Novel coronavirus: credible resources and the challenge of pulling it all together in real-time

Table of Contents

Novel coronavirus: credible resources and incredible people

Originally published March 17, 2020; updated with more awesomeness April 24, May 28, and September 14.

Novel coronavirus with microscopic image

So. Much. Misinformation. About. The. Novel. Coronavirus.

If you’ve seen conflicting info, there are two reasons for it:

  1. This is a novel virus introducing itself to humans for the first time just a few months ago, so we’re gathering new info about it every day. The science is progressing very, very quickly, but we still don’t know everything yet. We DO know the most important thing: how to stop spreading it. This is by frequent proper handwashing and staying physically distant from people you don’t live with. Also, new research is showing the benefits of masks in close quarters where staying 2m/6′ away from people is literally impossible (e.g., public transit). See the “What we can all do to prevent the spread” section below for more info.
  2. It’s been several months now and people are legit getting tired of staying home and are worried about the long-term health, economic, and other impacts. Stress can make some people susceptible to believing and sharing information—any information—that provides a path to normal ASAP. Some are recommending actions that are not based on the most recent, best science (e.g., like opening up stores and workplaces). While this information may be well-meaning, maybe it was created by people who know *just enough* to be dangerous or even those who simply make sh!t up (listen to science, not science fiction). I’m pretty cognizant of this so, all of the sources listed below are from credible experts. Also, as we learn more with more research and a better understanding of the virus, some info *will* change. And that’s a GOOD thing! I mean, imagine we were trapped in the knowledge of the early 1800s before knowing how much disease can be prevented with simple handwashing! Our understanding keeps progressing as science continues to unravel how things work.

Here’s an example of blatant misinformation that was circulating in the first half of 2020: Some rando on Twitter tried to convince me that I need a full hazmat suit and goggles just to go outside. Yes, outside where the air is FRESH and not coughed on! She was either convinced that this is true or was trying to befriend influence me with a sophisticated disinformation campaign because Bot Sentinel said she wasn’t a bot. (I checked!)

She personally reached out to reply to me with her very-concerned-for-my-health sounding tweet after I shared that simple soap and water inactivates the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the one that causes COVID-19)—which it does (evidence for this is shared below).

So I asked her who is recommending hazmat suits?

Her response was a three paragraph article that the virus *may* be aerosol.

Clearly no experts were recommending hazmat suits and goggles. They still aren’t. Especially not outside.

In a nutshell:

This post is a curation of credible information about the novel coronavirus from trusted health authorities. Their websites are being updated regularly as new information emerges, so keep your eyes on them. Things are changing quickly as testing is ramping up and many places are reopening. Follow the *actual* public health experts who’ve studied this so we can learn from history and new knowledge and technology.

I am one of those people who is getting a bit tired of staying home. I 100 percent will continue to do so, and handwash, and physically distance, etc. But, I get it. I want to go out for dinner at a cosy little restaurant close by. I want to visit my family and friends. I want to head out to concerts and enjoy crowded areas once in a while. But, I understand that fighting a contagious pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint. And I know that what we do today will directly impact how our families, communities, provinces, countries, and the world will fare in the upcoming weeks and months.

I know there will be a light at the end of this tunnel. How bright it shines will depend on all of our day-to-day actions.

Here’s my question to you: Considering what we know right now about:

  • How contagious this is (very)
  • That there are many people who have no symptoms and spread it (it’s hard to track and prevent when some people who are infected feel fine)
  • How many people it harms (mainly older adults and those with other conditions, but no one is truly safe—not kids, not college athletes, not healthy adults—no one is guaranteed to have no symptoms or be free of serious health effects in the long run)
  • There is no cure (hydroxychloroquine hasn’t panned out, corticosteroids seem to help with some symptoms) and we may be a year out before a safe, effective, universally available vaccine is ready
  • How well testing, tracing, and isolating infected people is working in your area

What would look like a win to you? Please add this to the comments below!

(This post is looong. Feel free to read it all or scroll up to the Table of Contents and click on the section you’re particularly interested in.)

Let’s dive in.

What we’ve learned over the summer about the novel coronavirus

What we can all do to prevent the spread of the (people and economy-killing) virus

 

Some people hoard toilet paper, while others party or rally in huge groups indoors without masks. This virus literally cannot spread without us spreading it, so let’s all do our part to protect each other.

If there is just one takeaway from this post, heed what your local (regional/provincial/state) or country public health experts are saying. Different regions have different needs, demographics, supply chains, and medical capacities. And if your political or media spokespeople are saying something opposite from your public health experts, listen to the experts.

