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))
- A Minnesotan’s Perspective
- Science, Mostly
- Hope and Solidarity
- CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Minnesota Department of Health: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Now, what I think about COVID-19. And how I’m reacting.
(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….”
I think he’s right about. I also think unreasonable fear is — unreasonable.
(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))
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.”
Never giving up? Letting hope counter fear and solidarity defuse blame? Letting our shared humanity defeat our shared threat? Makes sense to me.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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:
- “Health Care Directive”
(November 24, 2019)
- “Sickness, Death, God, Love and Questions”
(February 23, 2019)
- “Homer, Hegel, History and Hope”
(May 12, 2018)
- “A Century of Science”
(November 3, 2017)
- “Polio, Zika, and Using Our Brains”
(August 21, 2016)
- WHO (World Health Organization)
- “Coronavirus confirmed as pandemic by World Health Organization,” BBC News (March 11, 2020)
- “Marin cruise passengers exposed to coronavirus were ‘out in the community’,” The Mercury News (March 7, 2020)
- “Coronavirus concerns prompt Austin officials to cancel SXSW,” The Texas Tribune (March 6, 2020)
- CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- Minnesota’s 4th, 5th COVID-19 cases surface in Olmsted, Ramsey counties,” Peter Cox, MPR (March 11, 2020)
- “Minnesota health officials report second case of coronavirus,” Andrew Krueger, MPR News (March 8, 2020)
- “Minnesota health officials say state’s first coronavirus patient had minimal contact with others,” Peter Cox, Andrew Krueger; MPR News (March 7, 2020)
- Minnesota religious groups respond to coronavirus case with caution and a cancellation,” Star Tribune (March 6, 2020)
- Statement Regarding Minnesota’s First Case of COVID-19
Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul (March 7, 2020)
- CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
- “Minnesota religious groups respond to coronavirus case with caution and a cancellation,” Star Tribune (March 6, 2020)
- Common cold
- Coronaviruses causing the common cold
- Human coronavirus diseases
- RNA virus
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2/SARS-CoV-2
- “Novel coronavirus structure reveals targets for vaccines and treatments ”
Research Matters, NIH (March 3, 2020)