The ‘Terrible Moral Choice’ of Reopening
European leaders have set out plans for restarting their societies. But the choice isn’t theirs; it belongs to individual citizens.Le Monde, the country’s leading daily newspaper, captured some of the anxieties in a live blog taking a flood of reader questions. My neighbors invited people for a barbeque and they’re totally disregarding the confinement measures; what should I do? one asked. If I don’t want to send my children back to school, will I face sanctions? another said. (The answer to the second question is no—a major development in a country where schools are a pillar of the republic and essential to reopening the economy.
© Joan Wong
Previous epidemics have a lot to teach us about the coronavirus and this moment in history. As COVID-19 cases continue to increase, our extensive knowledge of other coronaviruses informs our understanding.
Confused by coronavirus conversations? Here's what you need to know. As the world braces for the continued spread of the coronavirus , rarely-before used terms like “pandemic,” “incubation period” and “quarantine” have solidified their place in our global conversation.
On March 27, as the U.S. topped 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Donald Trump stood at the lectern of the White House press-briefing room and was asked what he’d say about the pandemic to a child. Amid a meandering answer, Trump remarked, “You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus. You know, you can call it many different names. I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is.”
That was neither the most consequential statement from the White House, nor the most egregious. But it was perhaps the most ironic. In a pandemic characterized by extreme uncertainty, one of the few things experts know for sure is the identity of the pathogen responsible: a virus called SARS-CoV-2 that is closely related to the original SARS virus. Both are members of the coronavirus family, which is entirely distinct from the family that includes influenza viruses. Scientists know the shape of proteins on the new coronavirus’s surface down to the position of individual atoms. Give me two hours, and I can do a dramatic reading of its entire genome.
Bill Gates’s vision for life beyond the coronavirus
Bill Gates saw the coronavirus coming. Here’s his plan to beat it.He replied by telling me about the death chart of the 20th century. There’s the spike for World War I. The spike for World War II. But between them sat a spike as big as World War II. That, he said, was the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 65 million people. Gates’s greatest fear was a flu like that, ripping through our hyperglobalized world.
" Coronavirus doesn't care if you have a gun or not," said Mr Palmgren, describing his conversation with the customer. Their advice on masks has changed over the past several months, however, and at times it has been confusing . Earlier this year, public-health officials told people not to wear masks
The coronavirus isn’t alive. That’s why it’s so hard to kill. “It also says the novel coronavirus is not that novel,” Sette said. And if SARS-CoV-2 is not so different from its older cousin SARS, then the virus is probably not evolving very fast, giving scientists developing vaccines time to catch up.
But much else about the pandemic is still maddeningly unclear. Why do some people get really sick, but others do not? Are the models too optimistic or too pessimistic? Exactly how transmissible and deadly is the virus? How many people have actually been infected? How long must social restrictions go on for? Why are so many questions still unanswered?
More on coronavirus:
Download the Microsoft News app for full coverage of the crisis
How to stay safe when you go outside the home (Independent)
The 'five tests' the UK must pass before lockdown can end (Mirror)
The confusion partly arises from the pandemic’s scale and pace. Worldwide, at least 3.1 million people have been infected in less than four months. Economies have nose-dived. Societies have paused. In most people’s living memory, no crisis has caused so much upheaval so broadly and so quickly. “We’ve never faced a pandemic like this before, so we don’t know what is likely to happen or what would have happened,” says Zoë McLaren, a health-policy professor at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. “That makes it even more difficult in terms of the uncertainty.”
Why Some People Get Sicker Than Others
COVID-19 is proving to be a disease of the immune system. This could, in theory, be controlled.Her doctor recommended that she go to Stanford University’s drive-through coronavirus testing site. “I remember waiting in my car, and the doctors in their intense [protective equipment] coming towards me like a scene out of Contagion,” she told me when we spoke for The Atlantic’s podcast Social Distance. “I felt like I was a biohazard—and I was.” The doctors stuck a long swab into the back of her nose and sent her home to await results.
How long does coronavirus last? If you get coronavirus it takes five days on average to start showing the British Veterinary Association president Daniella Dos Santos has suggested another reason why people I think the coronavirus is really helping me to spend more time with the people i live with.
"Keep calm and carry on." "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "Don't worry, be happy." These are the pithy, inspiring phrases and quotes that, historically speaking, have the power to steady us through challenging times.
But beyond its vast scope and sui generis nature, there are other reasons the pandemic continues to be so befuddling—a slew of forces scientific and societal, epidemiological and epistemological. What follows is an analysis of those forces, and a guide to making sense of a problem that is now too big for any one person to fully comprehend.
I. The Virus
Because coronavirus wasn’t part of the popular lexicon until SARS-CoV-2 ran amok this year, earlier instances of the term are readily misconstrued. When people learned about a meeting in which global leaders role-played through a fictional coronavirus pandemic, some wrongly argued that the actual pandemic had been planned. When people noticed mentions of “human coronavirus” on old cleaning products, some wrongly assumed that manufacturers had somehow received advance warning.
Related: Coronavirus hits UK (Photos)
1.8 million people in Germany could be infected with coronavirus, researchers find
A new study out of Germany has suggested that the coronavirus infection rate there could be much higher than initially thought. Some 1.8 million people could be infected nationwide, a quarter of them without symptoms. The number of coronavirus infections in Germany could be 10 times higher than currently thought, researchers from the University of Bonn have concluded in the final edition of the much-discussed Heinsberg Report, which took a closer look at the effects of COVID-19 on a small community in Germany. © picture-alliance/dpa/J.
Yes, the coronavirus only severely affects a small number of people; but if the island you live in has a large number of people at risk of contracting the virus I am very concerned about the coronavirus , because we know that its spread into the USA is pretty much inevitable. I don’t think our school or
The coronavirus emerged in only December last year, but already the world is dealing with a pandemic of the virus and the disease it causes - Covid-19. The coronavirus , officially called Sars-CoV-2, can invade your body when you breathe it in (after someone coughs nearby) or you touch a contaminated
With the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) causing significant global disruption in 2020, the U.K. has escalated its response by announcing strict country-wide measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. After ordering pubs, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms and leisure centres across the country to close indefinitely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the public on March 23; outlining strict exercise and shopping limits, ordering all shops other than food stores and pharmacies to close, and implementing a ban on public gatherings of two or more people. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, while deputising for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovered from coronavirus (COVID-19), announced on April 16 that the U.K. lockdown would continue for at least another three weeks. The government is also delivering an unprecedented economic relief package aimed at businesses and individuals hit by the pandemic, which is estimated to cost over £400 billion.
Why Trump Was Deaf to All the Warnings He Received
The president’s incuriosity and paranoia hobbled his response.“There has been so much unnecessary death in this country,” President Donald Trump said Monday at his daily coronavirus briefing. “It could have been stopped and it could have been stopped short, but somebody a long time ago, it seems, decided not to do it that way. And the whole world is suffering because of it.
As individuals and groups across the U.K. continue to conduct their daily life in lockdown, we look at the situation around the country in pictures.
(Pictured) A pedestrian in a face mask is reflected in the window of a closed shop in the borough of Newham, east London, England on May 2.
Messages of thanks to the NHS are seen through tulips at the Odeon Luxe cinema in Leicester Square, in London, England on May 3.
Business owner Peter Morris waits for customers next to eggs and other items for sale outside a local cafe and delicatessen in Blackheath in London, England on May 3.
A shipment of PPE from Hangzhou, China, is unloaded by the military from a Pegas Fly plane at Cardiff Airport in Cardiff, Wales on May 1. The plane is understood to contain 460,000 fluid-resistant gowns and follows a delivery of of 200,000 items of PPE from Cambodia earlier this week.
A miller wipes his hands of flour at Charlecote Mill in Warwickshire, England on April 29. A rise in the popularity of baking during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown appears to have caused many major supermarkets across the UK to suffer a shortage of flour in recent weeks. Consumers are now turning to smaller mills such as the Charlecote Mill, an 18th Century water mill in Warwickshire, who are working around the clock to fulfil a dramatic increase in orders.
How China is ruthlessly exploiting the coronavirus pandemic it helped cause
“Everything they’re doing is a full-court press,” one expert told Vox.The coronavirus pandemic that rages across the globe is a fire China helped light. And now, while Beijing grasps a fire hose with two hands, it’s also planting a boot on the world’s neck.
Rower Oliver Wynne-Griffith from the GB rowing team trains in isolation at his home in Guildford, England on April 30.
Volunteers work to sort food and create food parcels for those in need at a temporary food bank centre set up by Edible London and the London Borough of Haringey, at Alexandra Palace in north London, England on April 29.
Over 125,000 birthday cards were sent to Captain Tom Moore, who raised over £30 million by walking 100 laps of his 25 metre (82 feet) garden before his 100th birthday, which were organised in the Great Hall of the temporarily-closed Bedford School in Bedford, England on April 28.
NHS workers hold a minute's silence outside the main entrance of Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, England on April 28. The moment of silence, commemorating the key workers who have died during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, was timed to coincide with International Workers' Memorial Day. At least 90 NHS workers are reported to have died in the last month, in addition to transport employees and other key workers.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement, while flanked by windows showing children's drawings of rainbows supporting the NHS, on his first day back at work in Downing Street after recovering from a bout of coronavirus (COVID-19) that put him in intensive care, in London, England on April 27.
Face masks yes, empty middle seats no, says airlines body
Wearing masks has been recommended by the world airline industry body as one of the measures needed to resume flying. But the idea of leaving middle seats empty was rejected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) - a u-turn on its previous position.The IATA set out its proposals as the debate intensifies over how the industry can get back up and running while maintaining precautions against COVID-19.Draconian restrictions on travel during the pandemic have brought the sector to its knees - with Virgin Atlantic the latest to announce thousands of job cuts as it battles for survival.
A runner passes over Tower Bridge on the course of the London Marathon, which was postponed until October to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), in London, England on April 26.