In other words, If you’re not being told how to do things safely (yes, let’s continue to do things SAFELY); like: stay home when sick, cough/sneeze into your elbow (not hands), physically distance, wash your hands thoroughly and often, stop touching your face, and wear a nose/mouth covering when in closed spaces/crowded places/close contact; get your info here:

*The most important things to do*

Stay home if you’re sick

  • Please do this.
  • Just do it.
  • Do it.
  • Thank you.

Socialize safely (“physical/social distancing”)

  • Most (all?) countries’ recommendations are to stay AT LEAST 1m (3′) away from others. Some countries have doubled this to 2m/6′. These are what’s called “physical” or “social” distancing.
  • In Canada, we’ve been in varying stages of this since about March 14 and we’ve been able to “reopen” many businesses, workplaces, recreation/community centres, etc. over the summer. They’ve been at 10-50 percent capacity, sometimes requiring reservations to be made in advance. I’ve definitely enjoyed a few restaurant meals, outdoor public swimming pools, conservation area hikes/boat rides, and even renting a cottage for a week. I mean, large gatherings haven’t happened (e.g., concerts, Canada’s Wonderland, The Ex, filled sports stadiums), but overall it’s been a fairly “normal” summer with low transmission of the virus because most of us have been following public health guidelines (e.g., distancing) and enjoying the great outdoors.
  • I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want these pubic health measures to be temporary. Everyone wants to move past these. Even public health experts.

If you’re advised to self-monitor or isolate, do it

What do we *really* know about airborne transmission and masks now (that we didn’t know in March)?

 

Wash your hands thoroughly and often

Stop touching your face

Cover coughs and sneezes (with your elbow or a tissue)

Clean frequently touched areas

  • Like doorknobs, cupboard handles, light switches, toilet flush handles, your cell phone screen, etc.

Simple illustrated easy-to-read resources to share far and wide

 

What we know so far about the novel coronavirus

Why do the info and recos keep changing?

Signs and symptoms versus the cold, flu, and allergies

Acetaminophen/Paracetamol vs Ibuprofen

“Scientists and doctors around the world are banding together in exceptional ways, sharing their data, opining, interpreting and modelling. The speed of knowledge acquisition is also unusual: after learning of this new disease in last December, scientists published the virus’ genetic code in early January of this year. As information races in, journalists and social media influencers will be quick to share the data but don’t be surprised if it changes rapidly. Science is like a dog on a leash, sniffing left, sniffing right, but eventually moving in one clear direction. With COVID-19, that dog is on rollerblades. Hang on to something. It’s going to be quite a ride.”

“Flatten the curve” means what, exactly?

  • You’ve heard we need to “flatten the curve”—it means we keep from spreading it too far too fast so our hospitals and medical facilities don’t all get overwhelmed at once. From a personal perspective, it means doing all the things mentioned above (wash hands thoroughly and often, stop touching your face, cover coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or tissue, clean frequently touched areas, avoid physical contact, self-isolate or quarantine when asked to, and stay home if you’re sick).

How long do coronaviruses last on surfaces?

  • A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine as of March 17, 2020, says that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the current novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19) has similar surface stability to the SARS-CoV-1 virus (the virus that causes SARS). It’s viable on:
    • copper, up to 4 hours
    • cardboard, up to 24 hours
    • stainless steel, about 48-72 hours
    • plastic, about 72 hours

The cool science behind the tests for the novel coronavirus

There are two kinds of tests. The first one tests for the presence of the viral genome. That means they’re looking for the virus itself. The second kind of test is to see whether your immune system has already encountered the SARS-CoV-2 virus or not. Has it produced antibodies to fight it off better next time?

Getting individual testing kits, vaccines, and treatments

Because this is a brand-spanking-new virus, there are lots of clinical trials registered to research different tests and how accurate they are. Right now, there is no concrete timeline when these will be available, but they may come around fast, so keep your eyes peeled on your local or country public health unit.

Beware of unauthorized or fake testing kits, masks, etc. being smuggled or advertised. Many are being seized by authorities. I’ve seen people hawking “remedies” and “cures.”

Don’t trust randos on the internet.

The best thing we can do now is to not get it, nor spread it.

Every day we’re learning more. When any vaccines or treatments are shown to be both safe and effective, they will likely be made available after being reviewed by your government’s regulatory system.

One of the hardest things to accept is the lack of concrete answers. I get it! I want them, too. I don’t want to be cooped up and have my kids miss school for months. I don’t want to worry about my parents and in-laws getting this. I want this to go away. We just have to keep riding this out for a while until we can beat it. For now, #PreventionIsTheBestMedicine

We can do this together!

Medications and treatments for COVID-19

A lot of medicines and treatments are being tested. As the research results come in we’ll learn more, however, as of April 13, there really isn’t anything that’s shown to be safe and effective (and I’m sure you know better than to try using strong UV light or disinfectant inside or full-strength on your body 🤦‍♀️).

