain (often zoonotic, which means it is transferred from animals) that is transferred to humans and then easily and rapidly spreads between our populations. It could also be caused by a bacteria that has become resistant to an antibiotic, and therefore can continue to spread. When a virus or bacteria is quickly spreading and mutating, and humans have little to no resistance, a pandemic often occurs.
Some of the most noteworthy pandemics throughout history give us insights on how to best tackle the recent surge of COVID-19, each pandemic bringing forth a new way to look at our current situation. Let’s begin with some of the most well known pandemics and epidemics and then move into things related more to COVID-19:
Some notable pandemics/epidemics
Due to the past outbreaks and learnings of pandemics in history, in 2005, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (or HHS) created a plan to better tackle the everyday threat of pandemics to control, prevent and quickly respond to the ever growing possibility of mass shutdowns. This is known as the National Pandemic strategy and has been improving health care, public care and emergency management in a multitude of ways since its establishment. Some of its most important work has been in stockpiling and manufacturing capacity for vaccines, guidance and education on prevention for local and state governments, as well as individuals such as families.
As a brief overview, there are seven domains to the national pandemic strategy. They are as follows:
After understanding previous pandemics and epidemics, we can recognize patterns and create models to predict and try to prevent future outbreaks. One very math based way to predict the rate of change of an outbreak and to predict how quickly it will spread and to what level it will reach is by using an SIR model.
In this model there are three groups: people who are susceptible to getting the disease named S(t), people who are infected named I(t), and people who have recovered named R(t). It is also assumed that everyone in the population always falls into one of these three groups and that infected people can only be infected once. At the beginning of an outbreak (at time t = 0), mostly everyone is susceptible, few are infected, and almost none are recovered.
We use the equation S(t) + I(t) + R(t) = N (whole population) to derive a system of equations to predict rates of change. The word “derivative” always seems a little scary, but this math truly isn’t too bad.
We start with the derivative of the susceptible people, which is dS/dt = -aSI. This equation is negative because as time goes on, the number of susceptible people decreases as more people get the disease. A acts as a constant that is related to the probability of getting the disease (A can change based on other factors such as quarentining, increasing hygiene, etc.) The term S*I shows the connections or interactions between susceptible and infected people, and as the numbers increase, this term shows more rapid spread of the disease.
Next the equation dI/dt = aSI — bI shows how the number of infected people changes over time. This is probably the most complicated, but also the coolest, just wait. To start, the first part of the equation is the same as how the group of susceptible people changes, but the positive value. Why? Because each person that leaves the susceptible group moves to infected, and the number of people who are infected are no longer susceptible. The second part, the -bI, refers to how part of the infected group is always recovering (this sadly includes dying).
This leads into the third derivative, dR/dt = +bI. The group of recovered people consists of anyone who is no longer infected, regardless of their actual state. This group should continue to grow as a pandemic continues over time.
So how does this help? Well, using the middle derivative and some substitution, we can get this ratio (R0 = aS/b). When the rate of infected people is increasing at a rate less than at t=0 (the beginning), we can predict that an epidemic or pandemic won’t occur (when R0 < 1). Based on other factors, such as developing a vaccine or treatment, this ratio changes, and we can predict whether or not there will be a pandemic and figure out the approximate rate of spreading from graphs.
With the help of math, we can also look at previous epidemics and pandemics, figure out what went well and what could be better, and improve our current practices based on this.
The PIF is a framework that helps specifically with the immediate control over the pandemic as it collects data, communicates with others, and observes the reactions and effects.This is often implemented sometime during the national pandemic strategy and is a crucial step in the mitigation of the pandemic. here’s a brief look at what happens there.
It involves six crucial phases…
Once a disease is recognized to be a threat and is identified to be contagious from person-to-person easily, the Pandemic Severity Assessment Framework (PSAF) is put into effect. This is to evaluate the aftermath and impact of the pandemic, as well as how severe the pandemic that is in effect is. There are two things that are looked at to determine how severe a pandemic might be and that’s clinical severity (how serious the actual infection is) and transmitibility (how easily the virus spreads).
This framework is divided into two parts, initial assessment and refined assessment.
1. Initial assessment
This is what is first looked at during the early stages of the pandemic. This is so the CDC can accurately gauge the situation and impact of the pandemic. Information about the pandemic is usually limited up until this point because research on the virus has not yet occurred in depth. This phase can be in constant reiteration as the pandemic evolves and more information is revealed.
2. Refined assessment
The second and final part of the severity and assessment framework is the refined phase. This is when pandemic information is more consistent. The information is thus more accurate to the situation at hand and a better suited data set for the prediction of impacts.
Now that you have a grasp on the nature of pandemics and the way that the United States handles pandemics, you will be able to understand the complexity of the COVID-19 situation and how it is likely to affect the future of the world as we know it. Use this knowledge to make your own informed opinion on the motivations behind different governmental reforms and the widespread media coverage of the disease.
There’s a virus, and it’s spreading quickly. Within a relatively short amount of time, it’s been made clear to most countries that this thing is a threat, and that they’d better start doing something about it before a larger problem occurs — like their whole nation falling due to literally everyone being sick.
This is understandable, because nationwide failure is pretty much something everyone wants to avoid. Thankfully — or maybe not, depending upon how you look at it — this is only a pandemic, not an epidemic. The two are different in some ways, but when you look at it, they’re actually quite similar.
Lastly, because it seems worth mentioning:
These words are often confused in media and everyday life, but it’s nonetheless important that some have the distinction. They aren’t the only words you’ll hear in disease classification, either.
Pandemic and epidemic aren’t the only words that are tossed around when talking about a problem that’s spreading quickly. In fact, there are many more that you might hear, especially when talking about when the start of the pandemic was.
Epidemics happen on the smaller scale, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not brought to our attention in the same way. Many epidemics have made front-page headline news — or, at least did when they happened.
You’ve probably heard more about some of these pandemics, as they happen on a grander scale than epidemics do.
The spanish flu of 1918. This turned out to be a huge problem for many european countries, with about 40–50M deaths estimated. It ran its course for two year (from 1918 to 1920), but eventually died off, leaving ruins of countries and economies.
Regardless, pandemics tend to have a greater effect than epidemics in term of the death count, but both are pretty brutal for those who are affected.
In this section we’re going to break down:
The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to a global health crisis, millions of businesses being affected, and entire countries being shut down for the time being.
But… how did all of this happen?
Well, COVID-19, named after the family of coronaviruses is well… a virus! But before we try to understand how COVID-19 works, let’s take a step back and try to understand the fundamentals of how viruses work themselves.
Before we understand the specific case of COVID-19, we need to understand how a virus infects people, spreads, and how we can fight them when new mutations come up.
Okay… So What is a Virus? 🦠
Viruses can come in a bunch of different forms. Some are round, others are rod-shaped, Icosahedral, some even look like mini robots (shout-out to bacteriophages 👇).
But no matter their shape or structure, all viruses have one thing in common: They are simply a viral genome (some piece of RNA or DNA) encapsulated in a protein (called a nucleocapsid) to protect it, encapsulated in a second protein which contains receptors that it needs to bind to cells in a host body.
Since viruses really are just a piece of genetic information enveloped in a protective protein, they are:'
By themselves, viruses can seem pretty harmless — I mean they can’t even survive on their own! But the real danger starts when they come in contact with a cell which they will make their host.