Two fishermen prepare their boat before heading out to fish for Dover Sole in Leigh on Sea, England on April 24, 2020. The U.K. fishing sector has been badly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, as with restaurants closed, demand for catch has fallen and suppliers have struggled to ship abroad.
Imam Hassanat Ahmed delivers his Friday broadcast entitled 'Preparing for a Unique Ramadan' via multiple social media platforms from the otherwise empty Noor Ul Islam Mosque on the day before Ramadan commences in Bury, Greater Manchester, England on April 24. The mosque, like all religious venues, has been closed to worshippers during the national lockdown.
Imported automobiles sit at the docks in the shadow of wind turbines in Sheerness, England on April 23, as new car sales are down a reported 44 percent in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
NHS nurses, surgeons, doctors and support staff help to unveil a rainbow balloon display outside the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery near Holborn in London, England on April 23 to thank the public for their support during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena, Member of Parliament for North East Hampshire, is seen through his window as he takes part in the first ever virtual session of Prime Minister's Question (PMQs) at his home near Basingstoke in Hampshire, England on April 22.
A local tailor poses outside a shop offering free scrubs for NHS nurses and doctors, at the Easterhouse shopping centre in Glasgow, Scotland on April 22.
Volunteers pack food into boxes for people in need at a temporary food bank at Kensington Olympia in west London, England on April 22.
A cyclist passes a piece of grafitti of artist BK Foxx wearing her grafitti mask, created by French street artist Zabou, in East London, England on April 19.
What Life Is Like Inside the World's Longest Lockdown
What Life Is Like Inside the World's Longest LockdownAt the start of the year, before the coronavirus hit, the Indian government had been slowly lifting the restrictions on movement and communication that it had imposed in August 2019, when it stripped Kashmir’s long-held constitutional autonomy and imposed direct rule from Delhi. Here in India’s only Muslim-majority territory, residents were confined to their homes by soldiers patrolling the streets of the Kashmir Valley. The Hindu nationalist government in Delhi also cut phone lines and Internet connections.
Members of staff at the Vauxhall car factory in Ellesmere Port demonstrate distancing measures necessary when on a break during preparedness tests and redesign ahead of re-opening following the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in Cheshire, England on April 17.
Two butchers wearing protective masks are pictured at David Lush Butchers in Penarth, Wales on April 16.
Retired British Army Captain Tom Moore (pictured), 99, has raised over £18 million for NHS health workers by walking the length of his garden 100 times before his 100th birthday as the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease continues, in Marston Moretaine, England on April 15.
Mounted police patrol by the area outside the Bank of England in the capital's financial district in London on April 15. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) warned the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could see the U.K. economy shrink by a record 35 percent by June.
Bakers are seen working at The Bread Factory in London, England on April 14. During the lockdown caused by coronavirus (COVID-19), the bakery-and-cafe chain says it is providing 2,400 meals per week to hospitals in neighbourhoods near some of its 50 London stores, intended for frontline NHS workers during the crisis. It also continues to operate a home delivery business and allows takeaway orders at some locations.
The Very Reverend Andrew Nunn, dean of Southwark Cathedral, delivers the Good Friday morning prayer via a live video broadcast in London, England on April 10. As the lockdown continues over the Easter weekend, most religious institutions remain closed to worshippers, instead delivering their messages via online broadcasts.
A man wears a religious placard on Market Street in Manchester, England on March 25.
Britain's Foreign Secretary and acting Prime Minister Dominic Raab (L) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (R) take part in a national "clap for carers" to show thanks for the work of Britain's National Health Service (NHS) workers and frontline medical staff around the country as they battle with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, outside the Foreign Office in London, England on April 9.
Members of the U.K. Armed Forces work with NHS medical staff and Air Ambulance Service crews as they prepare to test the facilities in a Puma HC2 helicopter at Thruxton Aerodrome in Andover, England on April 9. The training session was arranged to ensure that frontline medical staff could integrate successfully with military aircraft as and when needed during the ongoing pandemic.
Workers continue the construction of a 2,000-bed field hospital facility to aid the NHS in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19), at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales on April 9.
Children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School in Altrincham, England on April 8. The government announced the closure of U.K. schools from March 20, except for the children of key workers such as NHS staff and vulnerable pupils.
A window cleaner is pictured at work as he wears a face mask in Southampton, England on April 8.
A five year old girl watches from home as Queen Elizabeth II addresses the public in a special broadcast to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in Ariccia, Italy on April 5.
A man from Flamingo Exterior Cleaning cleans outside surfaces voluntarily to help curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) during the pandemic, in Largs, Scotland on April 4.
Workers sell food and household items to local residents from their ice cream van at a supported housing estate in west Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 1. The pair turned their van into a mobile mini-market selling essential items to residents who are on lockdown due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Soldiers and private contractors help to prepare the ExCel centre in London, which is being made into the temporary NHS Nightingale hospital comprising two wards, each of 2,000 people, to help tackle coronavirus, on March 30.
An employee at the Royal Mint is pictured during a media opportunity as they work on the production of a medical visor at the company's plant in Pontyclun, south Wales on March 28. The Royal Mint, usually known for making coins, bullion and gifts, has turned its hand to manufacturing medical visors to supply Britain's NHS as part of the battle to stem the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Shoppers observe social distancing as they wait in a queue outside a supermarket in Fleet, England on March 28.
General views of British Airways planes grounded at Bournemouth Airport in Bournemouth, England on March 28.
A ticket inspector walks through an empty train carriage as the Dartmouth Steam Railway suspends its services to the public due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on March 22.
Commuters attempt to keep some distance between each other before boarding an underground train in London, England on March 18.
A man looks at an information board displaying cancelled flights after Malaysia’s government closed its borders due to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia on March 18.
A man and woman wear protective face masks and gloves as they cross Oxford Street in central London, England on March 17.
"Stay home" is seen on a wall in Brighton, England on March 17.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a press conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with chief medical officer Chris Whitty (L) and Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance (R) in Downing Street after he had taken part in the government's emergency Cobra meeting in London, England on March 16.
There isn’t just one coronavirus. Besides SARS-CoV-2, six others are known to infect humans—four are mild and common, causing a third of colds, while two are rare but severe, causing MERS and the original SARS. But scientists have also identified about 500 other coronaviruses among China’s many bat species. “There will be many more—I think it’s safe to say tens of thousands,” says Peter Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who has led that work. Laboratory experiments show that some of these new viruses could potentially infect humans. SARS-CoV-2 likely came from a bat, too.
It seems unlikely that a random bat virus should somehow jump into a susceptible human. But when you consider millions of people, in regular contact with millions of bats, which carry tens of thousands of new viruses, vanishingly improbable events become probable ones. In 2015, Daszak’s team found that 3 percent of people from four Chinese villages that are close to bat caves had antibodies that indicated a previous encounter with SARS-like coronaviruses. “Bats fly out every night over their houses. Some of them shelter from rain in caves, or collect guano for fertilizer,” Daszak says. “If you extrapolate up to the rural population, across the region where the bats that carry these viruses live, you’re talking 1 [million] to 7 million people a year exposed.” Most of these infections likely go nowhere. It takes just one to trigger an epidemic.
Once that happens, uncertainties abound as scientists race to characterize the new pathogen. That task is always hard, but especially so when the pathogen is a coronavirus. “They’re very hard to work with; they don’t grow very well in cell cultures; and it’s been hard to get funding,” says Vineet Menachery of the University of Texas Medical Branch. He is one of just a few dozen virologists in the world who specialize in coronaviruses, which have attracted comparatively little attention compared with more prominent threats like flu. The field swelled slightly after the SARS epidemic of 2003, but then shrunk as interest and funding dwindled. “It wasn’t ’til MERS came along [in 2012] that I even thought I could have an academic career on coronaviruses,” Menachery says.
The tight group of coronavirologists is now racing to make up for years of absent research—a tall order in the middle of a pandemic. “We’re working as hard as possible,” says Lisa Gralinski, a virologist at the University of North Carolina. “Our space is so intermingled that we can’t socially distance among ourselves much.”
One small mercy, she notes, is that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t changing dramatically. Scientists are tracking its evolution in real time, and despite some hype about the existence of different strains, the virologists I’ve spoken with largely feel that the virus is changing at a steady and predictable pace. There are no signs of “an alarming mutation we need to be worried about,” Gralinski says. For now, the world is facing just one threat. But that threat can manifest in many ways.
II. The Disease
SARS-CoV-2 is the virus. COVID-19 is the disease that it causes. The two aren’t the same. The disease arises from a combination of the virus and the person it infects, and the society that person belongs to. Some people who become infected never show any symptoms; others become so ill that they need ventilators. Early Chinese data suggested that severe and fatal illness occurs mostly in the elderly, but in the U.S. (and especially in the South), many middle-aged adults have been hospitalized, perhaps because they are more likely to have other chronic illnesses. The virus might vary little around the world, but the disease varies a lot.
Related: Coronavirus myths busted (Photos)
The novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, was first reported in Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019. It belongs to the coronavirus family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued some guidelines to negate misconceptions among people regarding the current outbreak of the COVID-19. Click through to get more information on some of the common myths surrounding the virus.
All captions taken from the WHO website are as of May 4, 2020. The organization is assessing ongoing research on the ways COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share new findings.
There are currently no drugs licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19
While several drug trials are ongoing, there is currently no proof that hydroxychloroquine or any other drug can cure or prevent COVID-19. The misuse of hydroxychloroquine can cause serious side effects and illness and even lead to death. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop and evaluate medicines to treat COVID-19.
Adding pepper to your soup or other meals DOES NOT prevent or cure COVID-19
Hot peppers in your food, though very tasty, cannot prevent or cure COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is to keep at least 1 metre away from others and to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. It is also beneficial for your general health to maintain a balanced diet, stay well hydrated, exercise regularly and sleep well.
