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Current Events from a Science Perspective

Yet more about COVID – 19

Coronavirus: The image at the right is that of a coronavirus. They are a type of virus which causes common colds, but can also cause more serious diseases such as SARS, MERS, or COVID – 19. Of course you can’t see it as a virus is only about 0.025 µm in diameter, far smaller than the human eye can see even with the best optical microscope. In comparison, a fine human hair is about 40 µm in diameter. When people talk, cough, or sneeze they eject small droplets which vary greatly in size but the average is about 1 µm. Each small droplets can hold hundreds of thousands of viruses and the droplets can persist in the air for several hours.

This image is that of a coronavirus as taken by an electron microscope. The virus gets its name from the small structures on the surface which look like crowns. When the virus encounters a human cell, the crown attaches to the cell’s surface and injects its own RNA into the cell, which then takes over the cell mechanisms and produces copies of the virus. They eventually cause the cell to burst which can release up to 50,000 new viruses.

COVID-19 Virus: this is a new virus in humans which entered the population for the first time late last year. The virus cannot live long outside a human host, and the main vector for its transmission is those who travel to and from infected areas. We have little natural immunity to the virus and there is no proven treatment or vaccine for the virus. About 97% of those infected recover within 14 days, but particularly severe cases must be put on a ventilator to keep the patient breathing until the virus runs its course. The virus is most lethal for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Symptoms: The symptoms of the virus are headaches, fever, pink itchy eyes, coughs, sneezes, sore throat, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, inflamed toes, and loss of smell or taste. The incubation period after exposure is from 5 to 14 days. People exposed may transmit the virus to others before they experience symptoms. However, some people with the virus may never have symptoms, yet still be able to transmit the virus to others.

Transmission: The virus is transmitted by direct contact between individuals from small droplets ejected when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. The social distance of 6 feet is usually enough to prevent the virus being transmitted directly. However, small droplets from coughs or sneezes may travel much further than 6 feet and may contain hundreds of thousands of viruses. The droplets may persist in the air for several hours. They eventually settle on surfaces where the virus may live for up to several days, depending on the type of surface. For example, the virus is found to exist for a day on cardboard and up to three days on tile or plastic.

Infection: The virus infects a person by entering through their eyes, nose, or mouth. It may happen from being near an infected person, particularly if they are coughing or sneezing. Small droplets that settle on surfaces are transferred when you touch the surface and then it may infect you when you touch your face. Once on your hands, you will transfer the virus to everything else you touch until you wash your hands or kill the virus with hand sanitizer.

Precautions: The best precautions aim to keep the virus from being transmitted from person to person. From what we know about the virus, the following guidelines have been developed to keep it from spreading:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay home as much as possible, particularly if you may be sick.
• Keep a social distance of at least 6 feet from other people when you are in public.
• Avoid touching surfaces in public places. Assume anything you touch may be contaminated.
• Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your face, particularly rubbing your eyes.
• Wear a mask when in public, primarily to keep you from infecting other people. Remember you may spread the virus even though you have no symptoms.
• Avoid traveling to and from areas which have high levels of infection. Human movement is the main vector for spread of the virus.
• Avoid gatherings, particularly those which have more than 10 people.

The Future: Most states have issued orders based on the precautions above in order to keep their citizens safe. However, if the orders remain in place too long they will hurt the economy, but if they are relaxed too soon we may experience a second round of the virus. This would prolong the pandemic and hurt businesses even more. Most states, sometimes under political pressure, are relaxing the guidelines stepwise in order to allow businesses to open while keeping an eye on the of infection rate.

No matter what your state orders, it would be a good idea to follow the precautions above until the OK is given by healthcare professionals. The decision up is up to you. Please follow the guidelines to keep yourself and others safe.

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