For the past few weeks I’ve been closely following all the news related to the coronavirus. From talking to friends and family I realized that perhaps not everyone has as much free time to trawl the depths of the Internet as I do. Below is a brief summary of my more practical findings.

I am not a medical professional. I am not a microbiologist. I encourage you to take everything I say with a pinch of salt. Having said that, I am a Unix SysAdmin. My primary job is to collect data and analyze cause and effect relationships. In this limited capacity I can be useful, even when I don’t fully comprehend the data I’ve collected.

Diarrhea

“An analysis of 204 COVID-19 patients in Hubei province, whose capital city of Wuhan became the world’s first coronavirus epicenter, found that diarrhea and other digestive symptoms were the main complaint in nearly half of patients, according to the study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.” 1

 Takeaway points:  digestive symptoms were the initial complaint for almost half of the infected – before cough, sore throat, or fever. So this is something to watch out for.

Loss of Taste or Smell

“Ear, nose and throat specialists in the UK have identified the sudden loss of sense of smell or taste as a new symptom of coronavirus. The British Association of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT UK) said the new symptom was found in the “absence of other symptoms” of coronavirus, and patients experiencing it could be “hidden carriers” of the highly contagious disease.” 2

 Takeaway points:  sudden onset of anosmia, as the condition is called, may be a sign that you are a COVID-19 carrier. You can get a bunch of people killed, so act responsibly.

COVID-19 and Ibuprofen

There is some rather heated debate 3 on the matter, however, the WHO recommends you avoid ibuprofen and other NSAIDs when treating symptoms of COVID-19 and use paracetamol (acetaminophen, aka Tylenol) instead.

“WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a Geneva press conference that there are no recent studies that link the anti-inflammatory drug with increased mortality rates, but he added that experts are currently investigating the matter. ‘We recommend paracetamol, not ibuprofen for self-medicating,’ Lindmeier said. The U.N. agency’s comments came after leading French health officials warned against using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) against the COVID-19 coronavirus disease. This group of pharmaceuticals includes ibuprofen, aspirin and other drugs.” 4

 Takeaway points:  Whether the WHO is right or wrong – more research will tell. In the meantime, you don’t want to be the guinea pig. Just do what the WHO says and stay off NSAIDs until the scientific community gets into alignment on the issue. Naturally, if you’re regularly taking NSAIDs to treat some other condition, don’t stop unless your doctor concurs.

Coronavirus can Travel Alone

“The coronavirus driving the current pandemic can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, researchers say… And it can linger in aerosols – the suspension of tiny particles or droplets in the air – for three hours, the study says.” 5

 Takeaway points:  as everyone has been telling you, wash your hands and don’t touch your face. Some experts say that the virus cannot be transferred via mail. 6. This is probably true, but I put my mail under a 250W UVC germicidal light for a few minutes, as I don’t want to prove the experts wrong.

“Flu-Like” Symptoms. Not.

Unfamiliar food “tastes like chicken”. Unfamiliar viral infections present with “flu-like” symptoms. Perhaps not.

“By Tuesday morning, though, as well as feeling rather tired, I had started with a new dry cough. Yet it was so mild to begin with, I barely gave it a second thought… Soon after that, though, I quickly developed a terrible sore throat… it felt as if someone had put knives in my throat. And then the high temperature hit. I was feverish and got the shakes… Within hours of getting my first symptoms I wasn’t able to eat. I went for two days with no food at all, as I had no appetite and also had a horrible metallic taste in my mouth… Within hours my nose became full of ulcers and I imagine the back of my mouth was the same.” 7

 Takeaway points:  Mild early symptoms of diarrhea, fatigue, and nonproductive cough, rapidly progressing to painful pharyngitis, hyperpyrexia, chills. Then somnolence, anorexia, possible nasal ulcers, pharyngitis, and anosmia. And then – not in this case, luckily – dyspnea and acute renal impairment. Sure, “flu-like” covers some of these symptoms, but there can be so much more.

