Archive for July, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemia New “Normal”: Now and Then

Monday, July 20th, 2020

Image Source: World Economic Forum, 2020

On my last blog post I wrote about the misinformation that we are having to deal with in a daily basis with the coronavirus pandemia (see my blog post here). I also discussed how this misinformation is negatively affecting our society and the individuals, especially people that are not very careful in selecting trustful media and/or social media sources to gather information. This blog post will be more “positive” since I will discuss something that I see people asking everywhere: what will be the new “normal” after the pandemia? I mean, when things get in a stage that we can be more comfortable in going out and there is a vaccine that is efficient enough in the future (hopefully!). Well, there are five specific things happening right now that we could use as examples on how things will be after the pandemia. Actually, these factors have been accelerated by the pandemia since all of them were already happening “organically” in a slower fashion. I will try to discuss and show examples on how these areas have been affected and will be completely changed forever. First, let’s talk about remote work or working from home; something that most people in countries with “lockdown” have been currently doing. I am one of these people. Actually, I have been working remotely for more than a decade now. Remote work came to stay. Some companies before the pandemia were already using the option of “working from home” for one day a week or more, however from now on I believe that this will became more of a rule than an exception. I have examples of working remotely with Teams of people in South America, Europe, Asia and other places. The technology and faster broadband internet are already here. This came to stay, however how people that needs to go to an office or a laboratory or even a production line of a factory to work will do in the near future is still a question mark. Second, in the same way remote work came to stay, telehealth and digital healthcare solutions are expanding. I see people having videocalls with their doctors, psychiatrists, family doctors, etc. Solutions and technologies that are facilitating this connection between the patients and their healthcare professional also came to stay. Of course, that a lot of things need to evolve, and the patient privacy is still an issue, but this will be the new “normal” in medicine. Third, the impact of this pandemia on education (high school and college/university levels): EdTech (or virtual education) and education online is becoming more widespread now. Before, it was just a small percentage of the schools and colleges/universities that offered online courses. Now, all students from the globe are facing a different way of getting classes via internet. This trend was already in place by companies such as edX, Coursera, Udemy, the Khan Academy, etc. During and after this pandemia, online education has become more widespread as the technology evolves and the students get more used to it. I do courses online since 2015 and I really like it; I do not see any problem here. I think that the old-fashioned “medieval” education “on-site” is gone forever. Fourth, is the e-commerce sector and how big players such as Amazon are monopolizing it and will dominate (check this article entitled: “How the coronavirus and retail closures are accelerating the rise of Amazon”). Well, commerce in general has been affected by the pandemia and now we see all the companies (small, midsize and big ones) improving their websites, apps and other ways for online sales. Since nobody is able to go to the stores, the products have to come to us. Well, this trend started more than 20 years ago and now I believe it will become something “normal”. Unfortunately, owners of stores and commerce that are or were not prepared to move their sales online will be disappearing. That is a fact. Fifth and last, I think the bigger impact now and after the pandemia will be on the way we relate to each other. The consequences of social distancing will not disappear soon. One interesting personal example is that I went to a store the other day to buy groceries (of course with a mask and hand sanitizer in my pocket) and what I felt and saw was every single person getting far away from me and the other people around. When asking questions to people that worked in that specific place, I saw fear in their eyes and trembling hands when getting “closer” to others. Social distancing came to stay for a while, and it will affect even more the way we lived before – connected all the time with our mobile devices in our hands and not socializing at all. In my opinion, this will really affect social interactions between people for some time, I would say years if not forever. These are some of my perspectives on the new “normal” that we are facing and will face from now on. The world will never be the same, that is for sure. A “brave” new world and ways to deal with people came to stay. Let’s just hope that people will become more distant socially but closer in a general perspective, aware of the human species fragility, the nature around us and our planet. We need to take really good care of our “home”; and by “home” I am referring to the globe. The virus will be controlled at some point. However, how we as humans will live after that will change completely.