Before a virus can start causing you (or other living things) harm, it needs to find a way to enter the cell. Like we saw before, they are encapsulated in a protein on which there are receptors that the virus uses to latch onto the targeted cell:
For this reason, many viruses are species-specific, some even just cell-specific. If the virus does not have the right receptor needed to bind to the cell, it’s not able to infect it!
If the virus has the right receptor (like in the first example), it either begins to insert its genetic information (their DNA or RNA) into the cell, or it inserts itself into the cell. From here, the virus starts replicating itself and infecting the host body. There are two ways that the virus can replicate itself: Through the lytic cycle or the lysogenic cycle.
The lytic cycle is the faster of the two cycles a virus can take when replicating itself.
During this cycle, the virus’ genetic material “hi-jacks” the cell and starts using it’s resources to create more copies of itself. It replicates itself in different parts (e.g. replicates it’s DNA/RNA, replicates its capsid, etc).
Once the virus has created many copies of its different parts, the virus reassembles all of its parts. It does so until the entire cell is filled to the brim and explodes (or if you’re fancy — until it “lyses”) and releases itself back into the host body to go infect more cells.
The lysogenic cycle is much slower and may not infect a host body as fast as the lytic cycle might, but it can still be just as deadly.
Instead of replicating many copies of itself after it has inserted itself into a cell, the viral DNA (or RNA) incorporates itself into the genome of the cell, staying hidden.
It does not replicate on it’s own but instead replicates when the cells themselves replicate. The host cell will stay intact throughout this cycle, and new copies of the integrated viral DNA will exist in these new cells.
This process happens much slower than the lysogenic, but after a certain amount of time, instructions in the viral DNA can kickstart the lytic cycle. At this point many cells infected by the lysogenic cycle will replicate the virus all at once, lyse, and infect more of the host body’s cells.
Now… all of that stuff happens once the virus enters your (or another species’) body. But how did it get there in the first place?? 🤔
How Viruses Spread
There are many different ways viruses can spread, and if you want to avoid the wrath of the lytic and lysogenic cycle above, it’s important to understand what preventative measures can be taken depending on how a virus can be transmitted.
The most common forms of transmission are:
1. Airborne / Aerosol Transmission
This type of transmission is exactly what it sounds like; it’s transmitted through the air. Some viruses are small enough to be carried in incredibly small droplets in the air that can come from the sneeze or cough of a person who is a carrier. A common example of this is the season flu (influenza)
2. Droplet Transmissions
This transmission is similar to the Airborne transmission, however, it does not spread across as large a distance. It is spread through droplets such as those that can come from a sneeze or a cough, but the droplets are larger and therefore usually infect others within a 2 m range. An example of this is COVID-19.
3. Direct Contact Transmission
This transmission of a virus happens when a host body is in direct body contact with tissues or fluids of an infected host. The virus usually enters through a mucous membrane such as eyes, nose, etc.
4. Fomite Transmission
This transmission occurs when objects are touched by an infected host. These objects become contaminated and other possible hosts can touch the object and get infected. This includes things like medical equipment, tables, etc.
5. Vector-Borne Transmission
This occurs when a virus is transmissible through other living organisms that can carry pathogenic microorganisms, such as fleas, mosquitos or ticks.
6. Oral Transmission
This transmission happens when infected hosts contaminate things that can be consumed. Water, food, etc. Even licking contaminated surfaces can transmit the disease.
7. Zoonotic Transmission
Zoonotic transmissions occur when a virus has the capability to spread via animals by any of the transmissions above.
So I bet all of this can sound pretty scary. There are so many ways a virus can infect and spread throughout a population. But let’s get into the most important part… What can we do to prevent all of this mayhem?
How Can We Fight Viruses?
There are many things we can do to help prevent, slow down, and limit the effects of viruses. These vary from medical care to individual things we can do to help flatten the curve.
Modern medicine can go a long way to help limit the effects of a virus on a population. The most common ways we fight viruses are by:
Antivirals are types of drugs that can slow down or even halt the effect of viruses to make them less severe.
Most antivirals try to attack the virus replication process (lytic or lysogenic cycles) while trying not to harm healthy cells.
Antivirals can be effective, but they might not be sustainable because:
Vaccines are weakened or inactive forms of a virus that are injected into patients to help them build immunity against a virus to decrease their chances of being infected by the virus.
You can think of a vaccine as the “training ground” for your body to fight the virus.
When this inactive or weakened virus is inserted into your body, your immune system responds to it as if it were an actual virus. B Lymphocytes (a specialized white blood cell) in your body fight the virus and create anti-bodies designed to fit the receptors on the virus.
Once their anti-bodies are made, your body creates memory cells that remember how to tackle the virus, so that if you’re every infected with it again, you won’t get sick!
Vaccines work great, but they can take long research periods and big investments to develop, which is why they don’t always work as a quick solution to dangerous viruses.
We can’t solely depend on modern medicine to fix health crises since as we’ve seen the above solutions aren’t always feasible during a pandemic. But there are things we can do individually to help fight viruses.
Practice Social Distancing
You’ve probably heard this term about a million times over, but the reason we’re talking about it so much is because it can go such a long way in slowing down and fighting a contagious virus.
By maintaining social distance you are not only protecting yourself from getting infected, but also preventing others from potentially getting infected, decreasing the overall infection rate in a given time frame. This is essential when a virus is transmitted through droplets.
By maintaining a 6 ft distance from people and also not gathering in large groups, you can help slow the spread of viruses. 💪
Frequently and Properly Washing Hands
As cheesy as this may sound, hand washing is essential in periods when we have an on-going global health crisis.
Washing your hands with soap destroys and contact you may have had with a virus since the outer-layer dissolves in the soap, leaving only the genetic information which is then washed away and no longer harmful.
To wash your hands properly, try washing them for the duration of the song “Happy Birthday” (20 ish seconds) or wash them as if you had just finished cutting jalapeños and are about to put contacts in your eyes. 🌶 👀
Any actions that we can take individually can go a long way during times like these, and it’s important to do our part!
In this section we’re going to break down:
Coronavirus. It’s all everyone has been talking about for about a couple of months now. From schools being shut down in countries like Canada, to complete nationwide lockdown in countries including Italy and India, it has caused complete chaos in civilizations across the globe.
It’s spurred consumers to overspend on commodities like sanitizer, masks, and toilet paper (still not quite sure about that one. Why??).
But for something that has made such a huge impact around the world, fairly little is known about what it is, how it spreads, how it affects the body, and what scientists and medical professionals are doing to stop it.
So let’s dive right into what into what COVID-19 is.
Essentially, coronavirus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), is a RNA virus, which causes the disease/slew of symptoms known as COVID-19. As far as we know, the virus was transferred into humans via consumption of a bat infected with the coronavirus, after which it mutated to adapt to its new host.
For the non-biology nerds out there, a virus is an infectious agent that consists only of a shell made of protein, envelope proteins on this shell, and some genetic information (usually DNA) on the inside. That’s usually it. Most viruses have nothing else. That’s why they’re not even considered to be living.
Because they lack any cellular machinery, viruses also depend on infecting cells and hijacking their cellular machinery to replicate its own genome and produce the protein shells (called capsids).
