COVID-19: Pandemic

COVID-19, a coronavirus disease, has been headline news since last December.

By March 11, 2020, we had more than 122,000 known cases in 120 countries and territories. 6,100 of those were serious. The March 11 death toll was 4,300 — 3,200 in China. On the ‘up’ side, 67,000 have recovered from the disease.

Folks are dealing with travel restrictions, quarantines and cancelled events.

And, as of today (March 11, 2020), COVID-19 is officially a pandemic.


UPDATE March 12, 2020
That didn’t take long. The nearest known case of COVID-19 is an hour’s drive or less away.
A case of COVID-19 coronavirus disease is known in Stearns Country. (“MDH confirms Stearns coronavirus case, state cases reach 9,” St. Cloud Times (March 12, 2020))


Resources:

Now, what I think about COVID-19. And how I’m reacting.


Pandemic

A “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”


(From Yann Forget, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(WHO headquarters, Geneva. (© Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA))

COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. WHO, the World Health Organization, called it a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on January 30, 2020.1

I think WHO was right.

Today — March 11, 2020 — WHO’s Director-General made it official. COVID-19 is a pandemic.

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 11 March 2020
WHO Director-General, World Health Organization (March 11, 2020)

“…We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.

“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. This is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus….”
[emphasis mine]

I think he’s right about. I also think unreasonable fear is — unreasonable.

“We are Not at the Mercy of This Virus”


(From Carlos Garcia Rawlins, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
(“People wearing face masks carry their luggage as they walk outside Beijing Railway Station as the country is hit by an outbreak of the new coronavirus, in Beijing, China January 30, 2020.” (Reuters))

WHO’s Director-General said that this is the first pandemic we can control.

I suspect he’s right about that, too.

We’ve learned a great deal since John Snow traced a cholera outbreak to tainted water. (November 24, 2019)

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 9 March 2020
WHO Director-General, World Health Organization (March 9, 2020)

“…As you know, over the weekend we crossed 100,000 reported cases of COVID-19 in 100 countries.

“It’s certainly troubling that so many people and countries have been affected, so quickly.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real.

“But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.

“The bottom line is: we are not at the mercy of this virus.

“…The rule of the game is: never give up….

“…Let hope be the antidote to fear.

“Let solidarity be the antidote to blame.

“Let our shared humanity be the antidote to our shared threat.”
[emphasis mine]

Never giving up? Letting hope counter fear and solidarity defuse blame? Letting our shared humanity defeat our shared threat? Makes sense to me.


A Minnesotan’s Perspective

Panic and Other Options

Older folks with existing medical problems are particularly likely to catch COVID-19 and die.2

I’m in my upper 60s, taking meds to control diabetes, hypertension and other ailments.

But I’m not stocking up on hand sanitizer, obsessively washing my hands, or spraying Lysol on my keyboard every few minutes.

Even though my keyboard has that grungy look it develops toward the end of winter.

My behavior could be rooted in reckless abandon, irresponsible apathy or some other misanthropic motive. I don’t think that’s the case.

As I see it, I’m following CDC guidelines and being reasonably cautious. I’m also keeping an eye on state and regional health news.

COVID-19: Now in Minnesota


(From WHO, used w/o permission.)

Five folks living Minnesota have COVID-19.

Five that we know of so far.

Four of the cases are in Minnesota’s Metro, Minneapolis, St. Paul and their suburbs.

Medicos found a fifth case in Ramsey County. That’s the Rochester area, southeast of the Metro.3

I figure it’s only a matter of time before more cases pop up. Maybe even here in Sauk Centre. When that happens, I’ll keep washing my hands at appropriate intervals and pay attention to changes in community routines.

This community’s, not Minnesota’s Metro or Olmsted County’s.

One more thing. A COVID-19 case being in or near Rochester is a bit disturbing. To me, anyway. That’s where Mayo Clinic is. I don’t like thinking about what could happen if COVID-19 got out of hand there. Not that I think it’s likely.

Our Archbishop and Subsidiarity

Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis asked us to pray for the person who’s caught COVID-19.

He also recommended that folks stay home if we’re sick, or caring for someone who’s sick. And that we empty Holy Water fonts and make other changes in our Mass routines.

I could be outraged that the archbishop dared to suggest changes, or scandalized that the local parish hasn’t follow them. I don’t think either response makes sense.

“Recommended” is a key word here, I think. Sauk Center is not Minneapolis or St. Paul. We’re two hours down the road, three or four if there’s heavy traffic.

I’m nowhere near as likely to meet someone who’s been on a cruise to the Orient at Our Lady of the Angels as I might be at the Cathedral of St. Paul.

I figure the diocese and archdiocese I’m in are having decisions made as close to parish level as possible. Which makes sense, since subsidiarity is part of the Church’s social doctrine. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1883)

Subsidiarity, the Catholic version, is the reverse of micromanagement. Sort of. It’s letting folks who are as close to grass roots as possible make decisions that affect them.4 Us.


Science, Mostly

Coronaviruses?


(From WHO, BBC; used w/o permission.)

Coronaviridae is the taxonomic family name for coronaviruses.

The family has two sub-families, five genera, 23 sub-genera and 40 species. Give or take a few species.

They’re RNA viruses, the sort that use RNA instead of DNA for genetic coding.

Coronaviruses make birds and mammals sick.

The “corona” in coronavirus comes from a Latin word for crown, wreath or halo: corona. Little blob-tipped protein spikes covering coronaviruses look a little like a halo or crown.

