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COVID-19 Update June 17, 2021: 600,000; Viral Origins

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

Glossary

  • Virus– a type of germ that consists solely of a bit of genetic material (DNA or RNA) wrapped in a protein coat.  The coat gets the genes into the target cell where the genes force the cell to make zillions of new viruses, and on it goes.
  • Variant- also known as a mutation, a variant strain of a virus is the same species of virus but with a change in the genetic code.  The change is minor if it has no impact on contagious the new variant is, or how deadly it is, or if it allows the virus to neutralize our vaccines.
  • Coronavirus– a species name of a number of different viruses.  Called corona because its protein coat is studded with spike shapes that form a crown, halo, or corona of spikes
  • SARS-CoV-2– the specific name of the new coronavirus
  • COVID-19-the name of the illness that the new coronavirus is causing
  • Endemic– an illness always present in a region.  One could say strep throat is endemic in the US
  • Epidemic– a sudden burst of an illness that comes and goes over a limited time
  • Pandemic– an epidemic that bursts across the world not just one region
  • Spreadability– how contagious is the disease, how many people will end up infected
  • Symptoms- the experience of being ill, for example- fever, cough, headaches, loss of smell etc.
    • Asymptomatic– literally means “without symptoms”.  For COVID-19 it refers a person infected with the virus but has no and will have not symptoms
    • Presymptomatic– This is a person who was infected with SARS-CoV-2, and will feel sick, but hasn’t yet
  • Severity– what harm does the disease cause, in terms of  how sick you get and how many it will kill
  • Mask- a mask is a loose-fitting cloth or textile that covers the mouth and nose loosely.  A surgical mask is a mask used in surgery
  • Respirator-  for the purposes of the COVID-19 pandemic and other respiratory illnesses, a respirator is a mask that fits very snugly or tightly to the user’s face.  An N95 mask is a respirator.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)- PPE are any item that covers any part of the body with the design and intent of keeping viruses in the environment from infecting the wearer of the PPE. PPE’s include all masks (which includes respirators), face shields, eye shields, gloves, gowns.
  • Ventilator- a ventilator is a machine that can force a person unable to breathe to inhale and exhale and control both effectively.  They are sometimes called respirators, but during this pandemic the word respirator is now reserved for reference to a tightly fit mask.
  • Live Virus Swab– this is the swab which attempts to swipe live virus from one’s nose or throat to see if you are currently infected.
  • Antibody Test- (aka serology test) this is the blood test which looks for antibody to the SARS-CoV-2 virus to see if you have been infected in the past.
  • Vaccine Terms
    • Vaccine or Immunization– a dose of a substance that activates your immune system, as if you have the actual infection you are hoping to prevent, leaving you in fact protected from having that infection.
    • Efficacy– the percentage of people immunized with a particular vaccine who will not get infected if exposed to the target infection.  For example, a COVID-19 vaccine will be said to be 95% effective if 95% of people immunized with that particular COVID-19 vaccine will not get COVID-19 if exposed to COVID-19
    • mRNA– DNA works by dictating exactly which proteins your cell will make.  The message on how to construct each protein is delivered to the cell machinery that makes proteins by a piece of genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA
    • mRNA vaccine– an mRNA vaccine places a small bit of mRNA code that makes your cells make a protein that is the protein from a virus that alerts your immune system and activates it to make protections against you being infected
    • Viral vector vaccine– a viral vector vaccine takes a harmless virus that is known to infect people reliably and places that weakened virus in a person where that virus will in fact infect the person.  The virus is not only weakened, but also attached to a set of genes  that makes your cells make a protein that is the protein from a virus that alerts your immune system and activates it to make protections against you being infected.

600,000

This week we mark yet another catastrophic moment, the loss of 600,000 lives across America, all due to the deadly power of this new virus, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease COVID-19 that has taken so many lives.

The number of people this virus has robbed of life across the world is rapidly approaching 4 million.

All within a very short period of time.

This is the sixth day we have marked the death of 100,000 people in America from COVID.

Those 6 days are:  In 2020-21:  May 27, Sept 22, Dec 14, Jan 19, Feb 22, June 16

A few points to be made at this time of tragedy.

First, the devastation was unnecessary.  Across the world, two actions have been completely proven to keep people from dying of COVID.  These actions have worked in every nation that has embraced them.

The first of these two actions was to find everyone in the nation infected and isolate them outside the home.  This action was hugely successful in the nations of East Asia, which using this one strategy effectively stopped transmission of the virus.  Had the US done this work in 2020, at least 400,000 of us, likely many more, would still be alive today.

The second action is immunization.  Nations that reach about 55% fully vaccinated are seeing viral transmission nearly cease.  The nearly half still unimmunized benefit from this protection, but new variants, such as the Delta variant from India, may allow viral spread in the unimmunized even in nations at 55% fully immunized.

Most curiously, few nations have done both actions.  Most of the highly immunized nations are in N America, Europe.  Nearly all the nations who isolated the infected well are in E Asia.  The only nation that appears to have done both is Mongolia.

Second, the scale of the devastation in the US stands out.  At 600,000, the United States stands alone on the planet.  No other nation has recorded so many deaths.  For a nation with the power of medical science we wield, this is simply outrageous.  The first point, that the devastation was unnecessary is as true here as anywhere.   We have all the resources- medical know-how, money, abilities- to have kept each other alive.  But we did not.  As such, today, we must not only grieve the loss of over half a million fellow Americans, but know that as a nation, we chose to let their lives end so early.