Here’s the COVID-19 treatment and vaccine tracker from STAT News. And here’s an image illustrating what viral features and processes are being targeted for these new treatments (Journal of the American Medical Association). Note that this image was from April, so it’s a bit outdated already, but it’s a really good illustration of how drug targets are chosen for different treatment options.

 

What about supplements, foods, and a healthy lifestyle?

Prevention is always the best medicine so keeping your distance, washing your hands, etc. will have the most power to protect you from getting and spreading the novel coronavirus.

Having said that, there is a small amount of evidence that certain supplements may help to reduce the risk of respiratory infections like the common cold or flu (not on the novel coronavirus). These are Vitamins C and D and zinc lozenges. There is also at least one study looking into the possibility that IV vitamin C may help those who become infected.

Don’t be fooled that these can prevent or treat a coronavirus infection—they can’t. Healthy lifestyle habits are associated with better immune function. Get enough quality sleep. Eat more healthy and nutritious foods. Do physical activity. But, don’t stop washing your hands and staying physically distant from others.

For more details about supplements and lifestyle interventions, see Examine’s review of supplements for coronavirus.

And, Health Canada issued a warning about health products that make false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.

How do we reopen safely?

If we want to prevent spreading the virus, there are a few things we need to get right. One of these is to be able to find and isolate people who have the virus (instead of having everyone stay home as much as possible—we can probably agree that lockdowns suck). This will need very rigorous testing, tracing all of the people who they were in contact with (contact tracing), and mandatory isolation for the person with the infection and all of their recent contacts.

Another thing is to understand how many people may be immune to the virus already. This would mean testing for antibodies in the immune system to know that you’ve been exposed. And knowing for how long after exposure you’ll be immune to the virus. Once we are exposed, do we have lifelong immunity? There are still a few answers we need before we can make informed decisions (see the thread):

How the pandemic is affecting food, agriculture, groceries, and cooking

pandemic food - muffins, paper bag, plate

Where’d this virus even come from?

Viruses are unpredictable

  • Here’s an infographic on the history of pandemics. Humans have consistently been exposed to pandemics throughout history. We’ve survived several over the centuries (this novel coronavirus is not a new phenomenon, just a new strain of an ever-evolving virus). Note that the number for the novel coronavirus will continue to increase until it’s over.

Viruses are always one step ahead of us

They’re not smart! They just replicate really, really fast and make mistakes while they’re at it. Those random “mistakes” can sometimes result in a whole new infectious disease. Kinda like how random mistakes can cause several cancers. Random mistakes happen. Naturally.

How a virus invades your body

How your immune system works

Your immune system doesn’t stop you from getting infected (that’s what all the staying home, hand washing, etc. does). Instead, it helps your body to fight viruses and bacteria after they get into your body.

What do we know about the novel coronavirus and autoimmunity or immunodeficiency?

Ideally, a healthy immune system works to fight disease-promoting invaders that get into your body while leaving your own cells alone. Autoimmunity is when your immune system works a bit too hard and starts attacking not just invading infections, but your own cells. Immunodeficiency is the opposite; when the immune system isn’t attacking invading infections enough.

As of now, the prevailing wisdom is to prevent COVID-19 with clean hands, staying home, etc.

How this novel coronavirus pandemic is affecting small businesses

The coronavirus has affected small businesses

Coronavirus small business effects

How this novel coronavirus pandemic is bringing out the best in people, what to do when you’re distancing, how you can help, plus a few laughs

Pandemic and people

woman wearing a mask videoconferencing with someone else wearing a mask

Conclusion

 

Go to credible sources only. Experts include: the WHO, your local public health office, epidemiologists, virologists, and science communicators. Do they all agree all the time—especially in this age of constant new research and information? No. How do you know who to believe? Go with the consensus of *most* experts from around the world. These is what should be informing your public health department.

Science is self-correcting; it may go a bit off-track here and there, but that’s why we keep challenging our current knowledge, asking more questions, and doing more, bigger, and better studies!

 

Signing off and toasting: To credible resources and our ongoing challenge of pulling it all together in real-time!

 

Over to you

Here’s my question to you: Considering what we know right now about:

  • How contagious this is (very)
  • That there are many people who have no symptoms and spread it (it’s hard to track and prevent when some people who are infected feel fine)
  • How many people it harms (mainly older adults and those with other conditions, but no one is truly safe—not kids, not healthy adults—no one is guaranteed to have no symptoms or be free of serious health effects)
  • There is no good treatment (hydroxychloroquine hasn’t panned out) and we may be 1-2 years out before a safe, effective, universally available vaccine is ready
  • How well testing, tracing, and isolating infected people is working in your area

What would look like a win to you? Please add this to the comments below!

I’d love to know (in the comments below)!

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