If you are just joining us here on social media, there is a new virus in town. By “town,” I mean human-inhabited Earth. At this point, there is sustained transmission of the virus taking place in multiple countries and the outbreak of this disease, known as COVID-19 and caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, is a pandemic in everything but name.
SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of the original SARS coronavirus that was one of the first major emerging pathogens of the 21st century. The original strain was successfully contained, and for some reason most of society seems to have assumed SARS was canceled.
Unfortunately, the organism in which SARS coronaviruses originated, likely bats, continued to play host to these pathogens, and the contact of individuals in China with bats and other bat-adjacent mammals also continued. Under those conditions, a second spillover event occurred.
In this instance, a slightly different strain emerged, which appears to have traded the severe pathogenicity (a pathogen’s disease-causing capacity) of SARS-CoV-1 for a milder manifestation of disease. COVID-19 has a case-fatality rate somewhere that is thought to be below 2%, while for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-1, the case fatality rate was found to be much higher.
At this point, over 80,000 people globally have become ill with the disease. Of these, about 3,000 have died. I know that exact numbers are available, but I will not be providing them because they will naturally be moving targets. One thing of which we can be certain in the early stages of an emerging disease is that there will be bad information and essentially anything that is written will be out of date by the time it reaches its audience. The emergence of a new pathogen is like any other birthing process; it is fraught with risk, it is messy, and it can be chaotic.
Many people around the world are quite concerned about this virus. This means that there is a lot of fear and misinformation flying around, and it is unfortunate that the public official response so far around the world has been extremely opaque.
This leaves it up to individual scientists to inform the public about the nature of the disease. I am planning to offer my best efforts here. This will be a collaborative process. I will be writing several articles walking through key questions about SARS-CoV-2, and the COVID-19 disease that it causes. I anticipate hearty and robust responses from colleagues and interested members of the public as we work to understand this disease together and bring light into the darkness.
This article will form a central hub, and I will continue to update it with new links as I write additional pieces; this will allow people who are not Medium members to continue to follow the work, though I would strongly encourage joining Medium and following me to make sure you get everything as soon as it is written. Please feel free to provide suggestions regarding potential topic areas in the responses to this piece; I will keep track of them.
This is an interesting, frightening, and historic time to be alive. We will navigate it together, but if there is one thing that I can say, it’s a direct quote from one of history’s great thinkers:
Be safe out there, everyone.
LIST OF LINKS
Use the right words to show the seriousness of COVID-19: https://medium.com/@JohnSkylar/use-the-right-words-to-show-the-seriousness-of-covid-19-1271610d01c3
The big thing I got wrong about COVID-19: https://medium.com/@JohnSkylar/the-big-thing-i-got-wrong-about-covid-19-3f492edbf6f
What I learned spending my life studying disease and pandemics: https://medium.com/@JohnSkylar/i-have-spent-my-whole-life-preparing-for-covid-19-here-is-what-i-have-learned-dbf820a8c0c1
Explainer on social distancing for Zocdoc’s The Paper Gown: https://thepapergown.zocdoc.com/what-to-know-about-social-distancing/