COVID-19 IS NOT transmitted through houseflies
To date, there is no evidence or information to suggest that the COVID-19 virus transmitted through houseflies. The virus that cause COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. You can also become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands. To protect yourself, keep at least 1-metre distance from others and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces. Clean your hands thoroughly and often and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
5G mobile networks DO NOT spread COVID-19
Viruses cannot travel on radio waves/mobile networks. COVID-19 is spreading in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks. People can also be infected by touching a contaminated surface and then their eyes, mouth or nose.
Exposing yourself to the sun or to temperatures higher than 25C degrees DOES NOT prevent the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
You can catch COVID-19, no matter how sunny or hot the weather is. Countries with hot weather have reported cases of COVID-19. To protect yourself, make sure you clean your hands frequently and thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
Being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds or more without coughing or feeling discomfort DOES NOT mean you are free from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) or any other lung disease
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are dry cough, tiredness and fever. Some people may develop more severe forms of the disease, such as pneumonia. The best way to confirm if you have the virus producing COVID-19 disease is with a laboratory test. You cannot confirm it with this breathing exercise, which can even be dangerous.
You can recover from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Catching the new coronavirus DOES NOT mean you will have it for life
Most of the people who catch COVID-19 can recover and eliminate the virus from their bodies. If you catch the disease, make sure you treat your symptoms. If you have cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early – but call your health facility by telephone first. Most patients recover thanks to supportive care.
Drinking alcohol does not protect you against COVID-19 and can be dangerous
Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of health problems.
Spraying and introducing bleach or another disinfectant into your body WILL NOT protect you against COVID-19 and can be dangerous
Do not under any circumstance spray or introduce bleach or any other disinfectant into your body. These substances can be poisonous if ingested and cause irritation and damage to your skin and eyes.
Bleach and disinfectant should be used carefully to disinfect surfaces only. Remember to keep chlorine (bleach) and other disinfectants out of reach of children.
Drinking methanol, ethanol or bleach DOES NOT prevent or cure COVID-19 and can be extremely dangerous
Methanol, ethanol, and bleach are poisons. Drinking them can lead to disability and death. Methanol, ethanol, and bleach are sometimes used in cleaning products to kill the virus on surfaces – however you should never drink them. They will not kill the virus in your body and they will harm your internal organs.
To protect yourself against COVID-19, disinfect objects and surfaces, especially the ones you touch regularly. You can use diluted bleach or alcohol for that. Make sure you clean your hands frequently and thoroughly and avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.
COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates
The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by maintaining physical distance of at least 1 metre from others and frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
Cold weather and snow CANNOT kill the new coronavirus
There is no reason to believe that cold weather can kill the new coronavirus or other diseases. The normal human body temperature remains around 36.5°C (97.7°F) to 37°C (98.6°F), regardless of the external temperature or weather. The most effective way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is by frequently cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing them with soap and water.
Taking a hot bath does not prevent the new coronavirus disease
Taking a hot bath will not prevent you from catching COVID-19. Your normal body temperature remains around 36.5°C (97.7°F) to 37°C (98.6°F), regardless of the temperature of your bath or shower. Actually, taking a hot bath with extremely hot water can be harmful, as it can burn you. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by frequently cleaning your hands. By doing this you eliminate viruses that may be on your hands and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
The new coronavirus CANNOT be transmitted through mosquito bites.
To date there has been no information nor evidence to suggest that the new coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes. The new coronavirus is a respiratory virus which spreads primarily through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. To protect yourself, clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Also, avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
Are hand dryers effective in killing the new coronavirus?
No. Hand dryers are not effective in killing the 2019-nCoV. To protect yourself against the new coronavirus, you should frequently clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Once your hands are cleaned, you should dry them thoroughly by using paper towels or a warm air dryer.
Ultra-violet (UV) lamps should not be used to disinfect hands or other areas of your skin
UV radiation can cause skin irritation and damage your eyes. Cleaning your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or washing your hands with soap and water are the most effective ways to remove the virus.
How effective are thermal scanners in detecting people infected with the new coronavirus?
Thermal scanners are effective in detecting people who have developed a fever (i.e. have a higher than normal body temperature) because of infection with the new coronavirus. However, they cannot detect people who are infected but are not yet sick with fever. This is because it takes between 2 and 10 days before people who are infected become sick and develop a fever.
Do vaccines against pneumonia protect you against the new coronavirus?
No. Vaccines against pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a vaccine against 2019-nCoV, and WHO is supporting their efforts. Although these vaccines are not effective against 2019-nCoV, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health.
Can regularly rinsing your nose with saline help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
No. There is no evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline has protected people from infection with the new coronavirus. There is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However, regularly rinsing the nose has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections.
Can eating garlic help prevent infection with the new coronavirus?
Garlic is a healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties. However, there is no evidence from the current outbreak that eating garlic has protected people from the new coronavirus.
Does the new coronavirus affect older people, or are younger people also susceptible?
People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. WHO advises people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus, for example by following good hand hygiene and good respiratory hygiene.
Are antibiotics effective in preventing and treating the new coronavirus?
No, antibiotics do not work against viruses, only bacteria. The new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus and, therefore, antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment. However, if you are hospitalized for the 2019-nCoV, you may receive antibiotics because bacterial co-infection is possible.
Are there any specific medicines to prevent or treat the new coronavirus?
To date, there is no specific medicine recommended to prevent or treat the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV). However, those infected with the virus should receive appropriate care to relieve and treat symptoms, and those with severe illness should receive optimized supportive care. Some specific treatments are under investigation, and will be tested through clinical trials. WHO is helping to accelerate research and development efforts with a range or partners.
For more information on prevention measures and guidelines on the virus, visit the WHO website.
This explains why some of the most important stats about the coronavirus have been hard to pin down. Estimates of its case-fatality rate (CFR)—the proportion of diagnosed people who die—have ranged from 0.1 to 15 percent. It’s frustrating to not have a firm number, but also unrealistic to expect one. “Folks are talking about CFR as this unchangeable quantity, and that is not how it works,” says Maia Majumder, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital.
The CFR’s denominator—total cases—depends on how thoroughly a country tests its population. Its numerator—total deaths—depends on the spread of ages within that population, the prevalence of preexisting illnesses, how far people live from hospitals, and how well staffed or well equipped those hospitals are. These factors vary among countries, states, and cities, and the CFR will, too. (Majumder and her colleagues are now building tools for predicting regional CFRs, so local leaders can determine which regions are most vulnerable.)
The variability of COVID-19 is also perplexing doctors. The disease seems to wreak havoc not only on lungs and airways, but also on hearts, blood vessels, kidneys, guts, and nervous systems. It’s not clear if the virus is directly attacking these organs, if the damage stems from a bodywide overreaction of the immune system, if other organs are suffering from the side effects of treatments, or if they are failing due to prolonged stays on ventilators.
Past coronavirus epidemics offer limited clues because they were so contained: Worldwide, only 10,600 or so people were ever diagnosed with SARS or MERS combined, which is less than the number of COVID-19 cases from Staten Island. “For new diseases, we don’t see 100 to 200 patients a week; it usually takes a whole career,” says Megan Coffee, an infectious-disease doctor at NYU Langone Health. And “if you see enough cases of other diseases, you’ll see unusual things.” During the flu pandemic of 2009, for example, doctors also documented heart, kidney, and neurological problems. “Is COVID-19 fundamentally different to other diseases, or is it just that you have a lot of cases at once?” asks Vinay Prasad, a hematologist and an oncologist at Oregon Health and Science University.
Prasad’s concern is that COVID-19 has developed a clinical mystique—a perception that it is so unusual, it demands radically new approaches. “Human beings are notorious for our desire to see patterns,” he says. “Put that in a situation of fear, uncertainty, and hype, and it’s not surprising that there’s almost a folk medicine emerging.” Already, there are intense debates about giving patients blood thinners because so many seem to experience blood clots, or whether ventilators might do more harm than good. These issues may be important, and when facing new diseases, doctors must be responsive and creative. But they must also be rigorous. “Clinicians are under tremendous stress, which affects our ability to process information,” McLaren says. “‘Is this actually working, or does it seem to be working because I want it to work and I feel powerless?’”
Related: Coronavirus crisis around the world (Photos)
A woman wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus walks past wax faces displayed in a window of a wax museum on May 4 in St.Petersburg, Russia.
Stickers delimit social distance inside a train station on May 4 in Madrid, Spain.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to media during a press conference at Parliament on May 5 in Wellington, New Zealand. No new COVID-19 cases or related deaths have been recorded in New Zealand for the second day.
Elena Graf, 1st concertmaster of the Stuttgart State Opera, plays for a listener on the violin during the shooting of a trailer for one-to-one concerts of the Stuttgart Opera in Terminal 1 of Stuttgart Airport. The concerts will take place on 8 and 10 May. A musician plays ten minutes each for a single listener. All musicians play free of charge, with the donations of the guests freelance musicians are supported.
People use a smartphone at Barceloneta beach on May 4 in Barcelona, Spain.
A family peers from their home's window before receiving boxes of free food during a lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus on May 4 in Bogota, Colombia.
Migrants, part of a group of 76 Guatemalans deported from the United States, wear face masks as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus COVID-19 as they head to a bus upon landing at the Air Force base in Guatemala City on May 4.
A police officer tries to control the crowds outside a wine store after liquor shops were allowed to open during an extended nationwide lockdown, in New Delhi, India, on May 4.
Teacher Nancie Toullec, wearing a protective face mask, looks at children during their lunch in the courtyard of a private school open to children of health workers and workers on the coronavirus frontline, in Saint-Sebastien-sur-Loire near Nantes, France, on May 4.
Women wearing face mask buy crayfish at a market, in Lagos Nigeria, on May 4. Though Nigeria begun a phased easing of its strict lockdown measures on Monday, its confirmed cases of coronavirus continue to increase.
Members of the Tshwane Special Infection Unit on the coronavirus wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) use a mannequin as they push the isolation chamber equipped with a negative pressure filtration system during their demonstration exercise at the Hatfield Emergency Station, in Pretoria, South Africa, on May 4.
