COVID-19: The Basics You Need To Know
I’ve been following the unfolding COVID-19 developments since late January, when a friend alerted me to what was happening in Wuhan, China.
Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of research to understand the possible scenarios and outcomes of this situation.
I recently did two live streams on Future Thinkers with my partner Mike talking about some of these effects.
Here is the first one:
And the second one:
In the meantime, I wanted to share a primer with some basic information.
All the info in this article is provisional and likely to change as more data becomes available.
COVID-19 is a new disease. We don’t have immunity to the virus, we don’t have a cure or a vaccine, and we don’t know what is going to happen.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional.
What is the Coronavirus / SARS-COV-2 / COVID-19?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), previously known by the provisional name 2019-nCoV, and colloquially known as “Coronavirus”, “Wuhan flu”, or “Wuhan pneumonia” (what it’s often called in China), is a virus that is highly contagious in humans and causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which is deadly.
The virus shares 80% of its genome with SARS and is in the same virus family. It is not a flu.
The disease is now in the early stages of a pandemic. World Health Organization predicts a moderate to very severe pandemic, based on COVID-19’s transmissibility and clinical severity.
Where did it come from?
- It is thought to have originated in China in late 2019
- Exact origin is unclear, but the official narrative says it was transmitted from a bat at a live animal market in the city of Wuhan, China
- Some researchers speculate it was lab-made, but the evidence is not solid
What are the symptoms and effects?
- In milder cases: fever, cough, fatigue, muscle soreness (flu-like symptoms)
- In severe and critical cases: pneumonia (lung infection), shortness of breath, heart failure, organ failure, death
How is it transmitted?
- Through bodily fluids
- Through the air in droplets of mucus (from coughs and sneezes)
- Through surfaces that people often touch (door knobs, elevator buttons, public bathrooms, cash)
- Through food that ill people prepared
How deadly / dangerous is it?
- A study of 44,000 Chinese patients found the average chance of dying to be 2.3% — 4.3%, heavily skewed towards the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.
- For those with cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes or heart conditions — 5–10%.
- For those over 80 years old — around 15% (likely due to this age group having a weaker immune system and higher occurrence of pre-existing conditions)
- For healthy young people — less than 0.5%
- In children under 9, no deaths have been recorded as of early March 2020
- Other high-risk groups are the immuno-compromised, those under high stress / exhaustion (i.e. health care workers during epidemic), and smokers.
- Young, healthy adults and children can have milder symptoms (like a regular flu) or no symptoms, but still be contagious. However, there have been cases of young people dying or developing serious complications as well.
- Unlike the flu, the symptoms can last for up to 3 weeks or longer, which can disrupt people’s ability to work.
- A percentage of people pronounced “cured” still test positive for the virus and are still contagious.
- There is evidence suggesting that when people get the disease the second time, it is more severe and deadly.
- The disease makes people susceptible to secondary infections (viral or bacterial), which can increase the mortality rate.
What else is known so far?
- There is currently no vaccine and no treatment. Several vaccines are being developed, but it will likely take until 2021 for them to become available.
- The virus can have an incubation period up to 21 days (some reports say up to 29 days), during which time the person shows no symptoms but is contagious.
- It can survive on inanimate surfaces up to 9 days.
- The R0 is between 2 and 6, meaning each infected person infects 2–6 others, which can cause the number of infected to double every few days
- The virus has mutated and there are now 2 strains circulating, the second more aggressive and deadly than the first.
- Recent studies show that the virus can cause permanent damage to the lungs and other organs, male infertility, and other serious complications.
What are the chances of containment?
- At this point, containment is no longer possible. The virus is on every continent and in most countries. It has been growing exponentially in certain regions like China and South Korea (before it got slowed by quarantine and preventative measures), Iran, Italy, and now Europe and USA.
- According to a recent estimate by a Harvard epidemiologist, 40–70% of the world’s population may get the virus in the next year
- It is still possible and necessary to reduce the rate of spread of the virus, and reduce the load on the local healthcare and economic systems all at once. A tidal wave is preferable to a tsunami. This is called “flattening the curve”.
- It is in all of our interest to delay getting infected until the healthcare system has more beds and doctors available again (at the peak of the outbreak, there is always a shortage of those, which is what caused people to die in hospital hallways in Wuhan, China)
What if I get infected or think I might be infected?
- Call your doctor or hospital (don’t go there in person unless they tell you to).
- Quarantine yourself at home if your symptoms are mild and you are in a low-risk group (young & healthy adult or child). Stay home for at least 3 weeks, or as long as your doctor tells you to.
- Isolate yourself from other people so you don’t infect them, especially the elderly, sick, and immuno-compromised.
- Take measure to prevent the spread of infection — disinfect your house & personal items
Tips to avoid / delay infection
- Wash your hands often, especially after going outside.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth and eyes.
- Avoid crowded places, especially indoors.
- Avoid sharing personal items — towels, cups, etc.
- Don’t shake hands. Do a fist bump or elbow bump instead.
