Excursions by Amit Gawande

Coronavirus Pandemic : Thoughts, Effects, Resources

COVID 2019 - Coronavirus Disease 2019 - has been affecting me, my immediate family and even the world at large in extreme ways. It has completely brought my town to standstill. It has done the same to few whole countries.

I intend to use this space to capture my thoughts, some reads, some resources, some statistics. This would be a good reference to look back on when we have long survived this pandemic.

Apr 1, 2020 It was surprised to read that the submariners, at least the French ones, will possibly unaware of the Pandemic causing havoc across the world. This is as per a retired Admiral who commanded a French submarine during his interview with AP. Makes me curios who else would be blissfully ignorant” of such worldly disasters.

Mariners aboard ballistic submarines are habitually spared bad news while underwater to avoid undermining their morale, say current and former officers who served aboard France’s nuclear-armed subs. So any crews that left port before the virus spread around the globe are likely being kept in the dark about the extent of the rapidly unfurling crisis by their commanders until their return, they say.

Mar 29, 2020 I don’t think it must be surprising to anyone — the use of that dumb, forgotten app on your smartphone is on the rise again. The phone. People are calling others more. They are talking to them longer. If you can’t meet others physically, your mind reaches out for other ways.

Texts can be cold; calls let people hear the concern in your voice. Now that we’re all stuck in coronavirus-related social isolation, the phone call is making a big comeback.

Mar 26, 2020 Coronavirus looks pretty much the same, no strains more deadlier that others - and that is a good news. What that means is it has not been mutating at a rapid pace. In more technical terms, the virus has a proofreading machinery, however, and that reduces the error rate” and the pace of mutation”. Here’s Benjamin Neuman of Texas A&M University contrasting the coronavirus with influenza, which is notoriously slippery”.

Flu does have one trick up its sleeve that coronaviruses do not have — the flu virus genome is broken up into several segments, each of which codes for a gene. When two flu viruses are in the same cell, they can swap some segments, potentially creating a new combination instantly — this is how the H1N1 swine’ flu originated.

Mar 25, 2020 In today’s time of confusion and uncertainty, safety of the food, our essential need, is equally important. Serious eats has a brilliant essay on just this topic. I think the writer or me are not alone who are troubled with all these concerns, and the essay is must read in that regard.

Even so, plenty of folks—myself included—have been confused or curious about the safety of allowing restaurants to continue preparing and serving food. Is it actually safe? Should I reheat the food when I get it home? Is it better to support local businesses by ordering food, or am I only putting workers and delivery people at risk? And if I’m cooking my own food, what guidelines should I follow?

How else is the total lockdown affecting people’s habbits? News consumption has skyrocketed.

In what is normally a scattered and decentralized media and entertainment landscape, the nation’s interest is now concentrated around the same information and the same developments in the news.

Even the consumption of kids entertainment content is on the rise. On both TV channels and the OTT services.

Mar 25, 2020 Experts agree the contagion has a weakness, reports NYTimes. The best option to beat the virus is by distancing your people from the society, curb the spread. And then perform contact tracing and rigorous testing. Lockdown of cities, states and even countries (which many, like India, South Africa etc are doing) is a harsh, but necessary (albeit the only) step to achieve the first one. The leadership of America is apparently still not ready for the harsh action. The report details what would involve to achieve the eventual goal - save as many people that you can.

If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated.

The crisis would be over.

Obviously, there is no magic wand, and no 300 million tests. But the goal of lockdowns and social distancing is to approximate such a total freeze.

Mar 23, 2020 Wired has a great story where Steven Levy interviews Larry Brilliant, an Epidemiologist, who warned and helped defeat the Smallpox pandemic in 2006. Here’s a brilliant excerpt from the interview where Larry answers how will we know we are through this tragedy.

The world is not going to begin to look normal until three things have happened. One, we figure out whether the distribution of this virus looks like an iceberg, which is one-seventh above the water, or a pyramid, where we see everything. If we’re only seeing right now one-seventh of the actual disease because we’re not testing enough, and we’re just blind to it, then we’re in a world of hurt. Two, we have a treatment that works, a vaccine or antiviral. And three, maybe most important, we begin to see large numbers of people—in particular nurses, home health care providers, doctors, policemen, firemen, and teachers who have had the disease—are immune, and we have tested them to know that they are not infectious any longer. And we have a system that identifies them, either a concert wristband or a card with their photograph and some kind of a stamp on it. Then we can be comfortable sending our children back to school, because we know the teacher is not infectious.

Now, that’s not going to happen anytime soon — as Larry says, if this were a tennis match, I would say advantage virus right now”. The whole interview is brilliant, full of expert views. Must read!

Mar 23, 2020 Lost or reduced sense of smell and taste are probably the early symptoms of Covid, reports NYTimes. This can probably help early identification of infections and efficiently employ testing.

We really want to raise awareness that this is a sign of infection and that anyone who develops loss of sense of smell should self-isolate,” Prof. Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, wrote in an email. It could contribute to slowing transmission and save lives.”

NYTimes also has a fascinating interactive graphics on how the Coronavirus traveled around the world from Wuhan. It is saddening to see how many moments in time the spread could have been contained.