People using protective masks wait in line outside a Caixa Economica Federal bank branch in Rocha Miranda neighborhood to receive urgent government benefit, on May 4, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Dutch Minister of Defense Ank Bijleveld attends the wreath laying ceremony at the Canadian cemetery, in Holten, Netherlands, on May 4. Due to the pandemic, commemoration of the victims of the Second World War took place without an audience. The commemoration takes places every year on May 4 in the Netherlands.
A family rides their bicycle with children across the Parco Sempione park on May 4 in Milan as Italy starts to ease its lockdown.
People go to work as authorities ease the lockdown in Abuja, Nigeria on May 4.
Thai immigration officials wearing protective masks and visors line up at the start of their shift at Suvarnabhumi International airport in Bangkok, Thailand on May 4. Some airlines have resumed domestic flights after the Thai government eased restrictions that were imposed to curb the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Domenico di Massa embraces his granddaughter Cecilia for the first time in two months after Italy allowed families to see each other again as the country begins a staged end to a nationwide lockdown, in Rome, Italy on May 4.
Teachers greet each other in an elementary school reopened following the ease of restrictions preventing the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the settlement of Maale Adumim in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on May 3.
Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue is lit up as if wearing a protective mask on May 3 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Medical equipment, which Turkey prepared to send to Somalia, are being loaded to the A400M military plane to be sent to Somalia from Ankara, Turkey on May 4.
Health workers rest near the NYU Langone Hospital on May 3 in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York.
Warming up before a morning jog along the waterfront of the Kazanka River; starting from May 1, individual physical exercise once a day between 5 and 7am is available among the options covered by the digital pass system introduced by Tatarstan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A young girl holds a guitar as a musician performs for local residents, in Enfield, England, on May 3.
People sit in their cars watching a movie in a drive-in cinema at the Milad Tower parking space, in Tehran, Iran, on May 3.
Actors dressed as King Leo and Queen Constance wearing protective masks ride horses along the street as a festive procession marking the City Day was canceled, in Lviv, Ukraine, on May 3.
Customers' protective masks hang on their ears as they eat food in Chinatown after the government started opening some restaurants outside shopping malls, parks, and barbershops, in Bangkok, Thailand, on May 3.
Indian Navy's Chetak helicopter drops flower petals on the staff of INHS Asvini hospital as part of an event to show gratitude towards the frontline workers fighting the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Mumbai, India, on May 3.
People queue outside a B&Q store in Greenwich, in London on May 3, as the DIY giant opens all their stores ahead of a general easing in the nationwide lockdown.
Immigration officers wearing full protection suits gather at a coronavirus lockdown area in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on May 3. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin says the economy needs to be revived as billions have been lost during the partial lockdown that began in March.
Health workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant on a local woman in an alley during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown in Kathmandu, Nepal, on May 3.
An electronic sign board showing 'Beach closed' and a surfer are seen on Bondi Beach on May 3, in Sydney, Australia. 'Surf & Go' measures are currently in place for weekend and no beach access allowed except along designated pathways to water.
People follow social distancing markings as they line up at a shopping mall after the Saudi government eased a curfew and allowed stores to open on May 2 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
A view shows the arch of the General Staff Building and the State Hermitage Museum on May 2 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The Euromast tower is seen with red light as part of an international tribute to health care workers battling the coronavirus on May 2 in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
A long line of vehicles wait to be controlled by members of the Guardia Nacional Republicana (National Republican Guard) at a checkpoint set up off the A5 highway near Cascais hospital to prevent non-permitted travel on the second day of GNR/PSP joint operations after the Portuguese Government enhanced movement restrictions on May 2 in Alcabideche, Portugal.
People wearing face masks walk by the shore of the Mediterranean sea amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on May 2 in Ashkelon, Israel.
President of Madrid Community, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, Spanish People's Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado and Madrid Mayor Jose Luis Martinez Almeida pose with Madrid firefighters during events of May 2 in Madrid, Spain.
The Ferry family, from Chantilly, Virginia, who were in the middle of taking a family photograph, are surprised by a second flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, in a "salute to frontline COVID-19 responders," as seen near the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial that depicts a flag raising over Iwo Jima, in Arlington, Virginia, on May 2.
Men box during the hours in which individual exercise is allowed outdoors, for the first time since the lockdown was announced, in Barcelona, Spain, on May 2.
People who couldn't return to their hometowns due to a lockdown amidst concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease wait to travel to their villages using special transport organized by the government, at a public ground in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 2.
Believers attend the first mass open to the public, after the 45-day-long closure of church services in Zagreb, Croatia, on May 2.
People queue in front of a Louis Vuitton store after the government reopens bigger shops as well as small businesses in a loosening of the lockdown in Vienna, Austria, on May 2.
Passengers wearing face masks wait for their trains at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, May 2. South Korea reported fresh cases of the new coronavirus and are continuing a month-long shutdown.
A man rides a bike at the seafront on May 1 in Naples, Italy.
Passengers wearing face masks as a preventive measure on May 1 at Don Muang International Airport. Thai AirAsia and Thai Lion Air resumed flights on domestic routes after flying was temporarily halted.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike inspects a Pepper humanoid robot, manufactured by SoftBank Group Corp. and a cleaning robot Whiz a during a press preview of a hotel of APA Group that has been designated to accommodate asymptomatic people and those with light symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to free up hospital beds and alleviate work by nurses and staff members, in Tokyo, Japan May 1.
A customer receives her order inside a prototype location of fast food giant McDonald's for restaurants which respect the 1.5m social distancing measure, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Arnhem, Netherlands, on May 1.
Consider hydroxychloroquine—the antimalarial drug that’s been repeatedly touted by the White House and conservative pundits as a COVID-19 “game changer.” The French studies that first suggested that the drug could treat COVID-19 were severely flawed, abandoning standard elements of solid science like randomly assigning patients to receive treatments or placebos, or including a control group to confirm if the drug offers benefits above normal medical care. The lead scientist behind those studies has railed against the “dictatorship of the methodologists,” as if randomization or controls were inconveniences that one should rebel against, rather than the backbone of effective medicine.
Larger (but still preliminary) studies from the U.S., France, and China have cast doubt on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, and because it can cause heart problems, the National Institutes of Health has recommended against using it outside clinical trials. Those trials will offer clearer answers by the summer, and the drug may yet prove beneficial. For now, doctors are routinely prescribing it without knowing if it works or, crucially, if it does more harm than good. Meanwhile, people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, who actually need hydroxychloroquine, can’t get it. It is not the case that every new study contributes to our understanding of COVID-19. Sloppy ones are a net negative, adding to the already considerable uncertainty by offering the illusion of confidence where none exists.
III. The Research
Since the pandemic began, scientists have published more than 7,500 papers on COVID-19. But despite this deluge, “we haven’t seen a lot of huge plot twists,” says Carl Bergstrom, an epidemiologist and a sociologist of science at the University of Washington. The most important, he says, was the realization that people can spread the virus before showing symptoms. But even that insight was slow to dawn. A flawed German study hinted at it in early February, but scientific opinion shifted only after many lines of evidence emerged, including case reports, models showing that most infections are undocumented, and studies indicating that viral levels peak as symptoms appear.
This is how science actually works. It’s less the parade of decisive blockbuster discoveries that the press often portrays, and more a slow, erratic stumble toward ever less uncertainty. “Our understanding oscillates at first, but converges on an answer,” says Natalie Dean, a statistician at the University of Florida. “That’s the normal scientific process, but it looks jarring to people who aren’t used to it.”
For example, Stanford University researchers recently made headlines after testing 3,330 volunteers from Santa Clara County for antibodies against the new coronavirus. The team concluded that 2.5 to 4.2 percent of people have already been infected—a proportion much higher than the official count suggests. This, the authors claimed, means that the virus is less deadly than suspected, and that severe lockdowns may be overreactions—views they had previously espoused in opinion pieces. But other scientists, including statisticians, virologists, and disease ecologists, have criticized the study’s methods and the team’s conclusions.
Related: 20 deadliest diseases in human history (Photos)
From the Bubonic plague to Ebola
Human history is undoubtedly stained with the blood of men, women and children killed in war, but it is disease that is the world’s biggest killer - and it does not discriminate between race, creed or colour. Discover 20 of the world’s deadliest diseases from ancient times to the modern day.
Taking its name from the Ebola River, near which the disease first appeared in 1976, the virus is transmitted from person to person via direct contact with bodily fluids. Symptoms include muscle pain, weakness, and high fever. It has a fatality rate of 90 percent.
An ancient and greatly feared disease, smallpox is fatal in as many as 30 percent of cases. The death toll was estimated at almost 500 million until it was declared eradicated in 1977 after a WHO programme of vaccination.
Transmitted to humans via the bites of infected mosquitoes, these days Yellow Fever occurs most often in South America and Africa, and WHO estimates that of the 200,000 new cases each year, roughly 30,000 die.
Though it typically attacks the lungs, the Tuberculosis bacteria can also affect the brain, spine and kidneys. According to WHO, someone somewhere is infected with TB every second and 1.3 million people died from the disease in 2012.
A highly contagious respiratory disease, many are successfully vaccinated against measles, but it still rages in parts of Africa, Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, causing an astonishing 22 deaths each hour.
The most common cancer-related killer worldwide, lung cancer is responsible for 1.38 million deaths each year. According to WHO, smoking is the most important risk factor in 70 percent of deaths.
Cholera causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and death can occur within hours. Most prevalent in countries where access to clean water is limited, WHO estimates that there are some 3 to 5 million cases each year.
A mosquito-borne disease, malaria causes severe flu-like symtomps. Without treatment, it can be fatal, with 90 percent of the million deaths each year occurring in children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the world’s most devastating epidemics, ‘Spanish Flu’ is estimated to have killed between 30 and 50 million people in 1918/1919.