RNA viruses operate in the same way, but instead of housing DNA in the capsids, they hold RNA strands. Since most cells do not have the cellular machinery to replicate RNA, the viruses must encode their own proteins that do so. Many notorious viruses, including the influenza virus, and viruses that cause hemorrhagic disorders like Ebola, dengue, and yellow fever, are RNA viruses.
The coronavirus, specifically, contains a positive-sense RNA-based genome. This means that the host cell can identify the virus’ RNA as an mRNA strand, allowing for immediate translation into the capsid proteins. On the other hand, negative-sense RNA strands require the virus to store an enzyme that usually turns the RNA into DNA, which is then incorporated into the host’s genome.
Another thing most of you might not know about the coronavirus… it’s not the first one. In fact, coronavirus, or coronaviridae, is just the name of a class of viruses.
There have been previous coronavirus outbreaks, with the most notable being the SARS outbreak (SARS-CoV virus) from 2002–2004 and the MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak that started in 2015 and continues in the region. All of these viral strains are classified under the broader category of coronaviruses because of their similar characteristics, including their structure, methods of infection, and general effects on the body.
One of the most distinctive characteristics shared across all coronavirus strains is the club-shaped S (spike) glycoproteins on the capsid. These proteins give a crown-like or halo-like appearance to the virus, which is why they are named coronaviruses in the first place (“corona-” means crown in Latin). The virus also has other proteins that contribute to its ability to infect oru body. Envelope (E) glycoproteins are crucial for controlling the assembly, release, and infectivity of mature viruses. Nucleocapsid (N) proteins knit a characteristic shell of identical subunits, like the panes of a greenhouse, that binds and packages the RNA genome. These proteins also serve as a cloaking device, hiding the virus from the immune system. The Membrane (M) glycoprotein lies beneath the spikes and shapes mature viral particles and binds the inner layers.
As far as we know, the virus spreads from person to person via droplet infections when people cough, or by touching your face after coming into contact with an infected person. Next, the virus usually enters the body through the respiratory tract, where it makes its way into the lungs.
Once there, the virus targets the epithelial cells that line and protect your lungs. The S proteins attach to receptors on the cell surface (specifically, ACE2 receptors) that allow the virus to inject its genome into the host cell. Once this happens, things are about to start getting really bad.
The cell, oblivious to what’s happening, accepts the RNA from the virus, and starts replicating the genome, and assembling the protein capsids. Soon, the cell is filled with hundreds of assembled copies of the coronavirus just waiting to be released.
Once the cell reaches a critical point, the viruses make one final lethal blow. They cause the cell to release chemicals that cause its cell membrane to lyse, or rupture, releasing the cytoplasmic content, including hundreds of coronaviruses, into the surroundings. These viruses infect more cells, which produce more viruses, and the process continues. The number of infected cells in the lungs grows exponentially and after only about 10 days, millions of epithelial cells are infected.
But the worst is yet to come.
As these viruses are released into the surroundings, some of them begin to infect your immune cells.
Your immune system consists of many different types of immune cells that all have the function of keeping your body safe from foreign invaders, including viruses. All of these cells communicate with one another using signalling molecules known as cytokines, which signal the immune system to react to a specific invader.
As the immune cells arrive at the site of infection, two specific types of cells take action. The first, neutrophils, release tons of enzymes that cause the death of both healthy and infected cells. The second, known as killer T cells, normally instruct infected cells to commit suicide, preventing viral reproduction. But, because of the excessive number of killer T cells that arrive on the scene, they begin to give the same instruction to healthy cells. Overall, the immune overreaction causes the death of hundreds or thousands of epithelial cells.
In younger individuals with stronger immune systems, the disease rarely progresses to this stage, since the immune system is able to handle the virus and return to normal before the extreme reaction. Younger patients will only really experience flu-like symptoms. In particularly bad cases where the disease does progress this far, it can cause permanent scarring that can lead to severe disorders and complications later in life, and may even require hospitalization.
But for seniors and patients with compromised immune systems, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
One of the most important functions of the epithelial cells is to protect the body from foreign invaders including bacteria. With most of the epithelial protection degraded in immunosuppressed (individuals with weak immune systems, either because of age, some disorder, or side effects from medical treatments like chemotherapy) individuals, the lungs are vulnerable to thousands of bacteria that were harmless to the body before. The alveoli (air sacs in your lungs) are stormed by these bacteria, causing patients to develop pneumonia and become dependent on ventilators to survive. The immune system, which had been fighting full force for weeks before, becomes overwhelmed as the bacteria very quickly overrun the body, in a condition known as sepsis, making death imminent. This is the reason why the elderly and immunocompromised have the highest death rate amongst coronavirus patients.
Another reason the coronavirus is so severe is the fact that it spreads so fast.
As mentioned above, the virus spreads mainly through salivary droplets that are released into the air when someone sneezes or coughs. According to a study conducted in China, the virus can remain in the air for 30 minutes. If an individual happens to inhale these droplets, or they come into contact with a surface that has the viruses, they themselves can become infected.
But the biggest problem contributing to the spread is the lack of symptoms in patients for the first stage of infection. Other diseases with a similar method of transmission present symptoms very quickly, which often prevents patients from interacting with large groups of people.
Patients that have been infected by the coronavirus, however, tend to not experience any symptoms for about two weeks. The viruses can, however, begin shedding (released into the environment) within two days of the infection and can continue to do so for up to 20 days after recovery. This means that even individuals that seem healthy could be spreading the virus among their peers, family, and the public.
That’s why there is a huge focus on social distancing. If individuals remain at home and avoid gatherings and interactions with large groups of individuals, they can reduce their chances of getting and distributing the virus exponentially.
As we don’t have a fully FDA tested drug or vaccine developed yet, healthcare centres have been using a slew of antiviral medications to help facilitate the reduction of the symptoms of COVID-19. On the other hand, researchers are working to develop new targeted drugs and repurpose old ones. For the latter option of repurposing effective drugs from similar conditions, researchers found that two compounds that were previously used as antimalarial drugs — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — showed great potential in reducing the viral load seen in patients.
Recent research also indicates that other antibiotics such as azithromycin (used to disrupt the growth of mycobacterial infections) which was thought to prevent excess growth of the respiratory tract infections caused by COVID-19, and remdesivir (a medication used to treat Ebola) were similarly effective in the process of treating COVID-19, and in fact reinforced the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine when used in combination. According to trials conducted by a joint group from France and Vietnam, the synergetic use of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin over 6 days resulted in a 100% virological cure rate (p<0.001), whereas the hydroxychloroquine-integrated group displayed 57.1%, which could be compared to a control of 12.5%:
When a disease is virologically cured, it indicates that after a set period of time the virus levels in the body are either zero or at a similarly negligible rate. In the case of COVID-19, viral levels are usually tested using PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which allows researchers to “scale-up” extremely low concentrations of viral DNA from nasopharyngeal swab samples (upper part of the throat) allowing it to replicate itself billions of times into detectable concentrations. Researchers can then use specific genetic sequences that they know to be part of the coronavirus genome to see if the genome samples generated through PCR contain those sequences.
In terms of developing a vaccine; however, progress is much slower despite the urgency put forth by health organizations such as the WHO, and because of the inherently slow nature of this process relative to adopting repurposed versions of older drugs. Nevertheless, the genetic similarity between COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 ) and SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) allows researchers to repurpose and modify the viruses present in old vaccines.
