How did the coronavirus become a global pandemic, changing life as we know it? Experts and data provide a clear, informative overview.
I did this for those who do not have Netflix. If you have it, it’s much better to watch it!
Episode 1: This Pandemic
‘Before closing their borders and locking down their citizens, many world leaders downplayed the new virus that was sweeping the globe. For example, some statements that were made: “The situation is absolutely under control.” “This is one of our enemies’ plots, dragging the country to shut down.” “We should be going about our business as usual.” “A lot of this is fantasy when it comes to the coronavirus.”
Months before COVID 19, many people knew a pandemic like this was coming. In fact, in the spring of 2019, months before the first case of COVID-10, we interviewed several of them for this show:
Bill Gates, “If you think of anything that could come along that would kill millions of people, the pandemic is our greatest risk. In terms of a death toll, a pandemic would rival even the gigantic wars of the past. The economy will shut down, the cost to humanity will be unbelievable, and no country will be immune to the problem this will create. If a really fast-moving respiratory pathogen came out, we would not be able to hold those numbers down.”
Dr. Peter Daszak (Ecohealth Alliance, President), “We estimate there are around 1.5 million viruses in wildlife that we don’t yet know about. Anyone of those could be spilling over into human population right now.
When a virus jumps from an animal to a human, it’s called a zoonotic virus, and for decades, these kinds of viruses have been causing more and more outbreaks. We know some pretty lethal ones, but we expect that there are others out there that are more lethal, better at being transmitted, where we’ve got no drugs and no vaccines. They’re the big risk.”
That’s what happened with SARS in 2002, which was a new coronavirus that spread around the world, killing hundreds. It happened again with MERS in 2012, which was also a new coronavirus that killed hundreds.
Of all the viruses out there, why did this coronavirus end up becoming the kind of pandemic we haven’t seen in more than a century? And how does a pandemic like COVID-19 come to an end?
Viruses were one of the first living things on Earth, but they’re not alive like we are. They need to hijack other living cells to reproduce. Their only goal is the survive and replicate themselves.
The official name of this virus is SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is the name of the disease it causes, which stands for Coronavirus disease 2019.” Corona, as in crown, is named for its crown-like spikes. It spreads through droplets when we sneeze, cough, or speak, and can enter us directly through our eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can also live on a lot surfaces for hours, so people can pick it up on their hands and infect themselves if they touch their face, something the average person does 20 times per hour.
Once inside the body, those spikes act as a key, locking on the proteins found on the outside of many human cells. Once it’s broken in, the virus gives the cell instructions to produce more copies of itself, invading more cells. This can lead to fever, cough, fatigue, but not always. It can also lead to other symptoms like shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of appetite, diarrhea, loss of smell and taste. Research is ongoing.
You can be infected and spread it without any symptoms, or they can be mistaken for the flu. That’s what makes this coronavirus so devious.
The most significant diseases are often caused by viruses that are silent and slow, like HIV, or move very rapidly and cause symptoms like coughing and fever, that could be confused with other diseases. Someone who contracts this coronavirus, likely will infect 3 other people, and each of those people infect a couple more, and so on. Which is why the number of cases increases on an exponential curve, doubling every several days.
Some of these people will end up with sever lung infection, and certain groups (those with lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes) are at higher risk. The risk of dying is clearly greater the older you get. Also, for reasons scientist don’t fully understand, the risk of dying is higher in men. Possibly because more men smoke, possible biological factors, or that men aren’t as good about washing their hands.
COVID-19 is just the youngest in a whole family of seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. It’s now famous, just as SARS and MERS, because they’ve killed a lot of people. But these 4 (HCoV-OC43), (HCoV–229E), (HCoV–NL63), and (HCoV– HkU1) are more successful viruses. They cause up to 1/3 of common colds, parainfluenzas and others. Because viruses can spread better if they don’t make their hosts that sick. Just look at bats. Bats are teaming with viruses because viruses don’t really bother them.
Unlike SARS where people only spread the virus when they had symptoms, it was easier to contain the virus by quarantining people who were sick. SARS was also a lot more deadly and killed 10% of people it infects, and then survivors probably have some immunity and can’t be re-infected. SARS infected around 8,000 people in at least 29 countries. 774 of them died.
Since then, a group called EcoHealth Alliance has been going to caves in southern China, catching bats, scanning them for viruses, and flagging the ones that could most easily make the leap to us. They raise the alert and the government of China comes in and tries to reduce the exposure of the populations to viruses. They found a lot so far, including hundreds of coronavirus. They label them to how dangerous they are to how dangerous they are to humans. It’s impossible to predict how these viruses might evolve. Scientist believe COVID-19 may have mutated in another bat, or jumped to another species (like a pangolin, fish or snake) before jumping to humans.
For a disease to become a pandemic, spreading around the world in months, and leading to potentially millions of deaths, it has to find an extraordinary balance of contagiousness and deadliness.
Smallpox killed 30% of the people who got it and was also very contagious. This virus terrorized humanity for thousands of years. In the 20th century alone, it killed hundreds of millions of people. Ebola is even deadlier, but killed less people because those who had it get so sick, they don’t survive.
Where does the current pandemic fall? It’s not clear yet. It’s deadlier than the measles, but less contagious. Far less deadly than Ebola and nowhere near as bad as smallpox. It’s close to the lower estimates of the 1918 flu (poor records). So, it could be worse.