Chronic lung disease
WHO predicts that chronic lung diseases, such as bronchitis and emphysema, will be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.
HIV attacks the white blood cells that help the body fight disease. The disease can be managed, but AIDS, the final stage of the infection, has claimed the lives of more than 39 million people.
Meningococcal meningitis is a bacteria that infects the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and it typically affects those aged one to 30. Even with early diagnosis and treatment, some 5 to 10 percent of patients die.
Originating in southern China in 2002-2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) became a pandemic that spread to 37 countries in just a few weeks. More than 8,000 people were infected, and 774 died from the virus.
Cardiovascular diseases are now the world’s biggest killer, taking the lives of some 17.5 million people in 2012 - that’s three out of every ten deaths. Over 80 percent of those occur in low and middle-income countries.
Bubonic plague earned the unenviable name ‘the Black Death’ when it rampaged through Asia and Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated 25 million, wiping out almost a third of Europe’s population.
Whooping cough affected an estimated 16 million people in 2008. Ninety five percent of those occurred in developing countries, with some 195,000 children dying from the disease.
Hot on the heels of the SARS scare, avian influenza or ‘bird flu’ comes with potentially life-threatening complications. Since the outbreak in 2003, WHO estimates that of the 421 cases reported, 257 were fatal.
More commonly known as swine flu, H1N1 was declared a pandemic in 2009. WHO figures put the estimated number of deaths at 18,550, but it is thought many more could have died as a result of complications.
Historically, leprosy meant life as an outcast, and while it still does in many countries, it is treatable. The slow-growing disease affects the skin and nerves. Almost 250,000 new cases were reported in 2012.
Although easily treatable, this highly contagious sexually transmitted infection can be fatal or result in brain or heart complications if left alone. WHO estimates that some 12 million people are infected every year.
One could write a long article assessing the Santa Clara study alone, but that would defeat the point: that individual pieces of research are extremely unlikely to single-handedly upend what we know about COVID-19. About 30 similar “serosurveys” have now been released. These and others to come could collectively reveal how many Americans have been infected. Even then, they would have to be weighed against other evidence, including accounts from doctors and nurses in New York or Lombardy, Italy, which clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 can crush health-care systems. The precise magnitude of the virus’s fatality rate is a matter of academic debate. The reality of what it can do to hospitals is not.
The scientific discussion of the Santa Clara study might seem ferocious to an outsider, but it is fairly typical for academia. Yet such debates might once have played out over months. Now they are occurring over days—and in full public view. Epidemiologists who are used to interacting with only their peers are racking up followers on Twitter. They have suddenly been thrust into political disputes. “People from partisan media outlets find this stuff and use a single study as a cudgel to beat the other side,” Bergstrom says. “The climate-change people are used to it, but we epidemiologists are not.”
In an earlier era, issues with the Santa Clara study would have been addressed during peer review—the process in which scientific work is assessed by other researchers before being published in a journal. But like many COVID-19 studies, this one was uploaded as a preprint—a paper that hasn’t yet run the peer-review gauntlet. Preprints allow scientists to share data quickly, and speed is vital in a pandemic: Several important studies were uploaded and discussed a full month before being published.
Preprints also allow questionable work to directly enter public discourse, but that problem is not unique to them. The first flawed paper on hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 was published in a peer-reviewed journal, whose editor in chief is one of the study’s co-authors. Another journal published a paper claiming that the new coronavirus probably originated in pangolins, after most virologists had considered and dismissed that idea.
Meanwhile, scientists are poring over preprints in open online spaces: The Santa Clara study may not have been formally peer-reviewed, but it has very much been reviewed by peers. It is easier than ever for journalists to assess how new research is being received, but only some are presenting these debates to their audience. Others are not. Some are even reporting on press-released research that hasn’t been uploaded as a preprint. “The rules for reporting on preprints shouldn’t be any different from reporting on journal articles,” the journalist Ivan Oransky told the media watchdog Health News Review. “Everything needs to be scrutinized beyond belief.”
Such scrutiny will become ever more necessary as the pandemic wears on. Julie Pfeiffer of UT Southwestern, who is an editor at the Journal of Virology, says that she and her colleagues have been flooded with submitted papers, most of which are so obviously poor that they haven’t even been sent out for review. “They shouldn’t be published anywhere,” she says, “and then they end up [on a preprint site].” Some come from nonscientists who have cobbled together a poor mathematical model; others come from actual virologists who have suddenly pivoted to studying coronaviruses and “are submitting work they never normally would in a rush to be first,” Pfeiffer says. “Some people are genuinely trying to help, but there’s also a huge amount of opportunism.”
IV. The Experts
Last month, the legal scholar Richard Epstein claimed that “the current organized panic in the United States does not seem justified” and that as the pandemic continued, “good news is more likely than bad.” His piece was widely circulated in conservative circles and the Trump administration. When asked about his lack of epidemiological training in an interview with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, Epstein responded, “One of the things you get as a lawyer is a skill of cross-examination. I spent an enormous amount of time over my career teaching medical people about some of this stuff.” His essay initially speculated that 500 Americans would die from COVID-19. He later updated that estimate to 5,000. So far, the death toll stands at 58,000, and is still rising.
Related: 33 of the most amazing scientific breakthroughs in history (Photos)
Marie Curie and Radioactivity - early 1900s
Key People: Marie Curie
Marie Curie is known for her discoveries around radiation and radioactivity, a word which she coined. She discovered two new elements, polonium and radium, and helped with the development of X-rays. She became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and eventually won two Nobels – one for chemistry and one for physics.
Polio vaccine - 1953
Key people: Jonas Salk
While there is still no known cure for polio, researcher Dr. Jonas Salk discovered a vaccine for the disease in 1953. Today, cases of the crippling disease are extremely rare.
Radio – 1895
Key people: Gugliemo Marconi (Italy) (pictured), Nikola Tesla (Serbia)
While there has been a lot of debate about who is the real inventor of radio, the importance of the invention is absolutely unquestionable. Marconi, a physicist and electric engineer, invented a device that transmits Morse code using radio waves. Tesla, on the other hand, is said to have created a basic design for the radio in the late 19th century and also patented a robot boat controlled by radio waves. The impact of the device has been unparalleled in bringing music, sports, news and drama to people’s lives.
Steam turbine – 1884
Key people: Sir Charles Parsons (United Kingdom)
The modern steam turbine has been the backbone of the energy sector and has helped in generating a large part of the world’s power.
Theory of relativity - 1905
Key People: Albert Einstein (Germany)
Einstein’s theory of relativity said that physics' laws “are the same for all non-accelerating observers” and light’s speed, inside a vacuum, did not depend on the motion of those observing. This theory, widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time, has been the foundation for things like global positioning systems, electromagnets and supernovas.
X-Rays – 1895
Key people: Wilhelm Roentgen (Germany)
In one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history, Roengten discovered high-frequency radiations that possessed the capability of penetrating human flesh in a noninvasive manner. This discovery has made it easier for doctors to understand what is going on in a patient and prescribe treatment.
Radio waves – 19th century
Key people: Heinrich Hertz (Germany) and James Clerk Maxwell (Scotland)
The genesis for Marconi’s invention of the radio and several others after that was laid by Hertz and Maxwell, who theorized and proved the similarities between the properties of light, electricity and magnetism. Maxwell showed that all these three were same and forms of electromagnetic radiation. It is widely regarded as the greatest discovery in the field of physics in the 19th century.
Nitrogen fixation – 1918
Key people: Fritz Haber (Germany)
Haber’s work in developing this process based on ammonia-synthesis was critical and central in facilitating the green revolution. The process was used to create a new line of fertilizers.
Penicillin – 1928
Key people: Alexander Fleming (Scotland)
Simply put, penicillin is the reason behind the saving of millions of lives over the years and it holds the distinction of the maiden antibiotic drug which was made available commercially. Fleming stumbled upon this discovery when he returned from a holiday and found out that one of his lab’s petri dishes, which contained mold, prevented the growth of bacteria and killed them as well.
Black holes – 1916
Key people: Karl Schwarzschild (Germany)
Black holes, one of the most mysterious phenomena of the celestial world, are collapsed stars with extremely high gravity levels. While some people consider that black holes could facilitate traveling faster than the speed of light, others believe that they will be energy sources in the future.
Airplane – 1903
Key people: Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright (USA)
The invention of the first “sustainable and controlled” flight by Wright brothers transformed the world of transportation completely. Their invention has facilitated transportation of people and things from one place to another in an unprecedented manner.
Nuclear Fission – 1939
Key people: Lise Meitner (Austria) (pictured)
Meitner, along with Otto Hahn, developed what can be called the “gateway to the atomic age” by discovering how uranium atoms can be split apart to produce energy in colossal amounts.
Semiconductor transistor – 1947
Key people: John Bardeen (USA)
Though semiconductors had been identified in the 19th century, the transistor effect in them was unknown till John Bardeen’s discovery. The transistor effect has been the backbone of every electrical hardware device that has been created since.
Electricity – 18th-19th century
Key people: Michael Faraday (England), Nikola Tesla (Serbia) (pictured) and Benjamin Franklin (USA)
Franklin, Faraday and Tesla, in their own rights, created history by discovering, studying and analyzing electricity. While Franklin is credited with determining that “all forms of electricity are same,” Faraday and Tesla provided the basis for the development of the electric motor and alternating current electricity supply system, respectively.
Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) - 1953
Key people: James Watson (USA) and Francis Crick (England)
Regarded by many as the “greatest discovery in history,” James Watson and Francis Crick’s combined work facilitated the study of the molecular structure of all living organisms. Scientists and medical experts have used DNA to understand what causes deadly diseases and it has been critical in laying the foundations of molecular biology. DNA is widely used in courts as evidence.
Key people: Isaac Newton (England)
Gravity is all-pervasive concept that helped in simplifying and unifying several other phenomena, such as the falling down of objects, orbiting of planets and people having weight.