SARS-CoV-2 is [Not] Like a Flu

I already covered this dangerous misconception in some detail, but I feel I must repeat myself. COVID-19 mortality rate (CFR) is currently estimated at 3.6% based on a study of cases in China. 8

A different study for patients in the US shows that the outcome differs greatly by the patient’s age:

“This first preliminary description of outcomes among patients with COVID-19 in the United States indicates that fatality was highest in persons aged ≥85, ranging from 10% to 27%, followed by 3% to 11% among persons aged 65–84 years, 1% to 3% among persons aged 55-64 years, <1% among persons aged 20–54 years, and no fatalities among persons aged ≤19 years.” 9

The CFR depends greatly on age and underlying medical conditions, such as Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer, among others. 10

Currently, the WHO estimates this coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) to have mortality rate of 3.4% (the 1918 “Spanish flu” had mortality rate of 2.5%). SARS-CoV-2 has a very high reproduction number (R0) that denotes the average number of people who will catch a disease from one contagious person.

The WHO currently estimates SARS-CoV-2’s R0 at 1.4 – 2.5. The Chinese researchers estimated R0 for this coronavirus at 3.3 – 5.5, while a similar study in the US placed R0 in the 3.6–4.0 range. The median R0 for seasonal flu – the one that kills half a million (give or take a hundred thousand or so) people worldwide every year – is less than 1.

 Takeaway points:  SARS-CoV-2 is both far more deadly and far more virulent than seasonal flu. Most attempts at comparing the two are misleading and endanger public health.

SARS-CoV-2 is Not Artificial

Comparative analysis of genomic data proves SARS-CoV-2 is not man-made:

“SARS-CoV-2 is the seventh coronavirus known to infect humans; SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 can cause severe disease, whereas HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E are associated with mild symptoms6. Here we review what can be deduced about the origin of SARS-CoV-2 from comparative analysis of genomic data. We offer a perspective on the notable features of the SARS-CoV-2 genome and discuss scenarios by which they could have arisen. Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” 11
 Takeaway points:  Strangely enough, this rumor originated from China – a paper published by a Chinese research organization. It is also true that a biological research lab studying viruses is located near the infamous “wet” market in Wuhan. But it is time to put this rumor to rest.

Lasting Lung Damage

Younger people find consolation in the official COVID-19 statistics showing a high percentage of patients who recovered from the infection. Then there is an issue of long-term lung damage caused by the virus. We know the virus scars the lungs, but available details are limited.

“We don’t know how many people will have scarring from the lungs that will be present five, 10, 15 years from now and cause shortness of breath and illness then. We only have about a month of experience here.”12

 Takeaway points:  It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings. In Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Brünnhilde’s been dying for almost twenty minutes. It would appear that after you “recover” from COVID-19, the ride may not be over just yet.

Wear a Face Mask

There’s been a lot of misinformation on the effectiveness of face masks spread by the media and even by health officials. In some cases this was intentional with the goal of preventing panic-buying and preserving dwindling supplies. That didn’t work, but masks do.

Sure, face masks are far more effective at protecting us from the wearer. But they also work the other way around. A properly-fitted face mask may reduce your chances of contracting a virus as much as fivefold. This is nothing to sneeze at.

“Wearing a face mask is certainly not an iron-clad guarantee that you won’t get sick – viruses can also transmit through the eyes and tiny viral particles, known as aerosols, can penetrate masks. However, masks are effective at capturing droplets, which is a main transmission route of coronavirus, and some studies have estimated a roughly fivefold protection versus no barrier alone.” 13
 Takeaway points:  Sometimes common sense is a better guide than government officials.

How Long will the Quarantine Last

I am sure this is a big question for the folks in NYC, LA, and other cities affected by the stay-at-home orders. I have some bad news for you, and I have some worse news as well. The quarantine will last as long as the economy can sustain it.