The mechanism of action for most vaccines is quite simple — by creating “weaker” or less potent versions of a given virus and introducing it to the body, the immune system eradicates the foreign substance and generates memory B cells in the process. These cells are responsible for the formation and constant updating of their immune “database”, which ensures that in the case of the same viruses being introduced at full potency and strength, the memory B cells initiate a “secondary immune response” to fight it. This is the reason why humans are almost never infected twice with diseases such as chickenpox or measles.
In this case, however, researchers are testing a different approach to providing vaccination. Instead of introducing weakened versions of the virus, they actually introduce a small piece of mRNA that had been extracted from the virus and expanded in the lab. This mRNA codes for the spike proteins crucial for the virus to enter human cells. The researchers hope that the immune system can learn to recognize the spike proteins should the individual get infected with coronavirus, and kill the viruses before they can damage the body. Testing of the vaccine has already begun in Seattle, and researchers are just waiting for results.
The only challenges that researchers face during the creation and testing of drugs and vaccine candidates would be to ensure their precision. This is because most antiviral and antibacterial drugs can attack a considerable portion of healthy cells along with the virus, which can lead to a series of side-effects that can be potentially fatal, especially for the elderly population.
Moreover, drugs need to be developed with properly tested dosages, and this dosage may need to be tailored to the person being treated, as research showed that several dosages of drugs (especially in combinations) was less effective, and in studies, that the given measure of the drug (0.46μg/ml hydroxychloroquine serum)in the trial would have a varied effect on different patients.
At this point, researchers are in the process of finding and testing current candidates for vaccines to COVID-19, and the majority of these candidates are based on SARS-CoV vaccine contents. While researchers develop these candidates, it is our duty as citizens of our respective countries to continue to slow its spread through the practice of social distancing, proper handwashing techniques, and self-isolation when necessary so that humanity can eradicate COVID-19 as fast as possible.
Scientists are looking into nanoparticle-based designer vaccines for COVID-19!
Essentially, they’re using computational molecular self assembly to build a harmless nanoparticle core that would resemble the virus’s capsid and everything inside without triggering immune reactions!
On the outside of the nanoparticle core, they’re also building protein-based antigens components resembling the spike protein. However, these protein designs have to go through extensive computational simulation, as the goal is to ultimately have these proteins self assemble along with the nanoparticle core!
Once the amino acid sequences are determined, scientists look to use synthetic biology to encode the instructions to make these sequences into the DNA of E. coli. And once these proteins are then filtered and isolated, they will automatically assemble into the vaccine nanoparticles!!!
In addition to molecular self assembly component, synthetic nanoparticle protein scaffolds will enable the vaccine to be heat-resilient — in other words, the vaccine would be accessible to those in far reaching climates and altitudes.
In conjunction with manipulating DNA to code for self-assembling proteins, we’re also looking into use gene editing systems not only to teach our body not to fight these harmful viruses through the production of antigens — but also just cut the problem right at its root — literally.
Gene editing has been a major scientific tool on the table ever since Jennifer Doudna discovered it back in 2012. CRISPR (which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), is part of the bacterial immune system encoded into their genes. It enables them to recognize encoded viral DNA in their genomes and efficiently excise it — using a protein endonuclease called cas9 (crispr-associated protein 9).
But now — the tables have turned. We humans can the bacterial CRISPR system to edit out the harmful portions of the SARS-COV-2 genome.
However, we need a new protein player — cas13a — as cas9 can make double stranded cuts in DNA, but not RNA — and the virus that causes COVID-19 is a positive strand RNA retrovirus.
Normally, the cas complexes that snip out DNA require another nucleic acid sequence complementary to their target to guide them there — also known as gRNA.
Common intuition says that all we need to do is find an RNA sequence complementary to our given target sequences — but the task is much more complicated than it looks. Screening for what are known as “off-target effects” (essentially places where the cas13a could unintentionally excise our own DNA and cause super harmful side effects) as well as folding the gRNA into a 3-dimensional structure to assess its structural biochemistry and any unforeseen interactions it may have with surrounding macromolecules takes computational energy and time.
Fortunately, researchers have just come out with a machine learning algorithm that can propose viable gRNA sequences for complementary targets int he SARS-COV-2 genome. This could mean that RNA editing might be an alternative to other traditional vaccines and therapies.
Some other quick innovations being released by companies include
Ultimately, though, it’s important noting that for most of these theorized and hypothesized treatments — though they’re being developed for the sole reason that they would be more efficacious than other treatments — are still in preclinical stages, and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll pass through FDA approval within a few months, or even before the pandemic subsides.
Nevertheless, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, something amazing can be said about this specific point in history. Though COVID is presenting us with numerous challenges and obstacles through which we must stay resilient, it’s also showing us our potential as humanity to pursue to rapid scientific innovation in times of crisis.
Aside from all of this, we must practice social distancing as a community, wash our hands, and do our duty to prevent the spread of the virus. But it is worth acknowledging and comforting to note that some optimism, opportunity, and growth can and will emerge from the virus and these hard times.
Remember the quote from the very beginning of the article?
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born. In the twilight rise the monsters.”
Let’s see what that new world looks like.
In this section we’re going to break down:
The current global number of active COVID-19 cases amounts to 290 714 with 417 621 confirmed cases in total, as of March 24, 2020, a 22% increase over the past three weeks.
Though 96% of cases are considered mild, about 4% are severe and have devastating effects on large populations. According to data from the World Health Organization, the global fatality rate due to this coronavirus has doubled over the past two months — it spiked from 2.1% as of January 20, 2020 to 4.4% by March 23, 2020, with even greater estimates dependent on age, sex, and other demographics. This often takes the greatest toll on the population above 65 years of age, those suffering from chronic lung disease, heart conditions, immunodeficiency, and severe obesity.
Despite the rapid growth in the number of cases worldwide, there is a substantial amount of those who contract the virus, about 100 000, who have made full recoveries. Most of these recoveries have been made by Chinese citizens — only 4% of people with COVID-19 in China have passed due to the condition while the remainder of victims has recovered.
In Italy, which in the earlier stages of the virus next to China, the death rate has reached 10% of the entire population, the highest death rate around the world. Most of the deaths, however, were of individuals above the age of 70 and many of them with preexisting illnesses. However, Italy has not yet done extensive testing on the vast majority of the population, but rather focusing on testing and monitoring those demonstrating severe symptoms.
Based on the data unveiled thus far, the regions encountering the increasingly greatest number of cases and associated deaths include the United States, Italy, Spain, France, etc.
A quick look at some governmental actions:
China currently has the greatest number of cases in the world, reaching 81,171. However, the rate of new cases has decreased significantly with only 78 new cases as of March 24, 2020.
After approximately 2 months following strict lockdown protocol and a contact-tracing system, those in cities such as Beijing have begun to pursue regular practices. Many businesses that were closed down temporarily for about 2 months are now starting to reopen as authorities cautiously relieve containment regulations.
This did, however, prompt certain epidemiologists such as Benjamin Cowling with the University of Hong Kong, to suggest that the second wave of this condition is ‘inevitable’.
Because Italy has the greatest number of cases of COVID-19 among countries outside of China, the entire country is in lockdown with one of the strictest government enforcement it has ever seen.
This panic is largely incited by the excessive strain on healthcare systems and the resultant devastation across the nation. Due to the nationwide lockdown imposed on March 10, 2020, all hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, etc. have been closed from the public.
