We don’t really know when the novel coronavirus first began infecting people. But as we turn a page on our calendars into June, it is fair to say that coronavirus has been with us now for a full six months.
At first, it had no name or true identity. Early in January, news reports referred to strange and threatening symptoms that had sickened dozens of people in a large Chinese city with which many people in the world were probably not familiar. After half a year, that large metropolis, Wuhan, is well-known, as is the coronavirus and the illness it causes, Covid-19.
In that time, many reporters and editors on the health and science desk at The Bloomgist have shifted our journalistic focus as we have sought to tell the story of the coronavirus pandemic. While much remains unknown and mysterious after six months, there are some things we’re pretty sure of. These are some of those insights.
We’ll have to live with this for a long time.
Rainy season is almost here, states are reopening and new coronavirus cases are declining or, at least, holding steady in many parts of Nigeria. At least 100 scientific teams around the world are racing to develop a vaccine.
That’s about it for the good news.
The virus has shown no sign of going away: We will be in this pandemic era for the long haul, likely a year or more. The masks, the social distancing, the fretful hand-washing, the aching withdrawal from friends and family — those steps are still the best hope of staying well, and will be for some time to come.
“This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away,” Dr. Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, warned last month. Some scientists think that the longer we live with the virus, the milder its effects will become, but that remains to be seen.
Predictions that millions of doses of a vaccine may be available by the end of this year may be too rosy. No vaccine has ever been created that fast.
Subscribe to smartly curated newsletters from The Bloomgist
The disease would be less frightening if there were a treatment that could cure it or, at least, prevent severe illness. But there is not. Remdesivir, the eagerly awaited antiviral drug? “Modest” benefit is the highest mark experts give it.
Which brings us back to masks and social distancing, which have come to feel quite antisocial. If only we could go back to life the way it used to be.
The bottom line: Wear a mask, keep your distance. When the time comes in the fall, get a flu shot, to protect yourself from one respiratory disease you can avoid and to help keep emergency rooms and urgent care from being overwhelmed. Hope for a treatment, a cure, a vaccine. Be patient. We have to pace ourselves. If there’s such a thing as a disease marathon, this is it.
You should be wearing a mask.
By Knvul Sheikh
The debate over whether people should wear face masks to control coronavirus transmission has been settled. Although public health authorities gave confusing and often contradictory advice in the early months of the pandemic, most experts now agree that if everyone wears a mask, individuals protect one another.
Researchers know that even simple masks can effectively stop droplets spewing from an infected wearer’s nose or mouth. In a study published in April in Nature, scientists showed that when people who are infected with influenza, rhinovirus or a mild cold-causing coronavirus wore a mask, it blocked nearly 100 percent of the viral droplets they exhaled, as well as some tiny aerosol particles.
Still, mask wearing remains uneven in many parts of Africa. But governments and businesses are beginning to require, or at least recommend, that masks be worn in many public settings.
Though the Nigeria government as well as African governments are recommending face masks, but The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) have outlined who should wear face masks. Though they don’t discourage face masks made out of clothing materials, but they advice people to wear MEDICAL face masks.
Donning a face covering is also likely to prevent you from touching your face, which is another way the coronavirus can be transmitted from contaminated surfaces to unsuspecting individuals. And when combined with hand washing and other protective measures, such as social distancing, masks help reduce the transmission of disease, Dr. Atmar said.
Nigerian public health infrastructure need to be upgraded.
By Mike Ikenwa
When it comes fighting disease outbreak, Nigeria has come out to be one of the countries with the best strategies in fighting and and containing it. Its strategies in kicking Ebola out of the country — almost immediately it arrived — has been a course of study and has been replicated by other countries including the US t fight the disease. But that strategies seem not to be working in the fight against the coronavirus.
Almost all the front-line troops — the contact tracers, the laboratory technicians, the epidemiologists, the staff in state and federeal hospitals — are paid by state and local health departments whose budgets have shriveled for years. These soldiers are led by 36 commanders, in the form of governors, and with that many in charge, it is amazing that any response moves forward.
The rest of the response is in the hands of over 150 million citizens who have been urged to report any suspected case of the virus and call the NCDC as soon as they suspect someone or feel any of the symptoms. This system has not real been working — at least as expected, as many people are afraid of the process and submitting themselves to what they refer to as inhumane treatment of patience by the officials who ‘abandon’ them at the isolation centers. In fact, there are confirmed cases where patience run away from hospitals after testing positive for the disease.
As war does to defeated nations, pandemics expose the weaknesses of Nigerian medical systems. Our patchwork and uncoordinated response has produced more than 200 deaths; surely we can do better.
Responding to the virus is extraordinarily expensive.
By Reed Abelson
The federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and promised to spend more than $2 trillion to address the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 2, Nigeria is requested $6.9bn from multilateral lenders to combat the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Africa’s biggest economy, the finance minister said.
Nigeria, whose revenues have tumbled with the fall in oil prices, asked for $3.4bn from the International Monetary Fund, $2.5bn from the World Bank and $1bn from the African Development Bank, said Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning Zainab Ahmed.
The vast majority of this funds has been spent on purchasing ventilators, testing kits, paying health workers and some of the funds has also been budgeted to implementing the insurance of healthcare workers who are working at the front line to contain the disease.
Lagos State government, an epicenter of the outbreak in Nigeria said on May 21 it had so far spent of N40,000 to N50,000 for each of the 16,000 COVID-19 tests conducted by the state. It, therefore, said it had spent averagely about N800 million on testing alone.
