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Demystifying COVID-19

While Washington’s shelter in place won’t officially end until May 4th, we have been settling into some routines and are taking it day by day. We have posted an article called ‘Staying Connected in Isolation’ where we shared several tips that have helped keep us sane through this pandemic.

Here’s an update of how we are faring and also to demystify a couple things that you might have heard being thrown around in the news and in emails. With the influx of information that many of us are receiving concerning the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to clarify a lot of misinformation that can be spread.

Phuong’s Update

I have fallen into more or less of a routine since the shelter in place started. I do have my off days, and I have learned to give myself a lot of patience (which, honestly, is a good skill to have in general in my opinion). I remind myself that it’s okay to try again another day. I was worried about taking classes online, and though it did take awhile to get used to, I have come up with a process that works for me. There are even some new routines I’ve discovered that I’d love to integrate into daily life post-pandemic!

Every morning I wake up a little before my first morning class and make myself a cup of tea. This is something that I’ve always skipped before, but now don’t know how to live without. I usually like to schedule meetings in the mornings in order to start my day off being productive. I also have a morning class, so the early meetings and tea help keep me awake. As I am trying to transition into moving my notes and records digitally, this pandemic gave me the push I needed to start. I have an iPad that I use every day to take notes during classes and meetings.These digital notes are definitely more organized than my pre-pandemic written ones scribbled in three different notebooks, with random post-its tacked to them. If you have an iPad, I highly recommend the app Goodnotes. There are so many different ways you can personalize your note taking experience on this app, from pen types, to color palettes, and even paper templates.

Other than these two new routines, I have continued to stay in contact with family/friends and am working together with my PI to continue my research rotation remotely. Online classes really aren't as bad as I feared. Actually, it’s really nice being able to work from home and not constantly worrying whether or not the bus will arrive on time. As with all things, there was a learning curve the first week of online classes, but now that it’s week 3 I have found myself quite enjoying them. I’m glad that I have found some routines that will definitely be kept even post-pandemic (whenever that happens).

We miss seeing each other every day :(

Ayumi’s Update

I have only been to the lab a few times. My department is now requiring any essential employees to read about safety practices and fill out questionnaires which ask us if we have any symptoms. We have to answer the latter every time we plan on going to the lab. When working in the lab, we have to wash our hands before entering and before we leave. We need to change gloves and wash again before moving to different benches/equipment. We need to wash our hands before and after putting masks on. And, of course, we stay at least 6 feet apart. Only 2-3 people are allowed in our large lab space at a time and only one person can be in each office space. I share my office with one other person, and we text each other to see who will be in the room for the day. Research has slowed, but I am grateful it hasn’t stopped! For the most part, we are taking this time to work on papers, review literature, and prepare grants.

I am actually enjoying online classes! I don’t mind commuting, but I didn’t realize how much more time I have in the day when I only have to walk to my desk to get to class. I have yet to experience zoom bombing, and let's hope it stays that way. I am taking a drug discovery course which focuses on HIV and SARS-CoV2, as well as a systems immunology and immunoengineering course where I am learning the state of the field. I work with my PI to choose classes, and so I’m hoping his recommendation to take these courses has to do with our goal to conduct SARS-CoV-2 research. As a scientist who loves learning about infectious disease (and particularly viruses) it would be amazing to make this the focus of my PhD. I’ll keep you updated.

A little life update: My mom had a kidney transplant almost 4 years ago, and her medication makes her immunocompromised. Because of this, a simple cold puts her in the hospital. She recently came down with a kidney infection-- it’s just one of those things that kidney transplant recipients can get from time to time. Normally, she would be checked into the hospital to make sure she pulls through without harming her kidney, but not this time. The danger of getting COVID-19 is far greater than the danger of a kidney infection! It boils my blood when people say they that the COVID-19 response is an overreaction. Not only does this virus kill vulnerable populations, it harms people who can’t receive proper care for non COVID-19-related health issues. Fortunately, my mom’s infection was minor enough to recover at home; not everyone is so lucky. When considering the impact of this pandemic, people talk about hospitals being overloaded. That includes the patients they would normally treat for things like heart attacks, car accidents, and so on. The quality of care those patients receive can decrease because many hospitals are so busy at the moment.

Demystifying COVID-19

1. Despite speculation, there is currently NO vaccine or antiviral treatment available for COVID-19. While many researchers are working on developing one, it will be several months before a vaccine is approved as clinically successful. There are trials being conducted to test potential treatments, but again, there is no treatment with proven clinical success. We need to wait and see the results of ongoing studies before making any wild promises. Current treatments are supportive, meaning doctors will do everything they can to give you the best chance of recovering.

2. You will likely NOT get sick ordering products shipped from overseas. So far the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19 from a commercial package is very low since it has likely traveled over several days and been exposed to different temperatures and conditions during transit.

3. SARS-CoV-2 (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2) is the virus. COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease-19) is the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. This is an important distinction to make because some people may have SARS-CoV-2 without having COVID-19. Spread from asymptomatic is a concern, although the WHO states that at the moment, risk from asymptomatic carriers is believed to be low.

4. While they both cause respiratory illness, COVID-19 is NOT just another flu. While the flu and COVID-19 both cause respiratory illness, they are different. The incubation period for COVID-19 is up to 14 days, much longer than the seasonal flu’s 1-4 days. The mortality rate for the seasonal flu is about 0.1%, while the mortality rate for COVID-19 is currently around 3.5%, and might likely be higher than that. This number is magnitudes greater than the seasonal flu.

5. The mortality rate is likely to change over the course of this pandemic. In reality, we won’t know a definite mortality rate until further into the pandemic timeline, when scientists can perform statistical analyses with more information about the virus and more accurate counts of the infected. If you look at areas with a greater concentration of cases, you’ll see that the mortality rate is higher in those areas, despite being normalized to the total number of people infected. This may be due to the hospitals being overworked, under-supplied, and overloaded.

6. Ibuprofen has not yet been shown to make COVID-19 infection worse. While there was a report from the French Ministry of Health that made headlines suggesting ibuprofen can exacerbate a coronavirus infection, evidence from the United States doesn’t support that (yet). At this time the FDA advises using NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to treat symptoms for COVID-19.

7. Hydroxychloroquine is not a confirmed therapeutic for COVID-19. Ayumi’s project focuses on antimalarials, so she is as interested in seeing the results of treatment with hydroxychloroquine as anyone! There is preliminary data that it might be a useful therapeutic for COVID-19, but the study being cited the most was an in vitro study. In vitro means the study was done outside of a living organism. While In vitro studies are highly simplistic and don't consider whole system effects of complex organisms, they can provide new leads for potential therapies. This paper led to small studies in patients with COVID-19, one of which was not randomized or blind. This opens up criticism of bias because the researchers knew exactly who was getting the treatment. The data is promising, however there is not enough to conclusively say this is a good treatment for COVID-19. There needs to be large, randomized, double-blind studies to show efficacy. Those studies are currently underway, but government officials with no background in research are touting it as a wonder drug. Hydroxychloroquine can be dangerous. It can have negative side effects and interactions with other medicines. Side effects can include blistering, peeling, and loosening of the skin, changes in vision, chest pain, paranoia, hallucinations, hive-like swelling, skin lesions, loss of hearing, and much more. While it is enticing to calm the fears of the people by claiming you’ve found a successful treatment, it is ultimately harmful if the evidence is not yet there.

These address some of the common questions and concerns we’ve seen so far! What questions do you have about COVID-19?

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