The United States currently has over 50 000 cases. New York City has become the new epicenter of the outbreak in the nation as the city now has 14 907 confirmed cases and 125 deaths.
Despite the current rising number of cases, Congress’s in-house doctor predicted for about the third of the nation to contract the virus, amounting to about 70–150 million people across the States. This estimate, in compliance with those of other healthcare professionals, illustrates the extent of the issue, despite the downplaying of the concern from the White House in attempts to relieve public panic. The attending physician of Congress, Dr. Brian Monahan, told Senate chiefs of staff, staff directors, administrative managers, and chief clerks that they should prepare for the worst.
Forecasting the spread of a virus, however, remains a tricky process, as the range of realistic possibilities is wide.
Despite great panic in other regions of the world, China is on track to return to normal practices as they were before the outbreak. The recent increase in social activity is largely due to the country’s attempts to alleviate the economic impact — it experienced a 10%-11% GDP contraction, approximately equal to $1.3 trillion in losses of exports.
China’s airlines are taking a heavy blow to their sales, losses reaching a total of about 20.96 billion yuan or 3 billion USD within the last month, with the total number of passengers falling about 85% year-on-year last month, said China’s aviation regulator.
Wuhan, China, ground zero of this deadly virus, is a major exporter of automobile parts for the country. On January 23, 2020, it was obliged to shut down all of its automobile factories, but have just gotten approval to resume manufacturing, especially after experiencing a 79% decrease in sales.
Due to the inability to manufacture and distribute automobile parts, the European Union automobile industry is projected to see a drastic decline of about 2.5 trillion USD.
With the freezing of operations across businesses in the States, the American economy is experiencing a substantial decline. For the past couple of months, many market indices have shown a decline, decreasing >1% daily, making March the worst month for the US economy since 1987. On top of that, the quarantine measures that prevent regular operations in businesses resulted in a major decline in economic activity, a loss of trillions of dollars. According to Citi Private Bank, the American economy can expect a 4%-5% contraction in the second quarter, between April and June, and corporate profits are projected to decrease by about 15% this year.
Despite the economic stress, Congress has approved a 2 trillion USD stimulus package to help stabilize the economy and support people and businesses, crucial for the 3.3 million US workers that making unemployment claims. Unemployment in the States has never such a high considering the highest peak before the onset of this virus was 650 000 people, during the 1982 recession. Economists believe that this number is under-reported as many states across the nation continue to experience overwhelming demand for claim registrations.
Most layoffs are occurring in food and beverage services, followed closely by employees in clothing and retail. Employees in grocery stores, pharmacy, and delivery services are considering ‘essential’ to a properly functioning society and are therefore less likely to be impacted.
As of now, many companies are striving to discover a vaccine for this condition. Within weeks of the virus being discovered, scientists in China sequenced the virus’s genome and distributed the new knowledge online for other countries to access and leverage.
Typical vaccine development requires features from the inactive copy of the virus, better known as an antigen. However, scientists are now injecting human cells with the instructions to produce antigen proteins for the immune system such that it can identify and eliminate the threat. By injecting active DNA or RNA into a human cell, instead of injecting an inactive copy of the virus, these vaccines can be created much faster than usual. Some experts predict a vaccine can be found, tested, and moved into the second stage of testing within 16 weeks, but the complete version will likely be ready a year seceding it.
Many companies and organizations trying to find a COVID-19 vaccine or other solutions including Moderna, SANOFI, and Johnson + Johnson. These companies have all made significant progress in finding a vaccine, especially Moderna.
Company Spotlight — DarwinAI is developing an AI model to diagnose the condition.
The Food and Drug Administration approved a bedside testing kit produced by Danaher on March 21, 2020. This bedside testing kit can supposedly return results after only 45 minutes, a major improvement next to current methods of diagnosis which require from 48–72 hours to return.
With social media thriving, people can easily access the latest news on the pandemic from their homes with the click of a button. There is, however, no guarantee that they are ingesting the most accurate news as the internet is known to be filled with fake and unreliable news.
The public is misinformed due to the abundance of false data and the intervention of others’ opinions. For media companies, fake news can generate a great stream of revenue, one of the main reasons why there has been a recent rise in bizarre headlines regarding this pandemic — by gaining readers willing to click the article and explore, the company is further reinforcing their income stream. It is valuable to recognize that partisanship and confusion among the people are motives of fake news distribution. Furthermore, social media is of platforms where the distribution of opinions is generally unrestricted. So when the public encounters prevalent opinions based on conjecture, they are naturally inclined to assume its validity and continue to spread the newfound knowledge.
It is critical to ensure that such distribution of misinformation is prevented and that the public is well-informed and able to make appropriate decisions. The most effective way to stay informed is by turning away from media companies, and focusing on reliable resources instead like CDC, WHO, ECDC, Medicine Plus, National Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe’s STAT News.
In this section we’re going to break down:
Countries like Italy are currently on lockdown, and the American President, Donald Trump, has declared the outbreak a national emergency in America. How has all of this disruption
Currently, brave healthcare workers who are helping to battle the coronavirus are wearing very protective gear. They are covered from head to toe. However, the major problem is that we are running out of this protective gear.
Right now, it is kind of obvious that the industry that is getting hit the hardest is the healthcare industry. I mean, it’s all over the news, and a lot of what you hear is just a load of bull. But some things they are getting right, and those things might be scary realizations for us.
That is a very important goal right now. If we reach the max cap on healthcare, hundreds of thousands will not be able to be treated.
However, a real graph would look something more like this.
Here is a prediction made by The Imperial College in London posted by the Washington Post. If we were to try and flatten the curve, there would be multiple curves that we need to battle. An example of this would be the Spanish Influenza, which had 3 curves that it had to overcome.
Right now, even with a flattened curve, places like New York estimated that damages from the coronavirus will cost them around 1 trillion dollars. It already seems that some places are getting heavily overcrowded.
Hell, even our brave healthcare workers in the front line are running out of protective gear. With the absence of this gear, we may lose our most valuable medics.
If this happens, the healthcare system capacity bar that you saw in the graph above will lower. Not only is equipment scarce, but there only are a limited amount of people working in hospitals.
The coronavirus is breaking down the healthcare industry as a whole. The industry had never expected such an outbreak and thus had never prepared. Although many are skeptical of the dangers of the coronavirus, the crumbling of the healthcare industry is a clear example that it is so much more.
After the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a great decrease in flights, and many major airlines are feeling the effects.
Airlines are also having a tough time fighting the coronavirus. They aren’t breaking from overcrowding, however. They are suffering from the complete opposite.
The Airline industry suffered a devastating blow when President Donald Trump placed a travel ban on all foreign travel from Europe. That announcement was made in a larger address that was broadcasted from the oval office. This is very rare, and such an address has only happened eleven times in the past 2 decades. This ban was a tough pill to swallow for the airline industry as long haul flights over the Atlantic are some of the most profitable flights, and they numbered to almost 1,700 flights a day.
United Airlines even announced that they had a 60 percent decrease in passenger capacity, and predicted a load capacity (how full a plane is) of 20–30 percent in April 2020. That’s a major decrease, and United Airlines is one of many airlines that are currently suffering.