- Clean & disinfect high-touch surfaces in your home daily (doorknobs, keyboards, phones, toilets, bathroom fixtures)
- Avoid international travel if possible.
- You may want to wear a face mask and gloves in crowded places (especially if you are in the high-risk group)
Stock up on supplies
It should be enough to last your household for a few weeks to 1 month.
People panic once the first deaths are announced in their country and authorities start implementing quarantine measures like shutting down schools, public events, or public transport, etc.
At this point, people tend to buy up everything at the supermarkets, and shelves might be empty for weeks. This may already be happening in your location.
In addition, if you decide to self-quarantine, reducing the number of trips to the grocery store will reduce your chances of infection. And if you are put under mandatory quarantine, you may not be able to go to the grocery store anyway.
Only buy the food you are going to eat. Don’t hoard supplies just because.
Nutritious, non perishable food:
- Fish, canned (i.e. mackerel)
- Lentils / beans
- Chia seeds
- Peanut butter
- Coconut oil / extra virgin olive oil
- Sultanas, raisins, figs, dates, or other dried fruit
- Raw honey (it has an antibacterial / antiviral effect)
- Tea / coffee
- Apple cider vinegar (also doubles as an all purpose cleaner)
- Cayenne pepper (improves circulation)
- Dried herbs & spices, bullion cubes, flavouring
- Frozen meat / fish
- Pet food, if you have pets
- Baby food or formula, if needed
- Bottled water in large bottles
- Cold & Flu medicine
- Pain killers (Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, etc)
- Rubbing alcohol for disinfecting surfaces
- Medical gloves (for wearing outside to avoid infection, or for caring for sick house mates)
- Any medication you normally take (1 month supply)
- Bonus: help your elderly, sick, and mentally ill loved ones and neighbours ensure they have enough medication and supplies for a month. They will be the most vulnerable if this gets really bad in your city (as it’s already getting in China, Iran, and Italy).
- Bleach (for disinfecting surfaces)
- Toilet paper
- Soap (antibacterial or regular)
- Tooth paste
- Laundry detergent
- Dish soap
- All purpose cleaner
- Feminine hygiene products, if needed
- Diapers & baby wipes, if you have babies
- Pet toilet supplies, if you have pets
- Face masks, if you can get them (there is disagreement on whether they are effective)
Immunity boosters and antivirals:
- Vitamin C powder (1000mg daily)
- Vitamin D (helps lower inflammation and increase your capacity to fight disease)
- Elderberry syrup
- Bee propolis (i.e. in throat spray form)
- Iodine (a few drops in a glass of water, gargle in the morning)
- Glutathione — an antioxidant that increases the longevity of cells (eat eggs, bone broth, raw honey, whey protein powder)
Free immunity & health boosters:
- Get adequate sleep. This cannot be overstated. Sleep is when your body repairs itself. If you’re up every night worrying, this will weaken your body’s ability to fight disease.
- Exercise / be active. If you’re under quarantine at home, use a yoga mat and some tension bands, a chin-up bar, or kettle bells. Or just jump around and do some kicks and punches. There are lots of tutorials of every kind on Youtube.
- Get sunshine exposure daily. This will increase your vitamin D levels and help protect you from disease.
- If there is no sunshine where you live, go outside anyway (or on a balcony, or at least sit in front of a window if you’re in quarantine). You can also try infrared sauna if you have access to that.
- Deep breathing exercises, i.e. Wim Hof method (this activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes and repairs your body)
- Take cold showers or ice baths (this draws the blood away from your skin and towards your internal organs, and helps your body fight disease).
Mental / Emotional Health
- Make sure to stay connected with friends & family digitally. Frequent video calls can help you feel closer to the ones you love and keep you saner.
- Prepare some games, books, art supplies, music making equipment, and basic exercise equipment in case of quarantine. A guitar or a sketchbook can go a long way when you’re cooped up at home.
- Listen to soothing audiobooks or nature sounds at night as you’re going to sleep.
- Meditate on difficult emotions and accept them. Bottling things up only creates more long term stress and illness, and can cause explosive outbursts and breakdowns.
- Meditate on death — we are all going to die at some point, and so will all our loved ones. It may come soon or it may not. In any case, accepting this emotionally will make you stronger and more capable of dealing with death when it comes.
Questions for further reflection
I intend to publish a second article on the second-order effects and potential outcomes of this pandemic, but I’ll leave you with these questions to ponder in the meantime.
- What is this situation likely to become?
- What are the best case, medium case, worst case scenarios?
- What are the actions most relevant to those scenarios? What is the 80/20? (most effective thing to do that doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take much effort)
- What happens if we all take those actions?
- What are the potential second order effects? (societal repercussions of the pandemic)
Where can I learn more?
Dr John Campbel has been posting daily level-headed updates on COVID-19 on his Youtube channel.
Another doctor’s informative updates on Youtube.
An aggregator of key news updates.
Coronavirus subreddit is another news aggregator.
Useful timely sense-making from many medical professionals, public intellectuals, and people on the ground can be found on Twitter through #COVID19 and #COVID-19 hashtags.