Computer – 19th century-20th century
Key people: Many
No other device in history has augmented and elevated human ability than the computer. Right from Charles Babbage's concept design to IBM's personal computer, all have come together to make the world a global village.
Blood types - 1897
Key people: Karl Landsteiner (Austria)
Before the discovery made by the Austrian physician, it was believed that all blood was same and there was no classification. Landsteiner's discovery helped differentiate between blood types.
Internet – 1960s
Key people: Many
Arguable the most significant development in history of modern day communication, the Internet has transformed the lives of people in a way nothing else has. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), regarded as the foundation technology for the Internet, was the first ever to use TCP/IP protocol suite.
Atmospheric layers - 1902
Key people - Léon Teisserenc de Bort (France) and Richard Assmann (Germany)
Up until the start of the 20th century, there was no credible theory or understanding of the Earth’s relationship with its center or outer space. Studies by Bort and Assmann helped in determining the existence of different layers and consequently, the understanding of clouds, wind, storms and other meteorological phenomena.
Quantum Theory – 1925
Key people: Max Born (Germany)
Born designed a system that was capable of analyzing and describing the world of subatomic particles, such as alpha, beta, electron and proton particles. This theory has become the basis for study of all solid state mechanics, nuclear and atomic physics.
Large Hadron Collider – 2008
Key people: Many
The largest particle accelerator in the world, featuring a ring that is 27 kilometers in length and is made of superconducting magnets, is regarded as the gateway to finding new information about the travelling of light along with the genesis of cosmos.
Doppler Effect – 1848
Key people: Christian Doppler (Austria)
The Doppler Effect describes how the alteration in the frequency of a wave (sound or light) is dependent on the direction in which the observer is moving from the source (away or towards). This concept has proved to be critical for the world of astronomy, enabling scientists to decipher the properties of galaxies and stars, which are located at distances of millions of light years, along with the discovery of dark matter.
Periodic table – 1880
Key people: Dmitri Mendeleev (Russia)
The classification of all the elements on the face of this earth into a proper system has become a mandatory part of science education across the world. Apart from helping in understanding the properties of elements, it has also assisted in discovering new ones.
Heliocentric view of the solar system - early 1500s
Key People: Nicolaus Copernicus
Prior to Nicolaus Copernicus, the world thought the sun and the planets revolved around Earth. In the early 1500s, Copernicus stated that the Earth and all the planets revolved around the Sun – a radical concept at the time that changed our understanding of the solar system.
Oxygen – 1774
Key people: Joseph Priestley (England)
Oxygen is the first gas that was identified and separated as a unique element. Priestley’s discovery led to a revolution in the chemical world. This discovery helped in finding out that air was composed of various things and was not just one single element.
Earth's core and mantle - 1914
Key people: Beno Gutenberg (Germany, USA)
The earth is not one solid homogeneous object but a complex structure comprising layers that differ in composition, density and temperature. Gutenberg was the first person to determine the radius of the earth’s core and to provide accurate accounting of its interiors. This has helped scientists study the earth and its Geo-physical properties in a better manner despite not having the luxury of sending probes more than a few miles deep.
Vaccination – 1798
Key people: Edward Jenner (England)
English doctor Edward Jenner worked on an experiment in which he injected pus from a cowpox pustule into the arm of a little boy, thus showing that inoculation made children immune to smallpox. The discovery of vaccination has saved millions of lives and prevented people from getting deadly diseases like small pox or measles.
Pasteurization – 1863
Key people: Louis Pasteur (French)
The process of destroying pathogens by simple heating has helped in the preservation of perishable food items, such as milk and juice. Pasteur’s theory and discovery has been a big influence on the food preservation industry, proving to be one of the foundations on which public health is based.
Internal combustion engine - 19th century
Key people: Étienne Lenoir (Belgium) and Siegfried Marcus (Austria)
The internal combustion engine, which eventually replaced the steam engine, utilized the property of a fuel to combust when in contact with an oxidizer. This concept helped in development of engines on which modern day vehicles run.
Television - 20th century
Key people: Many
While many people have contributed in discovering/inventing various components of a television, John Logie Baird is regarded as the man behind making the mechanical television. Baird was able to "transmit a flickering image across a distance of 10 feet," which led to him achieving TV pictures a year later.
Anesthesia – 1801
Key people: Humphry Davy (England)
Giving people relief from the trauma and pain of medical procedures has proved to be one of the biggest achievements in medical history. Not only has it helped eliminate fear among patients, it has facilitated the carrying out of extremely complicated surgeries.
Animal cloning - 1996
Researchers at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, Scotland successfully cloned a sheep in 1996. Many animals have since been cloned since her death in 2003 though it still remains a controversial subject.
Many other non-epidemiologists seem to have similarly accrued expertise in the field. The military historian Victor Davis Hanson proffered the widely shared idea that the coronavirus has been spreading in California since last fall—a claim disproved by genetic studies showing that the earliest U.S. case likely arrived in January. During a White House meeting, the economist Peter Navarro reportedly pointed to a pile of hydroxychloroquine studies and said, “That’s science, not anecdote” to Anthony Fauci, who has worked in public health for five decades and directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Silicon Valley technologist Aaron Ginn self-published an article on Medium called “Evidence Over Hysteria—COVID-19” that was viewed millions of times before being debunked by Bergstrom and taken down.
[Read: We are living in a failed state]
Expertise is not just about knowledge, but also about the capacity to spot errors. Ginn couldn’t see them in his own work; Bergstrom could. The rest of us are more likely to fall in the former group than the latter. We hunger for information, but lack the know-how to evaluate it or the sources that provide it. “This is the epistemological crisis of the moment: There’s a lot of expertise around, but fewer tools than ever to distinguish it from everything else,” says Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina and an Atlantic contributing writer. “Pure credentialism doesn’t always work. People have self-published a lot of terrible pieces on Medium, but some of the best early ones that explained stuff to laypeople were from tech guys.”
Bergstrom agrees that experts shouldn’t be dismissive gatekeepers. “There’s a lot of talent out there, and we need all hands on deck,” he says. For example, David Yu, a hockey analyst, created a tool that shows how predictions from the most influential COVID-19 model in the U.S. have changed over time. “Looking at that thing for, like, an hour helped me see things I hadn’t seen for three weeks,” Bergstrom says.
A lack of expertise becomes problematic when it’s combined with extreme overconfidence, and with society’s tendency to reward projected confidence over humility. “When scientists offer caveats instead of absolutes,” Gralinski says, “that uncertainty we’re trained to acknowledge makes it sound like no one knows what’s going on, and creates opportunities for people who present as skeptics.” Science itself isn’t free from that dynamic, either. Through flawed mechanisms like the Nobel Prize, the scientific world elevates individuals for work that is usually done by teams, and perpetuates the myth of the lone genius. Through attention, the media reward voices that are outspoken but not necessarily correct. Those voices are disproportionately male.
The idea that there are no experts is overly glib. The issue is that modern expertise tends to be deep, but narrow. Even within epidemiology, someone who studies infectious diseases knows more about epidemics than, say, someone who studies nutrition. But pandemics demand both depth and breadth of expertise. To work out if widespread testing is crucial for controlling the pandemic, listen to public-health experts; to work out if widespread testing is possible, listen to supply-chain experts. To determine if antibody tests can tell people if they’re immune to the coronavirus, listen to immunologists; to determine if such testing is actually a good idea, listen to ethicists, anthropologists, and historians of science. No one knows it all, and those who claim to should not be trusted.
In a pandemic, the strongest attractor of trust shouldn’t be confidence, but the recognition of one’s limits, the tendency to point at expertise beyond one’s own, and the willingness to work as part of a whole. “One signature a lot of these armchair epidemiologists have is a grand solution to everything,” Bergstrom says. “Usually we only see that coming from enormous research teams from the best schools, or someone’s basement.”
V. The Messaging
In the early months of the pandemic, while the coronavirus blazed through China, even veteran disease experts seemed to misjudge the odds that the epidemic would become a full-blown pandemic. On January 26, Fauci himself said the virus posed a “very, very low risk to the United States” and was a concern for public-health officials, but not the public. Many journalists offered similar reassurances, and frequently compared the coronavirus threat with the allegedly greater danger of flu.
Some officials may have been motivated to avoid disproportionate panic, of the kind that gripped the U.S. during the Ebola outbreak of 2014. The instinct to be calm and measured is laudable—until it isn’t. “Alarmism is equated with misinformation, and a lot of it is misinformation. But when you do have something coming, no one feels empowered to say: ‘This one isn’t alarmism,’” Tufekci, the sociologist, says. “There’s a cultural script that we play, and when the script changes, it takes time to shift to a new one.”
Social distance and empty spaces: UK life under coronavirus lockdown (Photos)
Following the rapid spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the world in 2020, the U.K. responded by implementing a series of stringent measures from mid-March onwards. Three days after ordering schools across the country to close indefinitely, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced strict social distancing measures on March 23, which were extended a further three weeks on April 16. These include a total ban on public gatherings of more than two people, the prohibition of travel other than for essential work and medical reasons, and that people are not to leave their homes other than to carry out one form of exercise daily.
As the nationwide lockdown continues amid rising spring temperatures across the U.K., we look at daily life around the country in pictures.
(Above) A young girl looks on while an employee at Park Lane Stables walks pony Wizz in Teddington, England on April 22 during a scheme called "tiny pony at your window", whereby Wizz is brought to the homes of residents under coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.
A woman takes part in an online yoga lesson in her kitchen in London, England on April 30.
Amateur boxer Ellis Trowbridge trains at his home whilst on lockdown in Worcester Park, England on April 26.
A runner exercises on the seafront at Goring-by-Sea on the south coast of England on April 26.
A member of mosque staff prays in the otherwise empty Noor Ul Islam mosque on the day before Ramadan commences, in Manchester, England on April 24. The mosque, like all religious venues, has been closed to worshippers during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A restaurant worker poses for a portrait at a take-away window in Whitechapel in east London, England on April 18.