The Airline industry had not taken such a bad hit since 9/11. However, this is much worse. The bans play a major role in the decline of airlines, but a second player in the field is the fact that people are practicing social distancing. Right now, everyone and their mother knows about social distancing.
And guess what, airplanes do? The exact opposite of that. They pack people together in a little mechanical bird that flies 35,000 miles into the air for long periods. Yea, it’s not looking so good for the airline industry right now.
With a major decline in domestic flights, and with many other airlines closing down, the airline industry has never been so tattered. The industry as a whole has all the odds stacked against them.
Although the airline industry should be able to eventually escape the hole that they are in, it might take some time for them to be able to climb back up to the cliff that it fell from.
With the required practice of social distancing, many small businesses such as restaurants are in a rough situation as their revenue will drop drastically.
To describe the problems that small businesses face, we first must define a small business.
It’s a business that is independently owned and has less than 250–1500 employees(depending on industry) according to the SBA(Small Businesses Association). With that out of the way, let’s see how the coronavirus is affecting the backbones of our economy.
In a survey of over 10,000 small business participants, 96 percent of the participants stated that they were affected by the coronavirus.
Moreover, 51 percent stated that they won’t be able to last more than three more months.
In 2018 alone, the SBA estimated there to be over 30.2 million small businesses that are employing 58.9 million workers.
These businesses allow people to find jobs, and also allows for economic prosperity to keep on persisting. Without them, people are losing their jobs, and the economy on the local and national scale is suffering because of this.
In New York, 29 percent of households reported one person losing a job.
More specifically, 34 percent of New York City households with annual earnings under $50,000, 28 percent of households earning from $50,000 to $100,000, and 16 percent of households earning over $100,000 reported a job loss.
Many of these people rely on their jobs to help feed themselves and their families.
When looking at the bigger picture, the global economy relies on these small businesses. They are the foundation for the economy are major employers. With the loss of our small businesses, we are seeing unemployment rates of up to 30 percent in the United States.
This has prompted President Donald Trump to try and help these businesses affected by the coronavirus, and his plan will cost two trillion dollars to implement. Only time will tell if it works.
Although the quarantine has allowed us to get out of the classroom(yay!) online classes are still being used to help students keep on learning. However for some people, schools not only provide education, but they also provide food that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
95 percent of all schools in America are participating in the national school lunch program. Daily, this program helped to serve over 30 million children. However, now things are taking a turn for the worst.
Many of these children are not able to get food. After adding the high unemployment rates into the mix, this means that some children’s parents have lost their jobs. With that, many of these children may be hungry for long periods.
This is detrimental, and can severely affect a child’s mental and physical health. Hunger has a profound effect on a child’s development and the absence of school can change a child’s future and education.
If school closure is extended, there may be a major shift and other unforeseen consequences that none of us would have predicted.
The proliferation of the coronavirus has led to the closure and decreased employee attendance of many factories.
Being that China is a leading manufacture for many American companies, we may see a drastic change in the tech and other industries that rely on a supply chain from Chain.
When describing businesses, you must also mention the supply chain. Essentially the supply chain is the network that links the initial gathering of raw resources into creating a product that is sold. Here is a better idea of what I mean.
As you can see, the supply chain is an almost constant cycle. Right now, the coronavirus is affecting places at the supplier stages and manufacturer stages.
Right now, almost 75 percent of companies will be affected by this shortage of Chinese manufactured goods.
Although many of us are just focusing on buying groceries, big companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung are all closing their factories and offices in China.
There is a predicted drop of 10 percent in the production of phones, consoles, and other technologies.
Apple might even see a 67 billion dollar drop in revenue from just a problem from its supply chain as many parts of its products are manufactured in China.
I know what you are thinking. “Really? Are we supposed to be worried about the production of phones when we are battling a global pandemic?” And my answer would be a definite yes.
Because these tech companies are just some of many companies that have had their supply chain disrupted.
The car industry is also taking a hit from this, as China produces almost 70 billion dollars worth of car parts and accessories. 20 percent of these go to the United States.
Although many car companies have already prepared to source their parts from other regions, they are now seeing less traffic from buyers.
However, the food industry isn’t looking so hot either. Right now, with everyone trying to stockpile, food sales have gone up, and the supply chain might not be able to meet those demands.
Pasta, for example, has seen a 68 percent increase on March 14 of this year compared to last year. And with the labor force decreasing in factories and a decrease in shipping and exports from lessened air travel, we may see another crisis at hand once we can’t.
Many places rely on imports of food, and with that absence, we might be feeling some double trouble. Although America has a huge agricultural sector, we still import about 50 percent of our fruits for example.
In a survey of 628 respondents that mainly represent U.S. companies, more than 44 percent stated that they didn’t have a plan to combat the supply chain crisis.
Additionally, it was also stated that factories in China are working at half capacity and have about half of their employees.
This is a major problem, and it may have not only a large impact on small businesses but is also affecting large corporations.
The coronavirus has decimated whole supply chains, leading to a scramble for industry leaders to find suppliers for their products. However, many are staying afloat for the time being, but as I mentioned earlier, many small businesses may fall.
Right now may not be the appropriate time to get that Nike shoe you have always been wanting, but now many retail stores like Nike are giving discount codes for you to use!
Currently, companies such as Nike and Vineyard Vines are trying to increase their online shopping as they are discounting all of their online items. However, this might not be enough.
Although there is an incentive to buy these discounted items, there is an even larger incentive that is making people hold their money tight. Many people are keeping their money and focused on spending it on groceries only.
Regular retail stores are seeing a huge hit, as there have been over 15,000 retail stores that have closed in 2020, marking a new record!
Considering that 90 percent of retail sales are from brick and mortar(physical) stores, retail stores ar=e now doing anything to make money, and giving out coupons and discounts is the best way to do that.
If you can, save your money. The 50–30–20 rule is good for times like these:
50 percent of your income is put into things you need(food, water, shelter, etc.)
30 percent of your income can be put into things you want(new shoes, clothes, v-bucks, etc.)
20 percent should be put into savings. Money at times like these is valuable and with a volatile shift in the market, maybe you should get that new Nike shoe sooner rather than later.
Although it doesn’t look so dark, this is a picture of the Las Vegas Strip as it went dark. Everything from casinos to stores to hair salons has been shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Being a person who has lived in Las Vegas for the majority of my life, it was shocking to hear that the Las Vegas Governor decided to close down the strip. Police blocked people from entering into resorts, and Las Vegas went “dark.” However, the shutdown of the strip will have disastrous effects on the economy.
Some so many people visit Las Vegas, and in 2019, there were a recorded 42 million tourists. These tourists brought in an estimated 34 billion dollars. Tourism is the main source of income for Las Vegas, and Las Vegas uses that to its advantage.
But now, with our advantage lost, Las Vegas will fall into a quiet recession as travel rates drop. Not only will this drastically affect Las Vegas, but it will also affect other places like the Bahamas(19.4 percent from tourism) or Macau(43.9 percent from tourism).
I know that your mother probably told you that gambling is bad for you, but gambling is a major source of income for Las Vegas.
In 2013, 23 casinoes brought in roughly 5 billion dollars for Las Vegas. Roughly 630,000 dollars a day for each casino. But casinos are still only a part of the whole tourism pie.
The hotel industry is also suffering in Las Vegas. A third of the revenue of hotels comes from conferences and group events. And the other third comes in from vacationers.
