Covid-19 Coronavirus Finally Getting Coverage In The Mainstream Media: The Rapidly-Increasing Severity Of The Situation And A Few Things You Can Do About It
The New York Times has launched and maintained an article documenting the spread of Covid-19 through the United States, and things aren’t looking good. In this article, I will attempt to interpret the various sources and offer the reader my views on the situation up to and including the various precautions I am personally taking and why, but to be entirely clear the goal is to show possible outcomes and some of that may seem a bit alarmist to some readers. Just to get everything out in the open up front, there is a very good reason to be alarmed. I do not intend to further the CDC’s newly minted tradition of minimizing everything to the greatest extent possible and in fact I believe this is a dishonest strategy which will serve us badly as a nation if we allow it to continue.
In fact, if you want to read about how “low” the odds of your contracting the Covid-19 Coronavirus are, then I’m going to go ahead and suggest that you read something else and perhaps come back to this article when you’re more inclined to face reality because the rumor mill has been extremely active and there seems to be a great deal of support for the thesis that Covid-19 cases are going to ramp up extremely quickly in the coming weeks.
The Facts Of The Situation, Currently
To begin this week’s update, I want to stress that it is time to begin taking precautionary measures. If you have been exposed, the incubation period can last up to two weeks, and after that symptoms basically boil down to weakness, fever, and persistent cough. Not everyone who has these symptoms will have the Covid-19 Coronavirus, of course, but at the present time we, the general public of the United States, have absolutely zero way of predicting who will come down with the disease. Read more about this issue here.
The New York Times article mentioned above is an excellent resource for anyone attempting to get a grasp of how serious the situation has already gotten. The Washington Post has broken down disease risk by age, and all of the evidence seems to point to vascular complications as a hand-in-hand component of the severity of the infection. Keep in mind that there are two major sources of problems even for this nascent picture of how bad the outbreak is: the incubation period and the time to hospitalization of affected patients. At present, fewer than 2000 tests have been performed in the United States, but as occurred in Italy, cases are beginning to grow exponentially. Read more about the Italian experience and countermeasures taken here.
Problems with testing equipment and general concerns regarding costs have mingled with skepticism that this pandemic will reach the United States at all to thwart the efforts of pandemic responders and healthcare providers to prevent the spread of the disease. This is an unacceptable state of affairs and, as the slow-motion responses begin to roll out, testing kits are still not widely available. King County, Washington, has an informative and depressing piece about the lack of testing infrastructure here.
As reports of sick patients and travelers who suddenly fell ill after weeks at work following their trips abroad begin to make their rounds, one thing is certain: we do not know who is likely to have come into contact with someone who contracted the disease from a traveler, and many of these people do not yet have symptoms of the disease. They will get sick one or two at a time over the next few weeks. This is the reason Apple and other big companies are having employees work from home, and why you should consider working from home as well if possible.
This state of affairs is predictable, if not ideal. As I mentioned in another article, during Republican administrations we have to look to businesses to see what’s going on because the right wing in American politics will not fund any sort of prophylaxis, whether this entails a pandemic response team or supply stockpile or early-phase media response. The Trump administration is quite literally trying to get everyone killed and corporations with large budgets are leading the way in a late, clumsy mess of efforts to prevent the disease from hurting them as much as it is likely to hurt the rest of us. Massachusetts recently became the most recent state to declare an emergency — this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
The Disease, And Why It Represents A Serious Threat
Covid-19 is a coronavirus classified as an RNA virus because it consists of a single-strand package of genetic material which it uses host-cells to replicate. When you begin to feel sick, at the biophysical level your body is suffering from twin problems: normal cellular function is impaired at key sites; and the flood of various chemical signaling proteins given off by injured cells as well as the immune system impairs vascular function, which just makes us feel bad.
RNA viruses you’re familiar with include the seasonal influenza strains we’re used to being immunized against, made possible by the relatively slow changes to the RNA strand which makes up the influenza virus. Essentially, flu season comes from small genetic changes caused by replication errors in infected host cells. The vast majority of these changes fail, leading to a virus which cannot replicate, and thus said virus has a very short shelf-life. The successful A and B strains we see each year are the winners of this evolutionary contest (yes, evolution itself is responsible for the flu, which is why it is so absurd for Trump to appoint a man who does not believe in evolution to head up the pandemic response) insofar as they represent the genetic modifications most likely to infect humans and spread through the population.
This same principle applies to Covid-19. The virus started off, by popular accounts, in bats, where it was successful in replication and spread, but not contagious to humans until a mutation in a bat cell was first of the right shape to infect human cells and secondly spread into actual human tissue. After that, the virus took off, leading to the exponential growth of cases in China from January 23rd to February 6th. During this short period of time, cases grew from 444 to 22,112. Find and read the original article here.
Thus far, with no intervention from the establishment despite bipartisan efforts to make the nation ready, the Covid-19 Coronavirus has begun to exemplify this behavior pattern in the United States.
(image reposted from the New York Times article here)
Currently estimated to be 10–50x more deadly than the seasonal flu, which does in fact kill many people each year, Covid-19 is undeniably a serious threat, as evidenced by quarantines and extreme action on the parts of each of the governments with a serious outbreak thus far.