Most viruses that cause the common cold are rhinoviruses. But two coronaviruses, 229E and OC43, cause colds. And that’s another topic.

The SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 coronaviruses seem to have more name recognition than, say, HCoV-NL63: New Haven coronavirus. And I’m drifting off-topic again.

COVID-19 seems to be the generally-accepted name for the epidemic that started in December. Or maybe not. I suspect that names for the disease, the outbreak of the disease and the virus causing the disease are still in flux. Confusing.

Some of its symptoms — fever, cough, sore muscles — remind me of a really nasty flu. Which COVID-19 isn’t. Influenza’s caused by another sort of virus: Orthomyxoviridae.

At least some folks are calling the virus causing COVID-19 “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” or SARS-CoV-2. That’s a mouthful, and sounds scary.

Which is arguably appropriate. COVID-19 has killed thousands of folks.5

“More Infectious Than the SARS Virus” – – –


(From U.S. National Institutes of Health/AP/Shutterstock, via Nature, used w/o permission.)

Why does the coronavirus spread so easily between people?
Smriti Mallapaty, Nature (March 6, 2020)

“Researchers have identified microscopic features that could make the pathogen more infectious than the SARS virus — and serve as drug targets.

“As the number of coronavirus infections approaches 100,000 people worldwide, researchers are racing to understand what makes it spread so easily.

“A handful of genetic and structural analyses have identified a key feature of the virus — a protein on its surface — that might explain why it infects human cells so readily.

“Other groups are investigating the doorway through which the new coronavirus enters human tissues — a receptor on cell membranes. Both the cell receptor and the virus protein offer potential targets for drugs to block the pathogen, but researchers say it is too early to be sure….”

The bad news here is that COVID-19 spreads faster than SARS. The good news is that scientists may have learned why it’s so fast. Then there’s more bad news:

“…The new virus spreads much more readily than the one that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS (also a coronavirus), and has infected more than ten times the number of people who contracted SARS….”
(Smriti Mallapaty, Nature (March 6, 2020))

Small wonder so many folks are concerned about this disease. Including me. Remember: I’m in some of the high-risk groups. Or would be, if I lived in a port city. Or will be, when COVID-19 reaches my town.

– – – And We May be Learning Why

The COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, apparently has a modified protein in those blobs at the end of its spikes. Different from closely-related coronaviruses, that is.

The SARS-CoV-2 protein blob includes a chemical trigger that’s activated by furin.

Furin is part of the chemical machinery in a whole mess our our cells. Including those in our lungs, liver and small intestines.

When SARS-CoV-2 gets into our system, that’s not good news. The viruses have a smorgasbord of vital organs to infect.

I think University of Texas at Austin’s Jason McLellan sums up this discovery’s importance: “‘We don’t know if this is going to be a big deal or not'” — and hats off to Smriti Mallapaty and Nature for quoting him.6

It’ll take more research to see whether this week’s discovery is “a big deal or not.”

But if this is how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells, it helps explain why it spreads so fast. And gives scientists who are developing a vaccine something to aim at.


Hope and Solidarity

Choices

Pandemics, even the worst of them, don’t last forever.

I am sure that COVID-19 will end.

How it ends is, I think, largely up to us.

As I said before, I think WHO’s Director-General is right.

Giving up isn’t a reasonable option.

Choosing hope rather than fear, solidarity rather than blame, makes sense.

So does remembering our shared humanity. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 360361, 1789, 1929)

I have more to say about COVID-19, good ideas, daft notions and hucksters. But that will wait until another day.

Other posts, mostly about life, death, health and using our brains:


1 COVID-19 background:

2 ‘This time it’s personal:’

3 Minnesota news:

4 Catholic perspective:

5 Various viruses:

6 A hopeful development:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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5 Responses to COVID-19: Pandemic

  1. I think I just realized that panic about stuff like this more easily affects a person in adulthood. Is this one of those things they call “adult fears,” then? Anyway, I thought about that as I remembered how I was back when SARS was a big concern. The result that is that and the realization about the strong importance of being childlike (not childish, of course) in life. It can feel like quite a lonely life, especially as an adult, but at least God’s always around and ready to help us be the godsends we should bother to be. Praise and thanks be to Him very much again for the strength and the challenges.

    • “Adult fears?” Very likely. ‘Old geezer fears,’ at any rate. 😉

      Also agreed: childlike. Not childish, which is quite different.

      About your last sentences: indeed. Besides, who wants a boring life? 😀

  2. I can’t help wondering — if, as the WHO Director says,

    “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”

    — and if, as he also says,

    “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.

    — then why bother to use the word “pandemic” at all? One could say “because it is,” and yet classifications that don’t make a difference don’t seem to have a point.

    I am happy to see people taking more care to wash their hands well, and happy to see a new “sanitary door opener” that lets me open a restroom door without hand contact. Not so happy to hear reports of people raiding stores so that some shelves are empty. We should be reasonably cautious, but not panic.

    Anyway, wishing good health to you in Sauk Center!

    • Good point(s). I haven’t looked into it, but I strongly suspect that, although declaring a pandemic did not substantially change what WHO was doing – – – it may have change what WHO and other organizations, governments and entities could do.

      My model for this speculation is partly the importance in the U.S. of state and federal disaster declarations.

      And, as you said: good news, not-so-good news: and not panicking. 😉

      • Yes, I think you’re right, that declaration probably changed what governments and other organizations and millions to billions of individuals would do. I feel silly not to have thought of that.

Thanks for taking time to comment!