This is bad news for the hotel industry. They definitely won’t have group events, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to vacation at a time like this.
The effects of the coronavirus have severely affected my home town here at Las Vegas. And I can’t imagine how places like New York are doing when it comes to their economy and people. But, there are always two sides to the same coin.
Phew, that was a lot of negatively affected industries. But this is a much shorter list.
I mean, this must have been a given. With so many people being scared of going outside, people are stocking up and buying out the whole store. This may be beneficial for stores but also leads to items that are out of stock for long periods.
Over the recent month, grocery stores in all but 5 states are seeing increased revenue from this year to last year. The general increase is from 20–50 percent up from last year due to the mass panic buying sprees.
Due to this behavior, many stores are rushing to restock their shelves, creating great shifts in their revenue from day to day. However, the general trend is still a net profit.
With everyone hiding inside their houses and waiting for the coronavirus to blow over, the e-commerce industry may see a benefit from this horrible outbreak. However, there may be some benefits, but there are some definite negative effects as well.
According to Ipsos MORI, 50% of Chinese and 31% of Italian consumers say they’re shopping online “more frequently.” This is not only due to the quarantine but is also because of the massive amount of stores that have closed down.
However, with a breakdown of the supply chain, e-commerce may still feel the effects of normal stores. As I mentioned previously, China is a major part of the American supply chain. With this loss, e-commerce may see more use, but these items may inevitably cost more.
But many different websites users have tried to use the panic to their advantage. Shopify, which is a site that allows anyone with a credit card and email to create a retail website, has registered nearly 500 new sites over the past two months with names that include “corona” or “covid.”
And you want to know the funny part? These websites sell you stuff that is absolutely and utterly useless. It is so clearly a scam, and they are preying upon those that are suffering.
How much do you think that an anti-coronavirus pill costs? Well, according to sites like these, for 299 dollars you too can get resistance to the virus for 30 days! . It hasn’t even been verified by the FDA(Food and Drugs Association).
Thankfully, as more and more people are getting educated, these sites will be less and less harmful.
Although the e-commerce industry as a whole is seeing some more scam sites, generally, the industry may be benefitting. We are already seeing a rise in the use of the internet as people are stuck home, and this large industry may be able to survive the onslaught of the coronavirus.
This is a predictive model for the confirmed cases of infection in America. As you can see, the estimates are all over the place, and it seems that it may be harder than you think to predict the outcome of this outbreak.
Right now there are a lot of predictions. And they are all different from one another. Every news source just wants to make headlines, and they mostly follow a general format.
“ (Someone) predicts that the coronavirus will lead to (random number) deaths.” I mean, it is a random number. Some people are saying there will be 200,000 deaths, other people are saying at least 1 million deaths, and one person even predicted that there will only be 3,250 deaths in China (might be accurate for now).
We don’t know what will exactly happen, because everything is so volatile. The stock market is a great example. It is fluctuating a lot, and even the best analysts cannot predict how the market may look like in a couple of weeks.
However, when dealing with the future of these industries, it relies on the spread of the coronavirus.
Not only that, but these industries also rely on how the public is reacting. Because mass hysteria and fear may be as contagious and as dangerous as the coronavirus itself.
Do not become defined by fear. Instead, take a greater look at what you can do to fix it. Because if you get eaten by this fear, it will only grow into something scarier than it is.
“An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you.” — Dominick Cobb from Inception
The coronavirus has had massive ripple effects on almost any industry you can think of. If we let the coronavirus get out of hand, then we will be seeing even worse effects than I’ve just told you. It is now your job to not only practice social distancing and good hand hygiene but to also try to spread truths, not lies. This article was here to inform you of what the bigger picture outside of your life looks life.
Giants in their industries are starting to wear down. Future predictions are all over the place. This is now the time for you to step up. Because you have the power to control what the future looks like. There is no set outcome of the coronavirus because we all have the power to change the future. Although we all may not be enjoying the quarantine, know that you are making a difference. Because it takes only one bad apple to spoil the bunch.
To answer that let’s look at how we’ve handled pandemics in the past, there are valuable lessons to be learned from these tragedies seeing as history repeats itself.
During the 16th century, the worst pandemic in history; the black plague broke out. In the end, it killed~100 million people, a third of the population of Europe had died. The pathogen was carried mainly by rats and transferred to humans via fleas.
How did we solve this? We just got lucky… there was no cure and the plague died out after millions had died.
Some towns were able to quarantine themselves, leaving the pathogen with no hosts left to infect. *Fun fact the Italian “quanranta giorni” a 40-day quarantine lead to the English word “quarantine”. Venetians banned sailors from entering their cities for 40 days, so these quarantines were the only effective way to reduce the spread of the plague.
There were over 6 widespread outbreaks of Cholera through the 19th century, wiping out tens of thousands of lives. The spread of misinformation and economic inequality lead to conspiracy theories that Cholera was planted to knockout lower economic classes as a means of population control. This caused riots across the world, rioters in the US and Russia protested at hospitals. During this period we gain more insights on contact tracing.
The 1918 influenza pandemic, would infect ⅓ of the 1.8 billion world population and kill 50–100 million people. This pandemic taught us the power of social distancing and government transparency.
The US government downplayed the flu to avoid demoralizing troops during WW1, this created a delay and lack of trust that caused people to not follow later government orders. The lack of transparency cost us lives.
A 2007 study that outlined the most successful approaches to combating the flu found that
Another study in 2007, found that cities that had multiple early interventions had peak death rates that were 50% lower and had a trend of lower cumulative mortality of about 20%.
However not all US cities did these strategies causing them overall to be less effective. This is key for if a single country loosens its restrictions it’ll disrupt our global strategy.
A second study during the Spanish flu observed the two neighbouring cities of Saint Louis and Philadelphia. The government of Philadelphia allowed a parade with 200,000 people to go on while Saint Louis ordered schools, public transit, and businesses to close down. The Saint Louis hospitals faced significantly less traffic and had half as many deaths.
Philadelphia burst of deaths vs St Louis controlled deaths due to social distancing, source: vox
It was also clear cities would see a spike in cases when they easied restrictions.
The study concluded that: “Among the 43 cities, we found no example of a city that had a second peak of influenza while the first set of nonpharmaceutical interventions were still in effect.” Based on this study, our quarantine periods must be longer than 2–8 weeks which was the norm in 1918.
But folks in 1918 were able to social distance for months as they were well aware of the consequences, they were used to living through epidemics (polio 1916, flu 1890, diphtheria, pertussis, measles and smallpox)
Many of us haven’t experienced a major pandemic, so we haven’t fully internalized the effects removing quarantine can have. This generational difference causes us to react differently because we aren’t aware of the consequences.
Lot’s has changed since these pandemics and they don’t model our current world accurately.
What makes the world different during COVID-19 is we’ve become extremely globalized and we’ve had over 188,900 flights in 2019, with a population of over 7.8 billion. The good news is we have better technology, medicine, and computing power.
Just 3 months prior to the corona outbreak, the John Hopkins Foundation and Gates foundation ran a 3.5-hour simulation called event 201 where a global pandemic in 6months killed 65 million people and started a financial crisis.
That’s catastrophic! How do we react differently so avoid a similar outcome?
We know we can’t fully contain it’s spread, the question is how do we flatten the curve? In other words, how do we decrease the number of people infected/day so the health care system doesn’t collapse?