Coronavirus Pandemia: Facts and “Fiction”

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

In this blog post I will discuss about the current situation of the coronavirus pandemia and how misinformation and the so-called “fake news” is really a problem for our societies and the world in general. For those who follow my posts and read them, last month I wrote about a cousin I’ve lost in the North of Brazil for this disease (check the blog post here). My family members and his family like several other families in the world are still overcoming the sadness and trying to understand what is going on. The questions I currently see are: Why? How? When we will get a ‘cure”, an efficient treatment and/or a vaccine? The fact is that there is no “magic bullet” yet, especially when the pandemia is in the current stage. Today, the latest numbers are that at least 10.7 Million people were infected worldwide and at least 515,000 people died of complications of the coronavirus infection (for more information check the trustful website from the John’s Hopkin’s University here). Well, first of all, as a scientist I get lots of questions about the virus, how it infects people and mainly why it kills people in a current rate of 5-10% depending on the place, country and/or region. First of all, what kills is not the virus itself: the viral infection in the respiratory tract, especially the lungs (other organs are infected too, it has been already reported) causes a hyper-reaction from the immune system of the person that destroys the lung cells and open the “doors” to bacterial infections such as the one that causes pneumonia. Thus, what kills is the “auto-immune” response to the virus and not the viral agent COVID19. In this context, the age, sex, health, presence of a complex disease (diabetes, cancer, etc) will be important factors that will affect morbidity. In addition, since everyone is genetically different, even in immune response to viruses, this is probably why we see young people dying, not just elderlies. One thing is for sure: my generation and probably the one before me (my parents) and the next ones never lived through a situation like this. That is why now more than ever, the use of correct and trustful information are very important. Let’s get to 3 main important points that I would like to explore as facts and fiction: 1) Current tests that are being advertised everywhere. There are several types of tests that work very differently. The most common and fast is to check for antibodies against the virus or against proteins of the virus in the plasma of people, that is a fact. However, testing negative doesn’t mean that you are free to go outside without a mask and live like nothing is happening. I’ve had a very interesting personal experience last week since I went to the pharmacy where these “fast” tests are being offered and people have to pay (not cheap by the way…). When I was in the line waiting to get my medication, a lady got a negative result for the test and jumped saying to the pharmacist: “so now I am free and can go outside without a mask!”. The pharmacist very gently told her: “Well, please understand that having a negative result for this test doesn’t mean that you could get the virus or that you’ve already got it and have no antibodies against it”. The lady turned to him very angry and said; “Then why I am doing this test and paying for it!”. This is the main problem right now: people do not understand that the tests are not a way of “getting out and living free”. The other tests that are more specific for the virus such as the “famous” PCR are more expensive and laborious. Not a lot of people can afford to do it. The summary in this first example is that I do not trust any of these tests since we are still understanding how the virus works. So why bother?; 2) Treatments for the virus. Fictions: there is no “magic bullet” yet like I’ve wrote above and the treatments are much more complex than “advertised”. It is and will be a combination of drugs to block the hyper-immune reaction, block the virus and also antibiotics for the worst phase when people get pneumonia and/or other bacterial infections. So, please people do not believe any of these “miracle drugs” being advertised everywhere, especially in social media and last 3) the vaccine: well there are at least 140 vaccines in several stages of tests (please check this article from “The Guardian” for more information) and just 2 of them are in the latest phases of the clinical trials. There is another problem here with facts x fiction: a vaccine against a virus is not easy to develop. For example, we still do not have an efficient vaccine against HIV till this day (and HIV is an RNA virus such as the coronavirus; the only difference is the cells they infect and the way they spread). Vaccines could be of the attenuated viral particle, proteins of the virus, nucleic acids of the virus, etc. I believe that we need to be pragmatic: it will take time to get an efficient vaccine. Several groups are working toward this goal, that is a fact. However, let’s be “real”: it will take some time, maybe a year or so. The main fact right now that I think everyone in the world should believe is that the only way to fight this pandemia is avoid being infected by the virus. How? Social distancing and isolation, unfortunately. People working in healthcare and services that are essential need to use masks and be careful. There is nothing else we can do right now. Last, but not least, I wrote before that “Science is Broken: How, Why and When?” (see my blog post from some time ago) and other critics to how the scientific system is in its medieval times. My hope is that people in general, now being directly affected, see how important science is and give scientists such as myself and several others some respect. I also hope that the system changes. In this type of situation I see people, even my family members telling me: why no scientist was studying this type of virus? Why is it so difficult to overcome this? I tell them in an ironic way: ask the governments and the academic system that does not work for the people. Finally, based on all the facts I have been reading and know until now my last piece of advice to everyone reading this post is to stay home and take the measures that prevent the infection (use masks, disinfect everything, etc), independent on what governments and other people tell you or you see in social media. The fact is there is a pandemia, we do not completely understand the coronavirus, there is no treatment and no vaccine 100% yet. Thus, take care of yourself and people you love. Let’s try to overcome this pandemia together (but socially isolated…) with facts and not anecdotal information that we get every day through the media. And most important: let’s stay mentally stable and sane. This is my message to all.