Understanding COVID-19: relevant literature

In light of the rampant misinformation spread I feel it’s our moral duty to counter it by spreading credible information, so here’s my part.

As previously stated in my post about the new coronavirus, we are all quite invested in seeking information in a time of crisis. Due to the general availability of fake news and articles full of wrong interpretations or outright lies, I’ve decided to make another post with a selection of actual scientific/credible literature to help us, non-medical people, understand the new coronavirus and how it works (here’s a good understandable post about what viruses in general are and what makes them tick).

I find it’s always best to go straight to the source of the information – published research papers, as much as possible. Even if we can’t understand all the specifics and technical aspects of the research field, the introductions and conclusions are usually written in an understandable and straight-to-the-point manner, so you can still benefit from reading. You can also be sure that the information is coming from experts and has been peer-reviewed, which makes it as credible as it gets (of course, peer review has its own problems and sometimes bad papers do get through, but that’s all we have currently).

  • Why is it called coronavirus? Coronaviruses are a family of viruses and COVID-19 is one of them.
  • Understanding the origin of COVID-19: a paper from 2016 warned of the possibility of a new coronavirus in bats transmitting to humans. SARS, another coronavirus, which caused an epidemic in Asia in 2002, is also likely present in bats as per this paper from 2010. So, all the conspiracy theories regarding the origin of COVID-19 are irrelevant, the virus would’ve mutated into this on its own in nature either way.
  • Why is it so contagious? A paper from January 2020 identified a specific part of the COVID-19 genome (a furin cleavage site), which is likely the reason behind it’s fast spread. Here’s a shorter and a longer understandable explanation of why that’s important and what it means: “Acquisition of the furin cleavage site might be viewed as a ‘gain of function’ that enabled a bat CoV to jump into humans and begin its current epidemic spread.”
    P.S.: For Slovenians, here’s a great article explaining how viruses work and also the stuff above.
  • How long does it survive on a surface without a host? Here’s a study for different materials and liquid solutions.
  • Predictions for continued spread and data analysis of the effectiveness of preventive measures: A great, unbiased pure data analysis statistic study of COVID-19 outbreak in every country that has been hit so far and future predictions based on the currently available data trends. Wonderfully demonstrates the effect of preventive measures and explains how the statistics of hidden cases (undiagnosed ones) are tracked.
  • A moral component to the coronavirus outbreak and what we can learn from Italy: A good, non-panicky article about the moral choices ahead and the horrible consequences of a healthcare system collapse.
  • What should you do: Recommendations from the World Health Organisation.

The act of reading actual research papers and credible articles about hot topics like the new coronavirus is comforting on many levels: we can see that the topic is being researched and something is being done about it by people who actually have the right knowledge and skills to do it; we can understand what’s going on, which is calming and prevents panic; we can be sure that the information we are reading is the peak of the current human understanding and that it hasn’t been deliberately filtered through a prism of political/ideological agenda; and we can get confirmation that the measures we’re taking to mitigate the issue are correct and should work.

I’ll continue to update this as I come across additional relevant information for understanding the new coronavirus, so please let me know if there’s any other sources I should consider or if you think any of the sources I published are bad/contain misinformation – I’m an engineer, not a doctor or microbiologist, so I can always get it wrong.

I also urge you to share this, not for the fame of my blog, but to get it to the people who need to read it to prevent the spread of misinformation, so we can collectively deal with this epidemic as swiftly and as safely as possible.

So, wash your hands, stay safe, stay at home and sacrifice your social life for a while if you live in a country that’s been hit by the virus. Since this is a new virus, we have no immunity and about 60-80% of the population must get over it to develop a herd immunity, unless we manage to develop a vaccine first. It’s called flattening the curve, which means that not everyone should get sick at once. If we do manage to flatten the curve, the serious cases won’t overwhelm the healthcare system and more high risk people will be able to survive it. If we don’t flatten it, then everyone will flood to the hospitals at once and we will get the Italian scenario: a total collapse of the healthcare system and too many horrible, unnecessary deaths, particularly among the elderly. Staying home helps contain the spread of the virus and slow it down, which means everyone will get the help they need.

We’re collectively starting a “stay at home” (#ostanidoma) social media campaign in Slovenia to help combat the spread of the virus while we still can, and to hopefully avoid the necessity of a total enforced lock down, which would damage our economy even more than is inevitable. However, it only works if everyone participates and the key words here are information and awareness, so let’s all do our part. 🙂

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