In the United States, one thing is certain: action will be required to contain this virus. Unfortunately, our economy has been stretched too thin by years of Republican abuse, and this is likely to constrain spending to contain the virus. Coupled with the undeniably sluggish Republican response to all current threats, both economic and viral, we find ourselves faced with a perfect storm: a deadly disease, an ailing economy, and public perception of the Covid-19 outbreak which does not do justice to the threat we face as a society.
The measures I am taking to attempt to become resistant to the virus and to stop its spread come from a variety of resources. I have worked in biotechnology, and part of my approach is derived from products my former employer wished to compete with. I have a large social network and am not shy about sharing my thoughts on the disease, which favor is occasionally returned by an expert suggestion from a doctor or other physiology guru, and some of this comes from these interactions. As such, I will separate out my techniques by status as known and approved or novel and experimental, and allow readers to decide which to take up.
1. Handwashing. I wash my hands every time I cough or sneeze, any time I enter a new building, and every time I catch myself touching (or wanting to touch) my face. I used to work in a lab, so it is not as weird for me to continually use the restroom as for some people, but seriously, I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay on top of hygiene here.
2. Minimize social interaction. I sometimes drive for Uber to earn extra money, and have ceased this activity due to the likelihood of coming into contact with a community spreader. I am currently enrolled in a few community college classes, where I have recently begun to stay away from fellow students and teachers to whatever extent is possible, wash my hands frequently, and am looking forward to the order coming in to learn remotely. It will not be long, I’m afraid.
3. Exercise. I don’t do this as much as I probably should, but it’s an excellent way to bolster the immune system (the lymphatic system is a core part of the immune system and physical activity is the only way to activate it) as well as the cardiovascular system (being physically fit could make it more difficult for the infection to become severe) and your sleep (sleep is a core piece of antibody production, a core component of immunity to disease, see another breakdown here).
4. Eat right. The science of infection makes it perfectly clear that people whose systems are not as robust as others are at higher risk of serious complications upon Covid-19 infection. If you’re eating a healthy diet, avoiding excess alcohol intake, avoiding smoking (in particular, smoking seems to be linked to complications and more serious infections) and getting enough sleep, you’re a bit more likely to skate by with minimal complications. Take every precaution you can.
5. Keep a window open. Maximizing airflow can minimize the amount of exposure, which could decrease the severity of any possible infection. It’s easy, free, and just do it please.
Each of these techniques comes from a set of assumptions. The first assumption is that vascular health is the cornerstone of physical fitness. A mountain of evidence supports this, even with respect to Covid-19, but it has not yet made it into the canon of medical knowledge. I’ve labeled these techniques as experimental because there is not yet data to support them, not because they’re particularly dangerous or unlikely to deliver results. Remember, I’m actually doing everything listed in this article for myself. I’m writing this so that you can also do so if you choose to.
1. Supplement nutrition. Many of us aren’t going to be headed to the store for awhile, and there are a few key things we need to make sure we’re getting in our diets. I use a green supplement and Huel to sort of cover the daily bases, and these sorts of things should continue to be available despite not being fresh. (Huel attempts to provide a balanced diet, daily greens supplements are a way to get more of the polyphenols, magnesium, and vitamins and minerals we need during times of illness)
2. Targeted Supplementation. This little list of things is derived from a lot of papers I read during my time in biotech which essentially consists of the contemporary physiology textbook today. Many doctors completed med school years ago, and haven’t been able to keep up with all of the basic science developments which have led to these supplementation recommendations. I am listing these GRAS (generally regarded as safe by the FDA) supplements here under the experimental section simply due to the fact that not all of these strategies are as widely known as they could be.
a. Chondroitin Sulfate/Glucosamine Sulfate/Hyaluronic Acid
These three little molecules are a core component of the extracellular matrix that makes intercellular communication possible. In addition to allowing the endothelial cells which line our blood vessels to pull much-needed nutrients from the blood stream, these three chemicals help cells produce the proteins they need to make to interact with the rest of the body.
b. Antioxidants: Cannabidiol (CBD) and N-Acetylcystein (NAC)
NAC and CBD are both antioxidants, but I am listing them both because they affect the oxidizing/reducing pools of the body in different ways. The main intracellular antioxidant is glutathione, and NAC is a precursor to glutathione. Hence, taking NAC is a good way to increase the reducing pool inside of each of your cells, leading among other things, to more NAD+. CBD works predominantly outside of the cell. The main extracellular antioxidant in the body is albumin, and a clinical albumin test score of 4.3 or less is more closely correlated with death after admission to the hospital than obesity, so we’re talking serious stuff here. CBD helps with albumin by binding to free radicals and then passing through the kidneys into the urine so that albumin doesn’t have to. I am taking both of these antioxidants.
c. Magnesium Bicarbonate
Magnesium Bicarbonate has been shown to enhance performance in athletes, and the biophysics of this are interesting: bicarbonate reduces the pH of the blood just a bit, which weakens the haeme groups that bind oxygen to our red blood cells. Essentially, this is a natural process that happens all the time — as blood gets further away from the heart, oxygen is used, CO2 is released, the pH drops a bit, and more oxygen is released to nourish the cells that need it. Magnesium Bicarbonate consumption simply speeds up this process, while also supplying magnesium to cells (magnesium is needed in over 300 reactions throughout the body). Find a video about how to make your own here.
Nothing is perfect, and the current state of affairs is looking like things will get much, much worse before they get better. That said, we can all do our part to minimize our risk of severe infection and/or transmission of the disease if we’re intelligent and careful. Good luck out there.