Covid-19: Scope, Schedule, Minimization Techniques
With cases reported in Austin and New York, an increasingly evident public outbreak in Washington State, and states of emergency declared in parts of California, Covid-19 is finally being recognized for the threat that it has represented these past weeks. The government’s inability to execute on early containment measures such as widespread testing and monitoring of the spread of the disease last month has hampered our ability to predict where and when the disease will strike next. You can track current cases here. I’ll break down the current scenario, explain why it looks so grim, and close with some best practices to make sure you’re doing everything you can to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Here in Austin, there is one case being examined at the moment, with several other negative test results confirmed at this point in time. We have good reason to believe that some amount of community spreading is taking place, but almost no information about who or what is most active at facilitating the spread and likely we won’t for another two weeks or so, when symptoms are likely to appear.
Allow me to explain: the incubation period of the Covid-19 virus has been estimated to be around fourteen to thirty days. This means that the average person does not become physically ill with the disease for two full weeks after being exposed and may be mildly ill for days or weeks before requiring medical attention.
What this effectively means for those of us who have been actively monitoring the virus and its activity is that our numbers are about two weeks to one month behind. Hence, today, March 4, 2020, we have numbers of infected from roughly February 5–20 being reported. The problem is easy to spot: two to four weeks ago we knew far less than we currently do, and many inferred that the disease was spreading far more slowly than it turned out to be.
With the first reports of community transmission becoming more commonplace, we can infer from the estimated R5 transmission rate that each person we know of today will, in two weeks’ time, be replaced by about 5 more people. As the bulk of these cases are very severe, this estimate can be further massaged to yield about 25 total infected for each person we know about today.
If I lost you on the last step there, the math is this: 20% of cases are severe; I’m drawing an inference that we’re finding out about this fifth of the infected population because they’re the ones going to the hospital to get scoped out. There are two problems with this: some people will avoid the hospital to try to tough the disease out on their own, and about four in five cases seem at least for now to be mild enough to not warrant seeking medical care.
These problems notwithstanding, the best estimate today is that, if the Austin case is a typical one, and if it ends up being positive, there are four currently active less-severe cases (remember, we’re tabulating exposure numbers from two weeks ago) and likely at least 25 more exposures which have not yet made anyone sick but will, in the Austin area. In New York and California and Washington, these numbers are likely far higher. The rapid mutation of the virus could also potentially confound testing, leading to false negatives. We need to err on the side of caution this time.
At one point it was reported that 8% of the Iranian parliament had contracted the disease and tested positive for it. This is an insidious disease, capable of rapid spread, and we need to begin working to improve our hygiene today to minimize the rate at which it will infect up to 40–70% of the world’s population. Each of us has a duty to prevent the further spread, and even if you’re a young person your elders are counting on you to improve your hygiene because that will minimize the chance of their becoming severely ill with the virus.
A few quick hygiene tips:
1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 30 seconds every time you touch your face, touch someone else’s hands, touch a surface (including a phone!) someone else has touched, or go to the bathroom. In a nutshell: Err on the side of caution. When in doubt, wash ‘em.
2. Clean your phone with alcohol. It’s the dirtiest thing you own, statistically speaking, and even if you’re washing your hands all the time, if you’re not keeping the surface you repeatedly touch throughout the day clean as well, you’re probably just going to pick up the pathogen there.
3. Cover your coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow. This is common courtesy for those around you.
4. Open a door or window and keep it a bit open. This will increase air exchange in your home or office and could diminish viral load if someone sick visits or has visited. You have no way of knowing, but this basic prophylactic measure could lessen the degree of an exposure.
5. Take your street shoes off when you get home. This will ensure that you’re not tracking virus throughout your house if you stepped in a sick person’s spit when you were out. This is also a prophylactic measure that is unlikely to be completely effective alone, but when combined with the rest of the hygiene tips here it may help to slow the spread of Covid-19 and dimish your chances of contracting the disease.
Diet and Exercise Recommendations:
1. Don’t skip your cardio unless you start feeling ill. Go for your run or walk or ride as you normally would, but consider avoiding the gym, as the high number of breathing, sweating other people there could result in exposure.
2. Get some chicken soup ready to go in case you feel ill in the near future. With as many possible exposures as we all no doubt have every day, and with the low availability of testing kits to determine whether or not we have ended up with the virus, it is prudent to be ready to eat healthy. Chicken soup has high levels of chondroitin sulfate, glucosamine sulfate, and hyaluronic acid — three chemicals which are necessary to repair damage to the endothelial glycocalyx. Do some research on this or take my word for it — it’s a low cost (and tasty!) way to care for yourself when you’re feeling ill.
3. Consider an anti-oxidant to keep on hand. I recommend N-Acetylcysteine or CBD oil. Both of these can mitigate, to some largely uncertain extent, the sorts of oxidative stress which are associated with viral infections. I want to stress that more testing needs to be undertaken regarding both of these agents, but we do not have a completely proven treatment method yet and the sort of general advantage which can be conferred by these basic agents seems as good a place to start as any.
4. Sleep. Get ALL of your beauty rest. Your body’s immune defenses cannot function if you don’t get enough sleep.
5. Avoid alcohol if possible; limit consumption to one glass of red wine per day if necessary. Red wine has polyphenols such as resveratrol in it, and these can function as antiviral agents.
6. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables when possible. These contain antioxidants, beneficial sugars (which can help power the immune response) and antiviral agents which may boost your body’s ability to respond to any viral pathogens you encounter.
7. STOP SMOKING. Covid-19 tends to be most severe when it gets into people’s lungs — we want to minimize any local inflammation there, part of that may involve switching to a snus-type nicotine delivery method for all of my dedicated nicotine fans out there.
8. Relax. Stressing about the spread of the disease is a useless occupation. Do what you can to prevent contracting Covid-19, but do not overreact to the situation. It is still early enough in the outbreak that containment via mutual good behavior can critically limit the number of people who end up infected.
I am not a doctor, and nothing in this article constitutes medical advice. I have, in the past, worked in the biotech industry as a researcher and I do keep in touch with a number of doctors, and asked several of them to review this article. I have taken their advice seriously and am publishing this article with their blessing. None of these suggestions is likely to be a silver bullet, but if you’re worried about the disease, I hope now you know a bit more about some things you can do to make life easier on yourself. Try to occupy your thoughts with minimization to keep yourself from worrying about a situation you have little or no control over.