Cali, NY, Illinois, Jersey, and Connecticut account for 31% of the GDP and we just can’t afford those guys idling for too long.14 When they inevitably return to work, the economy will be thoroughly trashed15, while the virus will be taking a short summer break.

Quarantines do work against viral epidemics. Sometimes, when properly implemented. That’s not the case here. As in Italy16, wasted time and piecemeal approach implementing the quarantine made us miss that boat and having everyone sit at home for two weeks won’t roll back the time.

Right now we need more randomized testing to know just how bad things are, and more ventilators to save as many people as we can afford. Sad but true.

 Takeaway points:  The government has missed the opportunity to make the quarantine effective. We are firmly on Italy’s trajectory, but we can still learn from it.

The US Healthcare System

I am not going to dive into the political aspects of this oxymoron and will just state a few rather obvious facts.

While hospitals in Germany – hit by the coronavirus pandemic with full force – have no issues with supplies and equipment, allowing the country to achieve the lowest documented COVID-19 CFR in the world17, major hospitals in the US are asking the public for donations of face masks and hand sanitizer.18 The US government was forced to invoke a seventy-year-old wartime legislation to force the manufacturers to produce the necessary supplies because capitalism isn’t working too well under stress.19

“Officials in a number of states, including New York and California, have issued dire predictions and warned of dwindling supplies of crucial gear, like protective equipment, and what they believe will be a vast demand for ventilators.” 20

While US health officials are giving up on coronavirus testing due to limited capacity21, “German laboratories are now conducting about 160,000 coronavirus tests every week — more than some European countries have carried out in total since the crisis started” 22

Analysis of COVID-19 cases in China indicates early and extensive use of ventilators as the most effective treatment in critical cases.23 American hospitals don’t have nearly enough ventilators24 and can’t afford to buy more.25 The proposed solution? Germany should share, in spirit of solidarity.26

 Takeaway points:  In some countries taxes pay for healthcare and other things citizens need to not die prematurely while not dumpster-diving and not living in a cardboard box under a bridge. That’s not us, though. Our taxes go toward providing financial bailouts to various private financial institutions and toward building weapons to fight our numerous real and imaginary enemies. So, as you’re searching for hand sanitizer, take solace in knowing that our aircraft carriers and our banks are among the biggest.

