Coronavirus Explained

By: Atara Neugroschl  |  April 24, 2020

By Atara Neugroschl, Staff Writer

In February, the YU Observer published an article about COVID-19, which was, at the time, a seemingly distant virus affecting China exclusively. Information regarding the virus was limited and preliminary. Now, less than two months later, the virus has rapidly spread, becoming a global pandemic and affecting everyone across the world, including the YU community. Classes have moved online and dorms have been shut down. With all this change comes new information that often contradicts past statements made by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization), and through the chaos and stress of a pandemic myths and rumors have also begun to spread. 

A common phrase that has been tossed around recently is something called “flattening the curve.” “Flattening the curve” refers to the statistical drawings of epi curves, or epidemic curves, used by epidemiologists to graph the spread of the coronavirus. As with all disease outbreaks, the graph marking the spread of coronavirus mimics an upside-down letter “U,” with the number of reported cases increasing until it hits a maximum and then decreasing until the virus is eradicated. When doctors speak about “flattening the curve,” they are referring to the need to slow the spread of coronavirus so the epi curve has a lower peak. Although flattening the curve results in the pandemic lasting longer, it allows for fewer people to be affected simultaneously during the peak of the outbreak. This will allow hospitals to have the resources to help those affected, and hopefully with more available resources, it can lead to fewer deaths. Hospitals have already been overwhelmed by cases and they lack enough beds, respirators, and personal protection equipment to properly treat every infected patient. By flattening the curve, this issue can be mitigated. Additionally, a more gradual spread of the disease gives scientists additional time to research treatments, vaccines, and the disease itself.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, officials claimed that the virus could only spread if the person affected had already displayed symptoms of the virus, the most common symptoms being coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. With newer data, however, officials have learned that asymptomatic and presymptomatic people can also carry and spread the disease. According to a study published in the British Medical Journal, an estimated 78% of people infected with the virus are asymptomatic. These infected people are often dubbed the “silent spreaders” because they can pass the disease to others without ever knowing they have it (by coughing, sneezing, etc.). Data regarding this group of carriers is still preliminary and difficult to ascertain due to the minimal testing being done, but it is clear that a majority of people who contract coronavirus are wholly unaware that they have been infected. Which leaves us to question: will this virus continue to spread or will it be gone by summer?

With the summer fast approaching, health officials have been making predictions as to what will happen regarding the coronavirus in the warmer months. Some officials insist the virus will wane during the summer months, returning with the colder weather. Others predict that the pandemic will continue throughout the summer irrespective of the weather. Those who think the virus will disappear compare coronavirus to the flu and the common cold, which spreads less in the summer due to the warm weather and humidity. This prediction seems to be corroborated by research published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which cites a decrease in the virus’s survival in laboratory conditions consisting of increased temperature and humidity. Those who dispute this theory, claiming that the virus will continue throughout the summer, look at the pattern of the virus in different countries with a higher average temperature, rather than its reactions in the lab. Therefore, it seems unlikely that climate change will impact the spread of the virus in the United States. In fact, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, despite their laboratory findings regarding coronavirus, sent a report to the White House claiming that they do not believe there will be a slow of the spread of coronavirus due to changing weather. Unfortunately, there is little research to support either side of the claim. We will only know the effects of the warmer months on the coronavirus after we experience it this summer.  

There is still much that is unknown regarding the virus. Scientists are perplexed as to why some people have the virus without revealing any symptoms, while others are quickly in critical condition. How long the virus will last and how high the death tolls will be, while statisticians have tried predicting, remain a mystery. As time passes, more will be uncovered about the virus. Until then, the advice remains to continue social distancing and being cognizant of your personal hygiene. Hopefully, with continued vigilance and scientific discovery, the pandemic will soon come to an end.

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