No doubt the next couple of weeks fending off the Coronavirus are going to be hard, but a couple of things we encountered over the weekend show us some small slivers of hope
Those are a couple of the most interesting stories (to us) about Coronavirus that we’ve come across thus far. And interestingly, they both include interviews with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant. (In fact, one is just an interview with him). Why do we find them so interesting? Because they both mention a couple of things we hadn’t personally seen much coverage on and thus hadn’t focused in on before:
• That so-called “herd immunity” could be achieved more quickly than we’d imagined. (For that you’d need 70-80% of the population inoculated or cured).
With a couple of big “ifs”.
First, that some type of protocol is developed using some type of antiviral drug or drugs that work in delaying, lessening the severity of, or effectively treating the disease. Or even preventing infection in the first place.
Says Dr. Brilliant:
“I hold out hope that we get an antiviral for Covid-19 that is curative, but in addition is prophylactic.”
But before you get too excited, let’s bring you down to earth at least a little, because Dr. Brilliant also says:
“If this were a tennis match, I would say advantage virus right now.”
Trump thinks he’s already got that part locked down, and has been tossing around the names of an anti-malaria drug (that we’ve actually taken), and an antibiotic, that when taken in combination, he’s got a good “feeling” about. He’s not a doctor! Also, the anti-malaria drug—from what we understand—is no longer widely prescribed for that because it caused what the National Institutes of Health described as “serious psychiatric symptoms”, albeit in a small number of people. But anyway, if it’s Trump’s “cocktail” or somebody else’s, if something’s found that slows things down and increases the recovery rate and speed, that’d be great. And while it doesn’t seem like a sure thing right now, it’s clearly not out of the question, and could eventually become a necessity. So the only variable is if it can be discovered, developed and implemented sooner rather than later. And that’s a big variable.
Then, presumably, recovered people would have immunity and wouldn’t have to “distance” anymore. And then, the trick would be developing a system for publicly identifying who is in this immune group so they can safely work in grocery stores, restaurants, and especially in places like nursing homes. Because other people still might be silent carriers. Remember, the purpose of “social distancing”, “shield in place” and other things is not intended to provide absolute protection against the virus, rather to spread the incidences of it over a longer period of time, so not so many people are sick all at once, and hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. Still, unless some treatment proves unbelievably effective, or can be used as a prophylactic, “herd immunity” or having an army of immune, fully recovered people still probably wouldn’t be fully achieved without a vaccine, which as we know by now probably takes 12-18 months.
• The second possibly positive possibility was something we were wondering about, but figured it wasn’t a possibility because nobody was talking about it: COVID-19 is a virus. Viruses mutate. Sometimes that makes them even more dangerous and harder to wipe out. But from what we’ve been reading at least, sometimes they break down over time. Especially with strong measures in place to prevent them from spreading until they do. Not in the “magical” overnight way Trump’s described, but over a period of time. Says Dr. Brilliant:
“The best case is that the virus mutates and actually dies out…only in movies do viruses seem to become worse.”
For instance SARS (which was another form of Coronavirus), and had a far higher death rate (closer to 10%), did not become as widespread as COVID-19 already has, and the World Health Organization declared it “contained” (though not eradicated) in 2003.
In the news release announcing that virus had been contained, the WHO also said this:
“SARS is a warning. SARS pushed even the most advanced public health systems to the breaking point. Those protections held, but just barely. Next time, we may not be so lucky. We have an opportunity now, and we see the need clearly, to rebuild our public health protections. They will be needed for the next global outbreak, if it is SARS or another new infection.”
Anyway, here are the two stories:
- Steven Levy, writing for Wired.
- Nicholas Kristof, writing for the New York Times.