The most extensive travel restrictions to stop an outbreak in human history haven’t been enough. We analyzed the movements of hundreds of millions of people to show why.

Mar 21, 2020 Ruth Marcus wrote a wonderful opinion piece at The Washington Post on how this latest global tragedy, the pandemic feels a lot more life-altering. Social distancing enforced by the ways the Coronavirus spreads has affected us a lot deeper than what we initially thought.

How much the virus has reminded us of the mundane pleasures we take for granted — walking down the well-stocked shelves of our local supermarkets, chatting idly with our co-workers; kissing a friend on the cheek when we meet for lunch. Oh, to hug again without having to calculate the inherent risk: My mother? My daughters?

When I venture out to walk the dog, there is a grim camaraderie with those we encounter. The dogs, heedless of contagion, sniff away, and while their humans maintain a sober distance, even strangers inquire after one another’s well-being. In the barren aisles of the market, at least the last time I risked a visit, there was an air more of solidarity than panic

So true. What we thought was normal is dreaded now. And it the normalcy that we yearn for now. Together as a society.

Mar 21, 2020 Here’s a brilliant essay from Ed Yong at The Atlantic going in-depth on why Coronavirus has been so successful, why it’s behaving in so extreme ways. The below excerpt from one of the experts is extremely eye-opening.

The virus has been remarkably stable given how much transmission we’ve seen,” says Lisa Gralinski of the University of North Carolina. That makes sense, because there’s no evolutionary pressure on the virus to transmit better. It’s doing a great job of spreading around the world right now. I don’t have an immense amount of confidence that the weather is going to have the effect that people hope it will. It may knock things down a little, but there’s so much person-to-person transmission going on that it may take more than that.” Unless people can slow the spread of the virus by sticking to physical-distancing recommendations, the summer alone won’t save us.

Mar 20, 2020 Indian President Ram Nath Kovind wrote a brilliant editorial reminding everyone of what we can learn from the current Coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus challenge underscores the necessity for action in absence of crisis’. Nature is reminding us to acknowledge, with humility, our quintessential equality and inter-dependency

Mar 20, 2020 An informative Twitter thread from Lukas Hensel on his experiences of traveling from Europe to China. It is pleasing to see how calm the overall behavior of all involved parties is, to see the good side of the humanity.

My partner and I traveled from London Heathrow to Beijing yesterday. Given the current #COVID19 situation, I thought that I would share my experience of what traveling to China is like at the moment (it might be a preview of what could come to Europe).

Mar 19, 2020 Here’s a brilliant analysis at Reaction from Matt Ridley on why the dangers of Coronavirus are real1. As he says, we have indeed cried wolf over so many issues, that it has contributed to us being underprepared”.

Mar 18, 2020 The Washington Post has some great interactive graphics explaining how social distancing can help curb the spread of the virus. The simulations are easy to understand and should be handy in explaining why experts all around are recommending this precaution.

That is math, not prophecy. The spread can be slowed, public health professionals say, if people practice social distancing” by avoiding public spaces and generally limiting their movement.

Mar 18, 2020 Reuters has a brilliant graphics detailing how Coronavirus spread uncontrolled through South Korea. A curious case of patient 31. Also, look around for some more brilliant graphics about the pandemic - for example, this one about how the virus spread through the world.

In the four weeks following the incident, South Korea managed to avoid a major outbreak with only 30 people contracting the virus, despite many interactions between those later confirmed as being sick and hundreds more people being identified as contacts of the sick patients. This changed with the emergence of Patient 31”.

Mar 17, 2020 I wrote about how I have realized that the whole social distancing exercise has not been easy. It was only the second week that I have been avoiding going outside and I was already feeling overwhelmed. I had to take control to not let this affect me drastically.

Share stories. Hear from loved ones. Play with my daughter. Talk, chat, discuss, debate, tease. Laugh. Do everything I do at the office. And more. (…) Distance, not isolate. May be, social distancing, physically distancing myself from the outside world, will bring me emotionally closer to my family.

Mar 17, 2020 Taiwan has emerged as an outlier in how it has stayed comparatively unaffected from the whole pandemic. Of course, the outcome wasn’t without the necessary efforts from the society and the government.

The island nation 81 miles from the coast of China has mounted a response that blends social collectivism with high-efficiency governing. It’s something to behold. Gyms and restaurants are open for business and bustle with customers. Schools and offices are operating, and individual movement is largely unrestricted. If China is heavy-handed and America is hands-off, Taiwan is hand-in-hand, displaying an enviable level of civil and governmental synchronicity.

Mar 16, 2020 This was the first day that I officially started working from home as a response to the social distancing calls. I wrote, early morning, about how this pandemic has been affecting me.

I am avoiding unverified information that gets spread on social media and group messaging platforms. But it is difficult to stay and keep others, sane amidst the deluge of news bites that get spewed across every few minutes. It becomes tedious and tiring to focus on facts and keep enlightening people around you about the same.

  1. Of course, I do not agree with his general slackness towards dangers of Global Warming. It is slow, but the effects are equally deadly.