Drinking the Kool-Aid
Across the USA recently, demonstrators wielding, “Stop the madness! It is just a cold virus!” and “Let me work” signs, chanting “Freedom now” and “Fire Fauci,” dangerously demanded an end to social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
In Italy, we would assume such demonstrations were fomented by the Mafia. In America, the provocateurs are right-wing extremists, Republican donors, pro-gun activists, and the country’s president.
Crowds are the coronavirus’s best friend. Mass meetings of a Korean church led to more than 5000 deaths from COVID-19, and Mardi Gras probably killed a thousand New Orleanians. Is it wicked to hope the Great God Corona may have tossed a few lightning bolts into those “Open It Up” mobs?
Hell out of bats
The latest COVID-19 origin story is a bat virus that escaped from a virology lab in Wuhan. Yes, the Chinese have acted badly throughout trying to hide the epidemic, underreporting death figures, and producing research that’s sloppy, withdrawn, or disproven. But scientists say this theory is rubbish.
While scientists worldwide race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, some pooh-pooh the effort.
One school says it’s useless; by the time a vaccine arrives, the virus will have mutated away. The New York Times titled an opinion piece “The Coronavirus Is Mutating. What Does That Mean for a Vaccine?” True answer? Not much. All viruses mutate, the novel coronavirus mutates more slowly than most, and experts don’t expect those mutations to cause trouble.
Another school says a vaccine is unnecessary; convalescent serum and antivirals will triumph. This school has only one member, Italian virologist Giulio Tarro. Convalescent serum has never done wonders, and most antivirals are mediocre; Tamiflu shortens influenza at best by a day or two. Italians, my husband says, are dreamers.
Rapid coronavirus blood tests purporting to tell whether you’re immune have hit Italy and the United States, global epicenter of both COVID-19 and for-profit medicine.
But the tests suck, though claiming 90% sensitivity. The worst are Chinese, but even those made in the USA are not so great; the World Health Organization says don’t use them. This may change in a month, when more trustworthy companies promise better tests.
But we still don’t know for sure whether survivors are immune from reinfection. A month from now, studies screening health care workers may give some answers.
Rapid tests are easy, cheap, and give a yes-or-no result in minutes. Not to be confused with the highly accurate, quantitative, laboratory-based ELISA tests used in major research studies and to select COVID-19 survivors to donate convalescent plasma.
Conclusion: Don’t be the first on your block.
The thermometer brigade
Passengers entering planes, hospitals, and the USA have no-touch thermometers pointed at their foreheads, and many consider temperature screening — in schools, theaters, restaurants—a major future tool. But though fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, up to half of hospitalized patients in China and the U.S. had no fever, and asymptomatic patients are even less likely to be febrile. Don’t bank on temperature screening.
People are washing their spinach in soapy water (yecch) and scrubbing their squash with Purell (double yecch). This is absurd. You can’t get sick by ingesting coronavirus, and the virus is killed by cooking.
Disinfect shopping bags? Leave your shoes outside the door? Don’t go overboard.
Wear disposable gloves when you shop, patronize stores that limit customers and disinfect carts, keep your distance. When you get home, wash before and after unpacking. Period. There has not been a single case of someone getting COVID-19 from a food box or a package. Likewise, the only evidence of coronavirus on shoe soles comes from COVID-19 wards in China, not from your local sidewalk or your supermarket.
The WHO bogeyman
Donald Trump’s popularity spiked last month, but as COVID-19 deaths rose and the pandemic spread into America’s heartland his ratings slipped. Needing a new shiny object to distract attention, he chose the World Health Organization — arguably the entity that acted the earliest and the most consistently to draw attention to the pandemic threat. Yes, the WHO made mistakes, taking China too much at its word during December and early January, but it compensated by supporting the January 23rd Wuhan lockdown, declaring a world health emergency a week later, and sounding dire warnings near-daily since. If the Trump administration had followed WHO recommendations for testing and social distancing, tens of thousands of American lives might have been saved. Cutting off its funding is scandalous.
Susan Levenstein is an internal medicine physician and author of Dottoressa: An American Doctor in Rome.
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