Note that health care system capacities around the world differ so the dotted line can be much lower
We have a limited amount of resources and beds available, Worldwide we have about 3 hospital beds for every 1000 people(2011) and 1.5 physicians(2015). Getting the worst flu in your life is already hard enough. But imagine getting it when the health care system is collapsing!
Hospital overloading during fast pandemics leads to millions of unnecessary deaths due to insufficient medical resources and staff. While slow pandemics that spread the curve allow more people to get treated, buying us enough time to develop more medication and to allocate resources.
Currently, we don’t have any commercial vaccines. We were able to developed vaccine candidates in record time thanks to the publically available genome of COVID-19. But the testing and clinical trial of these candidates on average will take 1.5 years.
So in the short term, we have to change our social behaviours in order to flatten the curve. If we don’t take action over 10 million could die, and 25 million others could get infected in the US alone.
Unless we come together on all levels; to create global, national, local and individual strategies.
Based on past pandemics our top objective should be to relive healthcare systems. We don’t have enough ICU beds since our current beds can only facilitate 3million people in the US.
If we run out of resources like medical staff, ventilators and beds people will begin to die untreated and we’ll have to make decisions on who gets allocated these beds.
To combat this China has a moved 50% of its health care system online which helps reduce hospital traffic, those needing refills or prescripts don’t need to see a doctor in person.
Other ways we can leverage tech are using infrared thermometers which let doctors check a patient’s temperature without touching them, some areas are using them on street cameras and drones to screen large crowds of people for irregular body temperatures.
Openmind deployed robots to clinics in Wuhan which were able to treat incoming patients, they’re able to check the temperature, administer medication, clean and disinfect. Severe cases are transferred to hospitals.
From past pandemics like the plague reducing international travel can help keep diseases controlled locally. Action items: Reduce international flight and travel, medically screen passengers before boarding planes, ships, and trains.
Organizations need to help fund new vaccines, drug companies during the smallpox epidemic didn’t get much return. the government agency BARDA is a fund working to help create a market for drug companies that create emergency vaccines. A global coalition called CEPI that’s backed by the gates foundation as well as Norway, Germany, and Japan.
Transparency is key looking. Looking back at the delayed government response to Spanish flu, the current government needs to make as much info available to the public as possible and without delay. Trust in government the timeliness and transparency of info, helps prevent people from panicking in destructive behaviours. In regards to the data on people affected the government must proactively test for new COVID-19 cases.
Other countries should model Taiwan’s approach, given their surprisingly low number of cases. Considering Taiwan’s proximity to China it was expected to get hit the second hardest. With 2.7 million Chinese visitors in 2019 and a population density 4 times China’s and 18 times that of the US. Yet they only had 235 cases compared to their neighbours 81,285 cases, thanks to their proactive approach.
They quickly gave health facilities access to immigration databases as a result patient travel history could quickly be checked. Those who traveled to high-risk countries were quarantined and tracked by mobile devices mandated by the government. The government reached out to people who had tested negative for the common flu but had similar symptoms. One out of every 136 of these cases was COVID-19. These small numbers are massive considering the exponential spread of the virus.
They created over 124 action items including reducing the price of masks, issuing fines for those violating isolation regulations and fining the publishment misinformation for up to $100,000.
Another government approach that was successful in the past was forced quarantines. North America is enforcing travel-related policy changes, Canada is not allowing any foreign nationals(U.S. included) from entering Canada for non-essential travel.
Governments should allocate more funds for medical staff and urge their military to collaborate with medical troops sharing resources and personal to increase the health care systems capacity. The Pentagon is deploying hospital ships. The US department of defense is making up to 595million respirator masks and protective equipment available to their department of health.
The economic impacts of pandemics are harsh, but by making short term sacrifices, could save us lots of money and lives down the line.
Companies should allow working remotely from home, flexible hours and paid leave where possible. Supporting one another through online purchases. Creating less competitive business decision making for more collective innovation. Numerous innovations have come out of recession, it takes adaptable businesses to survive.
Heres how some businesses are coping:
Over 90 test developers and 40 labs are devoting their resources for corona testing in response to the lack of commercial lab testing capacities. The FDA responded by loosened its regulatory processes.
Companies can combat ventilator shortage with 3D printing. We can use AI to look for new drugs to combat the virus, the genome of COVID-19 was made publically available for labs to test it without having an actual sample of the virus.
Moderna developed a vaccine candidate being one of the first companies to use mRNA in 42 days, this was record-breaking considering it took 20 months to develop a candidate for SARS. A drug currently in phase 3 trials is called Resdemivir.
People are exploring herd immunity, the idea that once enough people get COVID-19 and survive becoming immune, the virus will eventually not have enough hosts to infect and will die down on its own. However, this should NOT be our plan, as millions of the vulnerable population will die and hospitals will get overwhelmed.
The best course of action is local quarantines or lockdowns; cancelling sporting events, concerts and large social gatherings where people come in contact. Recall the Philedehia and Saint Louis study, where Saint Louis was able to flatten their curve by placing restrictions on schools and public areas,
Here’s what will likely happen when we go under a quarantine similar to the one placed in Hubei, China vs having no quartine:
Communities should be aware of the resources available, ensuring they know where to call and the steps to take if they’re sick. This can help avoid flooding hospitals and other public facilities where the chances of contaminating others are high.
Practicing social distancing isn’t fun, but every less sick person can prevent a chain reaction of exponential cases. On average an infected person will infect 2–2.5 others.
Self quarantining and avoiding mass gatherings can slow down the curve.
Simulation by the Washington Post: When 3/4 population engages in social distancing
One of the easiest and fastest ways you can protect your self is by washing your hands effectively for at least 20 seconds. COVID-19 is coated by a layer of fat, water alone just brushes by it but soap strip this layer away, exposing the virus and disarms it. Hand sanitizers have a similar effect but need to have at least 60% alcohol concentration.
Other small actions like avoiding touching your face, less physical interactions adapting greetings without any contact, coughing in your elbow, and sanitizing surfaces.
Get at-home testing kits, avoiding unnecessarily going to the doctor during these times but be well educated on the symptoms and your plan of action if you feel any of COVID-19 symptoms. Stay updated on the cities actions and suggestions.
It doesn’t take one person to curve a pandemic, but billions. Small individual actions repeated by millions can and have helped soothe pandemics. These global, local and individual sacrifices are for the collective good of humanity, helping us win the war on viruses one more time.
How pandemics end, has a lot to do with how they start; steep fast sprints end catastrophically while slower more paced start end proactively. Everybody needs to take their part in reliving the health care systems before it depletes themselves of their resources.
This isn’t going to be the last outbreak we’ll see, COVID-19 should serve as a learning experience to prepare us for future epidemics to avoid irreversible pandemics.
Quarantines will become less effective in our increasingly globalized world as we reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. We can’t continue being reactive to pandemics. We know they’re coming, we must become proactive, the long term game is building a resistant global health system.
Not just for developed countries. What if COVID-19 started in a country like Chad with only 3.5 doctors for every 100,000 people or 2 doctors for every Tanzania? We need a system where poor countries are equipped with the right staff and resources to act quickly and effectively.
Implementing new systems won’t be cheap but will be minuscule to the costs of a global pandemic which could cause over 3 trillion dollars of lost global wealth.