A street artist is pictured while performing Shakespeare and juggling up a ladder to an empty Covent Garden, which is usually heaving with tourists and shoppers, in London, England on April 16. His act is recorded for World Buskers United, a 24 hour stream of buskers, as the U.K. continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
A stall holder is pictured in a protective face mask in Brixton Market in south London, England on April 16.
A gull flies over a deserted Millennium Bridge near to St Paul's Cathedral in London, England on April 13.
South African Anglican priest and Dean of Manchester, the Very Reverend Rogers Govender, delivers his Easter Sunday prayer and sermon from his study in Manchester Cathedral's Deanery in north-west England on April 12. The Dean's sermon was broadcast to the Cathedral's parishioners online.
A near deserted beach and promenade is pictured from a drone as people heed the official advice and stay home on Easter Sunday, traditionally a very busy weekend for day trippers and holiday makers in Blackpool, England on April 12.
A jogger stops to take a photograph at sunrise on an otherwise empty London Bridge, usually thronged with city workers, in London, England on April 10.
An elderly couple sit in the sunshine on the Hoe promenade overlooking the sea in Plymouth, England on April 8.
A man tends to his allotment while following government guidelines on social distancing and time restrictions in Saltburn by the Sea, England on April 8.
A young girl paints a picture of herself on the school window as children of key workers take part in school activities at Oldfield Brow Primary School in Altrincham, England on April 8. Some schools are still open to cater for the children of key workers, such as NHS staff, and vulnerable pupils, such as those looked after by local authorities.
A Portrait of Chef Marcus Oliveira after preparing food to feed to 1500 vulnerable families at Bergen House restaurant in Newington Green in London, England on April 8. 'A Plate for London' are a non-profit group trying to raise £50,000 to feed Londoners in need by getting out-of-work chefs back in the kitchen, repurposing restaurants that have been forced to close down, so they can produce nutritious meals for people in need across the city.
The Reverend Stuart Elliott blesses the new fire as part of his Service of New Light for Easter Eve on the shore of Llyn Mymbyr in Snowdonia, Wales on April 8. He has filmed various outdoor ceremonies which will be broadcast online to celebrate Easter. Regarded as a pioneer of outdoor worship, he regularly speaks on ecological issues for the Church in Wales.
People sit on their doorsteps in Islington as the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, in London, England on April 5.
A woman sits in her living room in the village of Hartley Wintney, west of London, England on April 5, watching Queen Elizabeth II deliver a special address to the U.K. and the Commonwealth recorded at Windsor Castle amid the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and U.K. lockdown.
James Campbell, 31, runs a 26.2-mile (42.2 km) marathon course in his garden in Cheltenham, England during the nationwide lockdown on April 1.
A member of the public takes a photo of the city skyline from the viewing point in Primrose Hill in London, England as the U.K. continues it's lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on March 28.
A Morrisons supermarket delivery van delivers to a house in Weymouth, England on March 27.
The arches leading to Manchester Central Library are empty as people stay home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, in Manchester, England on March 26.
A man sits on a bus as people continue to socially distance themselves amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in Edinburgh, Scotland on March 26.
A volunteer hands out food to people in need at a popup shop serving as a food bank at St Margaret's Church in Leytonstone amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in east London, England on March 26.
Members of the public enjoy the sunset on Brighton beach in Brighton, England on March 25.
A cyclist rests on an empty Westminster Bridge in London, England on March 25.
A general view of Whitmore Bay at Barry Island in Barry, Wales on March 25.
People kayak on the River Lagan, as the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 25.
A mother helps her son with online lessons, set by his school following the national school closures, in Glasgow, Scotland on March 24.
An empty platform during the morning rush hour at Victoria underground station in London, England on March 24.
A mine Artist is pictured in an empty Leicester Square in London, England on March 24.
A lone cyclist is pictured in Roald Dahl Plass in Cardiff, Wales on March 24.
A man wearing a surgical mask shops for fruit and vegetables in Borough market in London, England on March 24.
A handout photograph released by the UK parliament shows the second reading of the Coronavirus Bill 2019-21 in the House of Commons, with MPs observing social distancing by sitting two metres apart, in London, England on March 23.
London's financial district Canary Wharf is seen as a man exercises in Greenwich Park in London, England on March 23.
A young girl takes part in a live streamed broadcast of PE with fitness trainer Joe Wicks on the first day of the nationwide school closures, in Newcastle, England on March 23.
Pharmacists dealing with the public cover up in masks and suits as protection against coronavirus (COVID-19) in Windsor, England on March 23.
A florist stall pictured at an empty London Bridge station in London, England on March 23.
The City of London is seen virtually deserted on Monday lunch time, usually one of its busiest times, just outside Bank station in London, England on March 23.
Empty chairlifts are pictured at the Glencoe Ski Centre in Glencoe, Scotland on March 22.
The narrative that experts underplayed the risks isn’t fully correct, though. On January 26, Thomas Inglesby of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health tweeted, “We should be planning for the possibility that [the coronavirus] cannot be contained.” He followed with a list of recommendations, several of which—more diagnostics, more protective equipment, transparent communication—the U.S. is still struggling to meet. Four days later, Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, and Luciana Borio, who was part of the National Security Council’s now-dissolved pandemic-preparedness office, similarly urged the government to “act now” to prevent an American epidemic. “I hope the lesson people take from this is not ‘Experts were wrong,’” Tufekci says. “If you followed the right people, they were overwhelmingly right. We just didn’t put them in the right place so we could hear them.”
The World Health Organization has also come under fire for hewing too closely to China’s position in January, and being too slow to confirm that the coronavirus was spreading among people, or to finally describe the situation as a pandemic. These issues should not detract from all that the WHO has done to contain the crisis. Nor should they provide cover for leaders who still failed to prepare their countries after the risks became clearer, and after being exhorted to act “aggressively” and “swiftly” by, well, the WHO. But the agency’s missteps do offer lessons for communicating in an emergency. In mid-January, it sent a now-infamous tweet describing “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus” without clearly discussing other important details, such as a new case in Thailand and warnings from Taiwan and Hong Kong. “They didn’t give the world the tells,” Tufekci says.
[Read: The WHO shouldn’t be a plaything for great powers]
The same could be said of the White House and other U.S. officials who repeatedly assured Americans in January, February, and even March that their risk was low. That might have initially been true, Inglesby says, but officials should have noted that the true extent of the disease was unknown; that there wasn’t a way of measuring it, because tests weren’t in place; that the virus had already spread globally; and that control measures such as airport screening and travel bans have historically been unsuccessful. “The fuller statements take longer to explain, but that’s how it is in outbreaks.” Inglesby says. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and we shouldn’t try to tidy it up.”
In late February, Nancy Messonnier, the respiratory-disease chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, broke ranks and told Americans that community spread of the virus within the U.S. was a question of when, not if. Messonnier urged the nation to prepare for possible school closures, loss of work, “disruption to everyday life that may be severe,” and “the expectation that this could be bad.” The next day, Trump asserted that cases were “going to be down to close to zero.” The day after, CDC Director Robert Redfield reiterated that “the risk is low,” and said that Messonnier could have been more articulate. Shortly after, Redfield said, “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives.” Of late, CDC officials, who were constant authoritative voices during past epidemics, have been mostly silent.
The impulse to be reassuring is understandable, but “the most important thing is to be as accurate as possible,” Inglesby says. “We should give people information so they can do what they think is right. We should tell people what we don’t know and when we’ll know more.” (The WHO is learning: On April 25, after wrongly tweeting that “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from infection,” they offered a longer and more accurate explanation.)
If officials—and journalists—are clear about uncertainties from the start, the public can better hang new information onto an existing framework, and understand when shifting evidence leads to new policy. Otherwise, updates feel confusing. When the CDC suddenly reverses its position on wearing masks, without having previously clarified why the issue was so divisive, it seems like an arbitrary flip-flop. “That’s a dangerous way to communicate,” says Kate Starbird at the University of Washington, who studies how information flows during a crisis. “It contributes to diminishing trust in organizations. And when people don’t have a place they can go for trusted information, it makes them vulnerable to disinformation.”
VI. The Information
During news events like Trump’s impeachment trial, people mostly share information to signal their beliefs, says Renée DiResta of Stanford, who studies how narratives spread online. But in a disaster, people tend to share information “to be useful to their community,” she says. Sharing offers agency. It allows people to collectively make sense of a situation riddled by anxiety and uncertainty. “But when an earthquake happens, you talk to your neighbors and in a few days, you’ve figured out what’s going on,” Starbird says. “For COVID-19, the uncertainty is persistent.”
The pandemic’s length traps people in a liminal space. To clarify their uprooted life and indefinite future, they try to gather as much information as possible—and cannot stop. “We go seeking fresher and fresher information, and end up consuming unvetted misinformation that’s spreading rapidly,” Bergstrom says. Pandemics actually “unfold in slow motion,” he says, and “there’s no event that changes the whole landscape on a dime.” But it feels that way, because of how relentlessly we quest for updates. Historically, people would have struggled to find enough information. Now people struggle because they’re finding too much.
[Read: Trump’s dangerously effective coronavirus propaganda]
It does not help that online information channels are heavily personalized and politicized, governed by algorithms that reward certain and extreme claims over correct but nuanced ones. On Twitter, false information spreads further than true information, and at six times the speed. But “this is not just a problem of the internet,” DiResta says. “For a lot of people, what is true is what the people I’ve chosen to trust in my community say is true.” Those dynamics meant that, at least initially, liberal and conservative Americans had very different understandings of the pandemic. © Getty
As the reality of the pandemic becomes clearer, the partisan gap is rapidly closing. But as time passes, misinformation, which refers to misleading stories that are circulated in good faith, will give way to disinformation—falsehoods deliberately seeded “to leverage the disaster for political power,” Starbird says. Amid the psychological loam of fear and uncertainty, conspiracy theories are germinating like weeds.