  1. M. Tanenbaum, “Digestive symptoms, diarrhea could be signs of coronavirus, Chinese study finds”, PhillyVoice, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.phillyvoice.com/coronavirus-diarrhea-digestive-symptoms-covod-19-study-hubai-province-wuhan/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  2. K. Ng, “New symptom of coronavirus could be loss of taste and smell, top UK doctor says”, The Independent, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-symptoms-taste-smell-loss-ear-nose-throat-a9416226.html. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  3. J. Wise, “Top health official pushes back against theory that ibuprofen worsens coronavirus”, TheHill, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/488275-top-health-official-pushes-back-against-theory-that-ibuprofen-worsens. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  4. G. DPA, “WHO reiterates call for coronavirus patients not to take ibuprofen”, Daily Sabah, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.dailysabah.com/life/health/who-reiterates-call-for-coronavirus-patients-not-to-take-ibuprofen. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  5. J. Howard, “The new coronavirus can last on surfaces for up to three days, study says”, CNN, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-surfaces-study/index.html. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  6. N. Yancey-Bragg, “Coronavirus can live on surfaces for days. But it can’t travel through the mail, experts say”, Usatoday.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/03/21/can-coronavirus-travel-though-mail-experts-say-no/2862947001/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  7. D. Gerada, “Dr Clare Gerada describes her experience with coronavirus”, Mail Online, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8119033/Dr-Clare-Gerada-describes-experience-coronavirus.html. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  8. Baud, David, et al. “Real estimates of mortality following COVID-19 infection.” Lancet Infect. Dis., vol. 0, no. 0, 12 Mar. 2020, https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30195-X/fulltext .
  9. S. Bialek, E. Boundy, V. Bowen, N. Chow, A. Cohn, N. Dowling, S. Ellington, R. Gierke, A. Hall, J. MacNeil, P. Patel, G. Peacock, T. Pilishvili, H. Razzaghi, N. Reed, M. Ritchie and E. Sauber-Schatz, “Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) — United States, February 12–March 16, 2020”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  10. S. Bialek, E. Boundy, V. Bowen, N. Chow, A. Cohn, N. Dowling, S. Ellington, R. Gierke, A. Hall, J. MacNeil, P. Patel, G. Peacock, T. Pilishvili, H. Razzaghi, N. Reed, M. Ritchie and E. Sauber-Schatz, “Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) — United States, February 12–March 16, 2020”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  11. Andersen, Kristian G., et al. “The Proximal Origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 17 Mar. 2020, www.nature.com/articles/s41591-020-0820-9.
  12. Halon, Yael. “Dr. Michael Baden: We Don’t Yet Know the Long Term Effects COVID-19 Will Have on Survivors.” Fox News, FOX News Network, 23 Mar. 2020, www.foxnews.com/media/dr-michael-baden-coronavirus-lasting-damage-ventilators-lung-scar-tissue.
  13. Devlin, Hannah. “Can a Face Mask Protect Me from Coronavirus? Covid-19 Myths Busted.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 21 Mar. 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/21/can-face-mask-protect-me-coronavirus-covid-19-myths-busted.
  14. Saphir, Ann. “Factbox: Five Statewide Stay-at-Home Orders, 31% of U.S. Economy.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 22 Mar. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-stayathome-fac/factbox-five-statewide-stay-at-home-orders-31-of-u-s-economy-idUSKBN2173PS.
  15. David Lynch, Heather Long. “U.S. Economy Deteriorating Faster than Anticipated as 80 Million Americans Are Forced to Stay at Home.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 21 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/20/us-economy-deteriorating-faster-than-anticipated-80-million-americans-forced-stay-home/.
  16. Horowitz, Jason, et al. “Italy, Pandemic’s New Epicenter, Has Lessons for the World.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/world/europe/italy-coronavirus-center-lessons.html.
  17. “Germany’s coronavirus anomaly: high infection rates but few deaths”, Ft.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/c0755b30-69bb-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  18. Gopwani, Freep.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.freep.com/story/news/health/2020/03/21/coronavirus-hospital-donations-metro-detroit/2890842001/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  19. A. Phillips, “What is the Defense Production Act, and why isn’t President Trump invoking it?”, The Washington Post, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/19/defense-production-act-trump-coronavirus/. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  20. “Coronavirus Live Updates: Pences Test Negative; States Warn That Supplies Are Dwindling”, Nytimes.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/21/world/coronavirus-updates-usa-world.html. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  21. Dolan and B. Mejia, “L.A. County gives up on containing coronavirus, tells doctors to skip testing of some patients”, Los Angeles Times, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-03-20/coronavirus-county-doctors-containment-testing. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  22. “Germany’s coronavirus anomaly: high infection rates but few deaths”, Ft.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/c0755b30-69bb-11ea-800d-da70cff6e4d3. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  23. Yang, Xiaobo, et al. “Clinical course and outcomes of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a single-centered, retrospective, observational study.” Lancet Respiratory Medicine, vol. 0, no. 0, 24 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30079-5.
  24. S. Kliff, A. Satariano, J. Silver-Greenberg and N. Kulish, “There Aren’t Enough Ventilators to Cope With the Coronavirus”, Nytimes.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/business/coronavirus-ventilator-shortage.html. [Accessed: 22- Mar- 2020]
  25. Rowland, Christopher. “More Lifesaving Ventilators Are Available. Hospitals Can’t Afford Them.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/18/ventilator-shortage-hospital-icu-coronavirus/.
  26. Bittner, Jochen. “Germany Has More Than Enough Ventilators. It Should Share Them.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/opinion/coronavirus-europe-germany.html.