That said, we can end pandemics. The best way to defeat a virus is through immunity. When certain viruses spread through a population, some inflected people die, but others survive. Their immune systems have learned to recognize the virus and fight it off. When that happens in enough people, it’s much harder for the virus to spread. This is called herd immunity. The rate of infection slows and the virus dies out. Other coronaviruses don’t even give lifelong immunity. With COVID-19, we just don’t know yet if this is going to happen. If a vaccine is successfully created and enough people get it, it’s a shortcut to heard immunity. (Personally, I do not advocate this vaccine that’s been rushed through the system.)
It will take a year to a year and half to really know if the COVID-19 vaccine really works. While we wait, the virus keeps spreading and killing. The best we can do for now is to slow it down using a method that’s a lot more old school. It was invented 7 centuries ago during the Black Death: quarantine. Or it’s gentler cousin, “social distancing.” Avoiding crows and close contact with other people so the virus has fewer chances to spread.
During the 1918 flu, one American city, St. Louis, took that approach quickly, shutting schools and public places, while Philadelphia didn’t right away. They allowed a big parade to go ahead. The death rate in St. Louis was a low curve and Philadelphia had an overwhelming spike. St. Louis flattened their curve, which means the disease killed people for a longer period of time, but fewer died. Because, as Italy learned in March 2020, it’s much harder for hospitals to save lives if too many people get infected at once.
Now that we know more, world leaders have been saying, “Stay at home.”
Hundreds of millions of people around the world have been waiting this out and finding ways to cope.
Countries really have to go on a hardcore national lockdown to really suppress that curve. Then we have to gradually and carefully come out of that lockdown.
South Korea is one model. As of early April, they’ve managed to rain in their outbreak without a lockdown by testing widely and retracing the steps of people who came back positive.
At what point, on the other side of the curve, do you go back to work or school? The answer is testing. The problem is, that smoldering outbreak can las a long time. Remember St. Louis? In November is when the city decided to end their social distancing policies. The death rate jumped and the city quickly locked down again.
Mother Nature is the ultimate bioterrorist. There will always be things that surprise us.
The WHO (world health organization) is meant to lead the global response to a pandemic. It’s actually a small organization, and dependent on voluntary contributions, so they don’t have a research and development budget.
Bill Gates said, “When a pandemic of any size, we always look back and wished we’d invested more. However, very quickly, our memory fades, and other priorities are getting the resources.”
A recent WHO report (September 2019) even acknowledged, “There is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy. A global pandemic on that scale would be catastrophic, creating widespread havoc, instability and insecurity. The world is not prepared.” That was three months before the first case of COVID-19.
Healthcare professionals didn’t have masks and other equipment they needed to protect themselves as well as help COVID-19 patients, and everyone else who needed to be seen for other reasons.
Bill Gates, “Military budgets are large, and new weapons get created. This belongs right there with war as something we should plan for.”
Three weeks before China began any containment measure against COVID-19, a 33-year-old doctor at Wuhan Central Hospital, Dr. Li Wenliang, sent a group chat to other doctors alerting them to the outbreak. A few day later, the Wuhan police made him sign a letter, warning that he would receive the full sanction of the law if he “stubbornly persists in his opinion.” By the time the WHO declared a public health emergency on January 30th, 2020, Dr. Wenliang had likely already contracted the virus because he died of it one week later.
And three weeks after that, it’s estimated that 114,000 people in China were infected. If China had implemented its containment measures just three weeks earlier, the number of cases could have been cut by as much as 95%.
While China was locked down in February, Italy was not, and it became the next epicenter of the virus. And when Italy locked down in March, The United States didn’t, and became the next epicenter. Then cases started to rise in poorer countries where lockdowns are harder, and healthcare systems are fragile.
We need to get faster at containment. Ideally catching more viruses at the source. It isn’t just China and it isn’t just bats.
The frontline for disease emergence are places like end of the road in a tropical forest where someone’s just built a new mining concession. People have moved in and there’s no food supply so they go out and hunt wildlife. Or it’s a farm in Southeast Asia that’s been expanding and intensifying, that has bats nearby that spread viruses into pigs in the farm.
The truth is that human behavior all over the world has made pandemics like this one, inevitable:
- Deforestation is bringing more wild animals into contact with more people.
- Factory farming is pushing animals closer together, giving their viruses more opportunity to combine into one that could infect us.
- Then WE give them more ways to spread.
One big lesson about pandemics is, we think it’s something happening “over there.” We know from COVID-19 that what happens over there can easily get here.
We should have been more prepared, but when it comes to technology, science, and coordination, we’ve also never been more prepared. Scientist are creating the fastest vaccine ever made in history.’
Personally, I find it very interesting that the current guideline for “social distancing” is only 6′ apart.. In my opinion, to believe 6′ is enough space to protect ourselves from an air born and deadly virus is remiss.
I found this article interesting. “In 1963 when Edward Hall, a cultural anthropologist, coined the term proxemics to define studies about social distancing in everyday life, nobody thought that a virus, 100 times smaller than even a bacteria, would make human closeness a big problem.”
Social distancing can be incredibly hard, from a mental perspective alone, but the bottom line is, we don’t know the long term affects of COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want this virus in my body – EVER!
Be safe and well my friends!