The state’s Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, stated this while giving updates on state government’s efforts to curb and manage Coronavirus, ignoring the question on how much the state government is spending averagely to treat a COVID-19 patient.
Many experts say more funding is needed, but there is ample controversy over how the money already allocated is being spent and which entities are getting funds.
We have a long way to go to fix virus testing.
By Katie Thomas
The landscape for testing looks far better than it did in the early days of the outbreak, when Nigeria was faced with the challenges of getting testing kits and ventilators, which led to the reason the Federal government ’emberrassingly’ sent a tweet to Elun Musk, asking for ventilators.
Today, a data from NCDC shows that Nigeria has conducted only 71,336, a very poor number for a very busy and populated country as Nigeria.
The range of tests available is also expanding across African countries. Tests that once required a health care worker to insert a swab through the nose to the back of the throat can now be done with a swipe inside the nose, or by spitting into a cup.
But despite this progress, the Nigeria and the rest of Africa still has a long way to go. Public health experts say that anywhere from 900,000 tests to millions a day will be needed to screen hospital patients, nursing home residents and employees returning to work.
We can’t count on herd immunity to keep us healthy.
By Mike Ikenwa
The idea is simplicity itself: If enough of the population has antibodies to the novel coronavirus, the virus will hit too many dead ends to continue infecting people. That is herd immunity.
That is the great hope for a vaccine. But it may not happen, even if a vaccine becomes available, as experience with flu vaccines shows.
Malaria and Lassa fever have spread, even after enough people in a community have been vaccinated with more residence having access to over-the-counter malaria drugs, it still has not prevented the spread of both the diseases. That’s because the antibodies that protect people against viruses infecting mucosal surfaces like the lining of the nose tend to be short-lived.
Vaccines against respiratory diseases are, at best, modestly effective, agreed Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan,
Since the coronavirus usually starts by infecting the respiratory system, Dr. Monto suspects that a Covid-19 vaccine would have a similar effect to a flu vaccine — it will reduce the incidence of the disease and make it less severe on average, but it will not make Covid-19 go away.
He would like the virus to disappear, of course, but a vaccine that reduces the disease’s spread and severity is a lot better than nothing.
“As an older person, what I want is not to end up on a respirator,” Dr. Monto said.
The virus produces more symptoms than expected.
By Roni Caryn Rabin
Covid-19 is a viral respiratory illness. Many early descriptions of symptoms focused on patients being short of breath and eventually being placed on ventilators. But the virus does not confine its assault to the lungs, and doctors have identified a number of symptoms and syndromes associated with it.
In some patients, the virus propels the immune system into overdrive, causing the lungs to fill with fluid and damaging multiple organs, including the brain, heart, kidneys and liver.
The first symptoms of an infection are usually a cough and shortness of breath. But in April the C.D.C. added to the list of early signs sore throat, fever, chills and muscle aches. Gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea and nausea, has also been observed.
Another telltale sign of infection may be a sudden, profound diminution of one’s sense of smell and taste. Teenagers and young adults in some cases have developed painful red and purple lesions on the fingers and toes, but few other serious symptoms.
Severe disease leads to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. The blood oxygen levels plummet, and patients may get supplemental oxygen or be placed on a machine, called a ventilator, to help them breathe.
But even without lung impairment, the disease can cause injury to the kidneys, heart or liver. Critically ill patients are prone to developing dangerous blood clots in the legs and the lungs. In rare cases, the disease triggers ischemic strokes that block the arteries supplying blood to the brain, or brain impairments, such as altered mental status or encephalopathy.
Death can result from heart failure, kidney failure, multiple organ failure, respiratory distress or shock.
We can worry a bit less about infection from surfaces.
By Apoorva Mandavilli
The news, when it was reported, added a frightening twist to the threat from the coronavirus: A study in March in The New England Journal of Medicine found that under laboratory conditions, the virus can survive for up to three days on some surfaces, such as plastic and steel, and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
Other studies reported finding the virus on air vents in hospital rooms and on computer mice, sickbed handrails and doorknobs.
Many people grew worried that by touching a surface that had been covered in droplets by an infected person, and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes, they then would contract the virus.
You should still wear a mask, avoid touching your face in public and keep washing your hands. But none of these studies tested for live virus, only for traces of its genetic material. Other scientists commenting on these studies said virus on these surfaces might degrade more quickly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said since March that contaminated surfaces are “not thought to be the main way” the virus spreads.
The main driver of infection is thought to be directly inhaling droplets released when an infected person sneezes, coughs, sings or talks.
We can’t count on hot weather to defeat the virus.
By James Gorman
The hot and humid weather will not stop the pandemic. More sunlight and humidity may slow down its spread, but we probably won’t know by how much. Other factors, like reduced travel, increased personal distance, closed schools, canceled gatherings and mask-wearing, have effects that would outweigh the influence of the weather.
A few things are known about conditions that do or do not favor the virus. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight help destroy the virus on surfaces and some studies have shown a small effect from humidity. It seems to last longest on hard surfaces like plastic and metal. It won’t survive in pool or lake or seawater. Wind disperses it. Risk of transmission is lower outdoors than indoors.
A wooden bench under a bright sun at a breezy beach is a better bet than a metal and plastic recliner on the shady side of the pool. But if someone infected sits near you and coughs, or talks a lot or sings, it doesn’t really matter where you’re sitting and how nice a day it is.
“The virus doesn’t need favorable conditions,” said Peter Juni, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto. It has a world population with no immunity waiting to be infected. Bring on the sun; the novel coronavirus will survive.
Air conditioning may blow the virus right to your restaurant table.