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An Open Letter from a Scientist on Debunking the 2020 Coronavirus Outbreak

A friend and colleague of mine, a great and well read scientist has very generously agreed to let me public her open letter regarding the current coronavirus situation. There has been lots of rumors, lies and misinformation out there regarding this novel virus that has been nothing but disruptive of our lives. In difficult times like this, being well informed with the right information and knowledge is key. I hope you would spend a few minutes reading this letter, and learn something from it. And by doing so, have a clearer idea of what this virus is, and what or what not to expect from the current situation.


WHY YOU SHOULD TRY TO STAY HOME

An informed scientific perspective on coronavirus.


Despite being a very opinionated person, I never feel the need to force my views onto other people. However, in the last few days I have seen a lot of misinformation and confusion around social media. I unfortunately blame the UK government for the lack of clarity in this situation, and I believe, as a scientist and someone that looks at data and trends for a living, I would like to help improving things, if I can!


What follows is not just my opinion, but what the scientific community worldwide has been saying. I am not writing this to alarm you. Fear comes from the unknown. I want to inform and help all of my friends understand the situation to the best of my ability.


- SHOULD I STAY AT HOME?

YES!! Wherever possible, please do. Try to avoid all unnecessary social interactions. This is not for your own safety, but for everyone’s. I understand this is not always an option, will touch on it later.

The Italian scientific community wrote an open letter highlighting the severity of the situation [1]. Lombardia, the richest region in Italy with the most efficient healthcare system and hospitals is at full capacity, struggling to deal with the high number of patients. Many hospitals in Italy are faced daily with decisions of who to put in ICU beds and whose life to put at risk, as there is no space for everyone in need.


The trend in the UK and the other European countries is delayed, but no different that the one witnessed in Italy [2]. The UK will face the same situation if no stricter measures are put in place, but the NHS will be rather unqualified to fight it. There are twice as many ICU beds in Italy per 100000 people than in the UK [3], and Italy is struggling.


All signs are pointing to an imminent and damaging situation for the Country. More that 460 UK Scientists showed concerned for the “herd immunity” plan proposed by the government and the further delays in implementing stricter social distancing measures [4]. As of Monday 16th of March, the UK has decided on heavier social distancing measures for the individuals at risk, but hadn’t officially closed down schools, universities and restaurants. On Wednesday 18th, the government communicated schools will be closing on Friday 20th. Restaurants, pubs and many sport centres are still open. Please avoid, wherever possible, going to these places.


Coronavirus has a long 7-14 days incubation period, meaning that you will not show ANY symptoms, but you will still be able to spread the virus. And even if you will, most likely, only experience mild symptoms and will manage to deal with it at home with over-the-counter remedies, the grandfather of the person sitting at the table next to you won’t.


The virus itself is not the deadliest disease we ever faced, but it is highly contagious. In Italy, 35000 have been infected, only 5-10% need intense hospital care, not a huge percentage [5]. However, that’s 3500 people requiring hospital care for Coronavirus alone, on top of the many other who need it because of accidents, strokes, heart failure, surgery. It’s a huge burden on the healthcare system, one that many countries will not be ready to face. Social distancing, whether you are healthy or with symptoms, is the most effective way to reduce these numbers. There’s a very clear video from vox at [6], explaining this in a very visual manner. So STAY AT HOME.



- I CAN’T STAY AT HOME, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

If you don’t have the possibility to stay home, take as many precautions as you can. Avoid touching your face. Clean your hands thoroughly, with lots of soap for more than 20seconds many times a day, before and after leaving the house. This is more than effective at killing the virus, if you touched a contaminated surface [7]. Avoid public transport, wherever possible and big gathering of people. Avoid restaurants and spending time with people you don’t usually spend time with. Keep safe distance from people.



- SHOULD I BE SCARED?

NO. Fear is of no use. Try to understand the situation as best as you can. The reason why Coronavirus represents a health crisis is NOT the severity of the disease itself, but the sheer number of people that will be affected. As I mentioned before, only 5-10% of cases need intense hospital care. However, 5% of 35000 people (Italian numbers) is still a LOT of people.


If you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, the virus is, most likely, not going to affect you more than any other viral infection you could get. It won’t be pleasant and you will not have a good time, but you will be ok. One of the reason the official recovery numbers seem very low [8], is the fact that the one stated are OFFICIAL rates of recovery in an epidemiological sense. This means that the person will have had to result negative for few tests. People will, most likely have stopped being contagious and having symptoms well before resulting negative for a test, so please don’t be alarmed by these numbers.


If you have pre-existing medical conditions, you must be incredibly careful, BUT the virus is very easy to kill on surfaces (again, soap and alcohol based disinfectants!!), so if you implement basic cleaning measure (don’t wear shoes in the house, disinfect surfaces, parcels and anything that crosses your door) and very heavy social distancing, you won’t catch the virus. Furthermore, it doesn’t spread through the air, nor through wifi signal. There is no reason to be alarmed if you don’t put yourself into dangerous situation.


Having said this, just because death and severe cases are clustered around the older populations and people with pre-existing conditions, it doesn’t mean it is not affecting, albeit in small numbers, young and otherwise healthy people. We should NOT underestimate this. It is a new disease. (There is a very informative article on why death rates are higher in Italy at [9])



- IT’S JUST LIKE THE FLU, RIGHT?

No, it isn’t. I won’t go into detail through all the statistics, but if you are interested ask. The main key aspect to understand is: this is a new pathogen. We knew very little on how to deal with it, and we are still trying to fully understand it. Comparing it to the flu it’s harmful and leads to underestimating the severity of the situation. Apples and Oranges. The flu was just as deadly when we had no idea how to treat it.


There are so many more questions to answer. I will try my best NOT to give my opinion, but to look at the research out at the moment.


I also find it important to talk about all the people who will suffer economically from this isolation (everyone in hospitality, entertainment, arts, and many more!). If you can, in whatever way, please support them. These measures are necessary, I cannot stress this heavily enough, BUT they will also have a terrible impact on all those people that rely on social interactions for a living. I write all of this from a very privileged stance, where I can continue writing my PhD from home, and will continue to get a salary. Many people will not. Consider donating the cost of your cancelled class to the school and teachers, support your local businesses. Do what you can, if you can. Apart from not being an epidemiologist, I am not an economist. I cannot begin to comprehend the impact that the following few months will have on the world.


It won’t be the best months of your life, but I can assure you it will be much better than the alternative. If you are worried about self isolation and feeling lonely, give me (or any of your friends) a shout, I am more than happy to blabber over skype with all of you! Pick up a new hobby (I heading towards yoga and heavy knitting at the moment). Have skype dinners and lunches and aperitivos and sleepovers!


Stay safe, stay at home. Think of yourself and others, and this invisible, but fightable, threat that we are facing!!



References

[1] https://left.it/…/covid_19-open-letter-from-italy-to-the-…/… [2] https://medium.com/…/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-d… [3] https://www.forbes.com/…/the-countries-with-the-most-c…/amp/ [4] http://maths.qmul.ac.uk/…/UK_scientists_statement_on_corona… [5] https://www.corriere.it/…/sa…/2020/mappa-coronavirus-italia/ [6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSQztKXR6k0 [7] https://www.theguardian.com/…/science-soap-kills-coronaviru… [8] https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html [9] https://medium.com/…/coronavirus-why-its-so-deadly-in-italy…


This article is written and published on 19 March 2020 by Giulia Campolo, an Imperial College London scientist.

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