The daily briefings from the White House have only exacerbated the confusion. Trump has repeatedly tried to downplay the pandemic and rewrite his role in mishandling it. His playbook is his usual one: Deny responsibility, find a scapegoat, incite a culture war, and bend reality to his will by baldly stating his version of it (even when that version contradicts itself). The list of Trump’s lies about the coronavirus is long and growing, as are their consequences. His promotion of hydroxychloroquine led to shortages of the drug. His false claim that anyone who wants a test can get one sent droves of worried well to already-stretched hospitals.
[Read: The Trump presidency is over]
Several journalists and media critics have urged news networks to stop airing the White House briefings live. That seems extreme, but it’s an extreme time when a presidential briefing forces doctors to clarify that people should not consume bleach. “No matter how many tough questions you ask, it really is not possible to prevent him from spreading bad info that could have very serious health effects,” says Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU. “People think that more determined journalists can solve the problem—and they can’t.”
Rosen also argues that the media’s default rhythm of constant piecemeal updates is ill-suited to covering an event as large as the pandemic. “Journalists still think of their job as producing new content, but if your goal is public understanding of COVID-19, one piece of new content after another doesn’t get you there,” he says. “It requires a lot of background knowledge to understand the updates, and the news system is terrible at [providing that knowledge].” Instead, the staccato pulse of reports merely amplifies the wobbliness of the scientific process, turns incremental bits of evidence into game changers, and intensifies the already-palpable sense of uncertainty that drives people toward misinformation.
If the media won’t change, its consumers might have to. Starbird recommends slowing down and taking a moment to vet new information before sharing it. She herself is spending less time devouring every scrap of pandemic news, and more time with local sources. It’s the equivalent, she says, of “hand-washing for the infodemic.” And it might dispel the illusion that the pandemic can be tracked in real time.
VII. The Numbers
The rapid pace of new information creates the sense that we can accurately monitor the pandemic as it happens. But daily numbers tell a distorted story. As April wears on, case counts suggest that the pandemic is plateauing in parts of the U.S. But it’s hard to know for sure. As my colleagues Robinson Meyer and Alexis Madrigal have reported, 20 percent of Americans who are tested for the coronavirus are still getting positive results. This figure is higher than almost every other developed country and has held steady over time. It suggests that the U.S. is still mostly testing people who are very likely to be infected and is still missing the majority of cases. If so, cases could have leveled off because the U.S. has maxed out its ability to find infected people.
This concern complicates the government’s plan to start reopening the country after a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.” If the case number is illusory, this criterion is meaningless. “I’d want to know that we’re doing enough testing to be confident that those numbers really are stabilizing,” says Dean, the University of Florida statistician. “I’m still not convinced we’re in a good place.”
When looking at case counts, remember this: Those numbers do not show how many people have been infected on any given day. They reflect the number of tests that were done (which is still insufficient), the lag in reporting results from those tests (which can be long), and the proportion of tests that are incorrectly negative (which seems high). Likewise, daily death counts do not offer a real-time glimpse at the virus’s toll. Because of delays in reporting, they tend to be lower on weekends.
Deaths are hard to tally in general, and the process differs among diseases. The CDC estimates that flu kills 24,000 to 62,000 Americans every year, a number that seems superficially similar to the 58,000 COVID-19 deaths thus far. That comparison is misleading. COVID-19 deaths are counted based either on a positive diagnostic test for the coronavirus or on clinical judgment. Flu deaths are estimated through a model that looks at hospitalizations and death certificates, and accounts for the possibility that many deaths are due to flu but aren’t coded as such. If flu deaths were counted like COVID-19 deaths, the number would be substantially lower. This doesn’t mean we’re overestimating the flu. It does mean we are probably underestimating COVID-19.
The means of gathering data always complicate the interpretation of those data. Consider the reports that the coronavirus can “reactivate” in recovered patients, or that people can become “reinfected.” This really means that patients are testing positive for the virus after having tested negative. But that might have nothing to do with the virus, and everything to do with the test. Diagnostic tests for COVID-19 produce a lot of false negatives, incorrectly telling 15 to 30 percent of infected people that they’re in the clear. And even if these tests were better, the viral levels of a recovering patient would eventually fall below their threshold of accuracy. When such patients are sequentially tested, some will toggle between negative and positive results, creating the appearance of reinfection.
False positives are a problem, too. Many companies and countries have pinned their hopes on antibody tests, which purportedly show whether someone has been infected by the coronavirus. One such test claims to correctly identify people with those antibodies 93.8 percent of the time. By contrast, it identifies phantom antibodies in 4.4 percent of people who don’t have them. That false-positive rate sounds acceptably low. It’s not. Let’s assume 5 percent of the U.S. has been infected so far. Among 1,000 people, the test would correctly identify antibodies in 47 of the 50 people who had them. But it would also wrongly spot antibodies in 42 of the 950 people without them. The number of true positives and false positives would be almost equal. In this scenario, if you were told you had coronavirus antibodies, your odds of actually having them would be little better than a coin toss.
[Read: No testing, no treatment, no herd immunity, no easy way out]
None of this means that all bets are off and the pandemic is unquantifiable. The case count might be wrong, but it’s almost certainly too low rather than too high, and it’s more likely off by a factor of 10 than 100. The numbers still matter; they’re just messy and hard to interpret, especially in the moment. On my phone, I can see weather patterns, the position of every plane in the sky, and the number of people currently reading this article, all in real time. But I cannot get the same immediate information about the pandemic. The numbers I see say as much about the tools researchers are using as the quantities they are measuring. “I think people underestimate how difficult it is to measure things,” Dean says. “For us who work in public health, measuring things is, like, 80 percent of the problem.”
If measuring the present is hard, predicting the future is even harder. The mathematical models that have guided the world’s pandemic responses have been often portrayed as crystal balls. That is not their purpose. They instead describe a range of possibilities, and help scientists and policy makers to simulate what might happen pending different courses of action. Models reveal many possible fates, and allow us to choose one. And while distant projections are necessarily blurry, the path ahead is not unknowable. “The long-term is like modeling the trajectory of a falling leaf, but the short-term is like modeling a falling bowling ball,” says Dylan Morris, an infectious-disease modeler at Princeton. Uncertainties about the year ahead shouldn’t cloud “how devastatingly and terrifyingly certain we can be” about the immediate consequences if the pandemic isn’t controlled, he adds.
VIII. The Narrative
In the final second of December 31, 1999, clocks ticked into a new millennium, and … not much happened. The infamous Y2K bug, a quirk of computer code that was predicted to cause global chaos, did very little. Twenty years later, Y2K is almost synonymous with overreaction—a funny moment when humanity freaked out over nothing. But it wasn’t nothing. It actually was a serious problem, which never fully materialized because a lot of people worked very hard to prevent it. “There are two lessons one can learn from an averted disaster,” Tufekci says. “One is: That was exaggerated. The other is: That was close.”
Last month, a team at Imperial College London released a model that said the coronavirus pandemic could kill 2.2 million Americans if left unchecked. So it was checked. Governors and mayors closed businesses and schools, banned large gatherings, and issued stay-at-home orders. These social-distancing measures were rolled out erratically and unevenly, but they seem to be working. The death toll is still climbing, but seems unlikely to hit the worst-case 2.2 million ceiling. That was close. Or, as some pundits are already claiming, that was exaggerated.
The coronavirus is not unlike the Y2K bug—a real but invisible risk. When a hurricane or an earthquake hits, the danger is evident, the risk self-explanatory, and the aftermath visible. It is obvious when to take shelter, and when it’s safe to come out. But viruses lie below the threshold of the senses. Neither peril nor safety is clear. Whenever I go outside for a brief (masked) walk, I reel from cognitive dissonance as I wander a world that has been irrevocably altered but that looks much the same. I can still read accounts of people less lucky—those who have lost, and those who have been lost. But I cannot read about the losses that never occurred, because they were averted. Prevention may be better than cure, but it is also less visceral.
The coronavirus not only co-opts our cells, but exploits our cognitive biases. Humans construct stories to wrangle meaning from uncertainty and purpose from chaos. We crave simple narratives, but the pandemic offers none. The facile dichotomy between saving either lives or the economy belies the broad agreement between epidemiologists and economists that the U.S. shouldn’t reopen prematurely. The lionization of health-care workers and grocery-store employees ignores the risks they are being asked to shoulder and the protective equipment they aren’t being given. The rise of small anti-lockdown protests overlooks the fact that most Republicans and Democrats agree that social distancing should continue “for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus.”
[Read: How the pandemic will end]
And the desire to name an antagonist, be it the Chinese Communist Party or Donald Trump, disregards the many aspects of 21st-century life that made the pandemic possible: humanity’s relentless expansion into wild spaces; soaring levels of air travel; chronic underfunding of public health; a just-in-time economy that runs on fragile supply chains; health-care systems that yoke medical care to employment; social networks that rapidly spread misinformation; the devaluation of expertise; the marginalization of the elderly; and centuries of structural racism that impoverished the health of minorities and indigenous groups. It may be easier to believe that the coronavirus was deliberately unleashed than to accept the harsher truth that we built a world that was prone to it, but not ready for it.
In the classic hero’s journey—the archetypal plot structure of myths and movies—the protagonist reluctantly departs from normal life, enters the unknown, endures successive trials, and eventually returns home, having been transformed. If such a character exists in the coronavirus story, it is not an individual, but the entire modern world. The end of its journey and the nature of its final transformation will arise from our collective imagination and action. And they, like so much else about this moment, are still uncertain.
What Life Is Like Inside the World's Longest Lockdown .
What Life Is Like Inside the World's Longest LockdownAt the start of the year, before the coronavirus hit, the Indian government had been slowly lifting the restrictions on movement and communication that it had imposed in August 2019, when it stripped Kashmir’s long-held constitutional autonomy and imposed direct rule from Delhi. Here in India’s only Muslim-majority territory, residents were confined to their homes by soldiers patrolling the streets of the Kashmir Valley. The Hindu nationalist government in Delhi also cut phone lines and Internet connections.