Third, the moment of choice remains quite vivid today.  We have lost 600,000 lives, by far most for no good reason beyond choosing to let it happen.  But today, we have one of the tools to End the Pandemic literally in our hands.  Stacks of vaccines sit idle, ready to be given, ready to save lives, ready to make sure we never have to post that 700,000 lives will lost.  But will we?

Right now, 183 million Americans are not immunized.  All those 11 years old and younger have no choice, they cannot be immunized.  But if you are 12 years old or older, you can be immunized, for free, any day, any city or town or county.  Across America today, those dying of COVID are by far mostly the unimmunized. With the COVID vaccine so widely available, for free, to not be immunized now stands out as a tragic choice to embrace the chance that you could be the next person to catch this deadly virus.  The moment of choice remains quite vivid today.

The Origin of Sars-Cov-2

At this tragic time of pausing to grieve for now 600,000 of us gone, it seems appropriate to take a look at what we know about how the virus that causes COVID-19, came to be.

On one thing all agree- the SARS-CoV-2 virus is new.  Not that long ago, there was no history of any human ever being infected with this virus.

So where did this new killer come from?

The source of this deadly virus certainly came from a family of viruses called coronaviruses, in particular, some of them found in bats in the Yunnan province of China.

Now Yunnan is far away, in the southwestern corner of China, bordering Laos and Myanmar (Burma).  But the whole family of coronaviruses includes types much closer to home.  Coronaviruses, like rhinoviruses, and RSV, surround us every day.  Together these are the main viruses that cause the most common of common viral infections- the common cold.  In fact, about 25% of all our common colds are caused by coronaviruses.  Not this new coronavirus, but old human coronaviruses.  Our common cold coronaviruses are estimated to have emerged about 8,000 years ago.  Coronaviruses are common, they have made us sniffle for thousands of years.

So what is different about this coronavirus, that is does not just cause sniffles?

The difference is very simply stated:  it came from another animal very recently.   Viruses that circulate around humanity for thousands of years tend to get milder over time.  New viruses, in stern contrast, attack us in new ways, that both the virus and the body are not really able to manage without grave harm.  A dramatic example is a particular strain of the influenza virus called H1N1.  When we first saw H1N1 attack humanity it was 1918, and as a new virus, it wreaked havoc, killing 50-100 million people.  But by 1920, the virus and humanity both adapted, and the carnage ceased.  This very H1N1 virus continues to infect humanity every winter, it is in the flu shot every winter, but the death count has dropped dramatically from this virus.

For influenza, the animals that are the source of new strains are birds and barnyards.  We have all heard of swine flu, meaning the new virus comes from pigs.  And there are equine flues from horses, and avian flus from birds.

For coronavirus, the animals that are the source of deadly new strains, the first and now current second strain of SARS, are bats.

Now the difficulty and controversy we face right now is whether a bat coronavirus changed all on its own to be able to infect humanity, or whether a lab took a bat coronavirus and transformed it into a global killer.

In a post earlier in 2020, Real Answers reported that the scientific consensus was that it came from bats all on its own.

Since then, there are indications that we do not know this for sure.

The evidence that suggests SARS-CoV-2 evolved from bats all on its own:

In 2015, workers mining bat guano in Yunnan came down with an illness that looks, in retrospect, much like COVID-19.  These workers were in Yunnan, had no known contact with any virus lab, and were intimately close to bats.

And, as noted, there is a long and rich history of viruses evolving from animals to people, long before any labs began working on viruses.  So it is highly biologically plausible this virus naturally evolved from bats.

The case for the SARS-CoV-2 virus being created by humanity in a lab

The evidence for this possibility has become more compelling in recent months.  We start with the fact that all agree the first epidemics of COVID-19 erupted in one place, a city called Wuhan, in the middle of China.  And in Wuhan is one of the world’s leading labs that work on coronaviruses, including those carried by bats.

We are not aware of any proof, at this time that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was engineered in this virus lab.  We know that it could have been created and released from the lab.  But we do not know that it did.

Further, if this lab did create this virus, the next question will be- was it released by accident or plan?  That is a question that goes beyond our ability to answer by biology, and enters into the question of people’s intents, only the evidence can answer that one.

One can hope, however, as we stand together to mourn the loss of 600,000 of our fellow Americans lives, that no person will ever be found to have intentionally caused this agent agent to cause those deaths of ours, not to mention all the suffering this virus has unleashed across all of humanity.

Bottom Lines

  1. Today is a profoundly tragic day, the sixth such day for America.  Once again, another 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, once again, for no good reason at all
  2. We stand once again today at a moment of choice, will we embrace life or death?  It really comes down to this question.  And for every person in the US ages 12 and up, the choice to be fully immunized is a choice for life, and the choice to not be immunized is a choice for death.  The 600,000 lives now lost, would almost all be with us today if a vaccine had been available.  Nearly all deaths in America from COVID going forward from today will be due to choices to not be immunized.
  3. We know the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from bats in SW China, we do not know if they came bats naturally or via a lab, and if a lab, released by mistake or plan.  No matter where the virus came from, we remain with the tools to stop it.

My Takeaway in One Sentence:

Today is a day of mourning, for the 600,000 lives lost, and millions hurt- let us take this day to resolve to stop the loss of life, to have all Americans who can, be immunized, and now.

To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

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