To call it “strange” would be an understatement. Uncertainty and anxiety took over the globe and put the entire world on hold. Total absence of toilet paper, empty shelves in grocery stores, closure of all casinos on Las Vegas Strip, worldwide shortage of face masks and ventilators, stock market is the worst since the Great Depression, unemployment rate may soar to 30%, Olympic Games postponed for one year: Is it really happening? The Governor of New York signs an executive order to put the whole state on PAUSE, closing all nonessential offices effective at 8PM on Sunday, March 22. COVID-19 affects the lives of almost all people in the world, shutting down whole countries, taking thousands of lives, and threatening to take more, if we, humans, don’t take any drastic measures.
Thought, quarantine was a vacation? Things just got serious. Continuing the conversation on the spread of COVID-19 and what to do during these unprecedented times.
by Katya A Williams. March 25, 2020
Humans are strange species, however. When they are asked to do one thing, they do something completely opposite: for instance, instead of following their governors’ stay-at-home recommendations, to stop the spread of the deadly virus, west coasters pack up and go to the beaches, parks, and trails for the weekend. Meanwhile, spring breakers continue crowding the beaches of Florida, saying that nothing could get in the way of their fun. As a response, governors of Oregon and Washington had no choice but to pass stay-at-home orders, threatening to issue misdemeanors for not following them, and local officials of Miami had to initiate beach closures. Californians had stay-at-home order in place already, since last Thursday, and yet they flooded the beaches, parks, and trails anyway, forcing the officials to close down many of the recreational areas immediately. So far, 17 states have implemented stay-at-home orders!
A meme was circulating on social media last week, explaining people’s ignorance towards current events by comparing it to eating a bunch of skittles, where a few might be poisoned. My dear friend, Aaron Jackson, who lives in Oklahoma with his family, stated in a comment, “Why are we having to break it down like this for people to have consideration for others?” Sadly, we may have to spend a lot of time finding an answer to this question. Is it selfishness? Is it because people do not want to or do not know how to follow common-sense rules? Or is it because they think nothing can restrict them, not even a deadly virus? If we don’t start thinking about the seriousness of the situation, the worst is yet to come.
The human mind, science, and technology are unstoppable. And so is nature, trying to work its way through all human activity. With that said, we may face more challenges in the future. With the warming of the Earth and thawing of permafrost, we may see another potential source of infectious diseases – ancient bacteria and viruses. Siberia already saw an outbreak of anthrax in summer of 2016, when, as a result of a heatwave in the arctic, a thick layer of permafrost thawed and uncovered many carcasses of reindeer that had died from anthrax decades ago. Anthrax spores traveled across the tundra, causing dozens of hospitalizations and death of a 12-year old boy, reports Michaeleen Doucleff in NPR. Doucleff’s article introduces several expert opinions on the possibility of mummified bodies spreading infectious diseases, where scientists disagree that it is possible, saying that bacteria and viruses only survive at body temperature and die when frozen for hundreds of years. However, the author writes about a group of archeologists, working on the coast of Alaska, preventing an ancient log cabin from sliding into the sea, where one of the researchers developed a bacterial infection after coming in contact with the flesh of a seal frozen in permafrost for decades, which presumably could be a case of seal finger disease preserved in Alaska’s permafrost (Doucleff, 2018).
NCBI article “Back to the future in a petri dish: Origin and impact of resurrected microbes in natural populations” also suggests that permafrost contains a wide variety of dormant structures: seeds, eggs, cysts, spores, and other viable organisms, like bacteria and viruses. And with the change in the environmental conditions, the microbes and bacteria may come back to life again and stay viable for millions of years.
But what happens if the ancient bacteria and viruses are resurrected in a lab?
According to NPR, many attempts to sequence the genomes of ancient viruses’ and resurrect them failed; however, the author raises a concern about scientists’ consistent desire to bring back viruses (e.g. the repetitive attempts to revive 1918 Spanish flu).
NCBI research additionally explains: in spite of extreme biosafety rules in labs, the release of a pathogen of potentially infectious virus or microbe into “susceptible animal population” is possible (e.g. SARS escaping from the lab in Singapore in 2003) . That is why those types of studies are very controversial and dangerous, as they may create the spread of new zoonotic (animal to human) diseases. And it all may result in a devastating outcome for plants, animals, and humans (Houwenhuyse, et al., 2017).
Going back to the current situation: to clear out the controversy regarding coronavirus pandemic, with the help of the analysis of the genome sequence, scientists around the world confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 that caused worldwide COVID-19 epidemic was not engineered in the lab. Professors of immunology and microbiology insist this virus originated through natural processes.
Despite all the theories on where the virus came from, one point is clear – it is here now and it is here to stay. And with all the uncertainty and the unknowingness, panic is not the answer. Grabbing everything you can off the store shelves is not the answer. Our job right now is to stay calm, composed and collected, weighing in the situation in a sober manner. We must be vigilant, mindful, and always considerate of others. What we do today may affect someone else tomorrow.
Businesses will restart and the economy will restore. But human lives will be impossible to replace. That’s why it is important to listen to medical professionals and follow their guidance; educate yourself; learn to differentiate credible information from random opinions and conspiracy theories; comply with local authorities’ orders – those are meant to protect us, not to upset us; protect yourself, because by doing so you are protecting others!
Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Are There Zombie Viruses In The Thawing Permafrost.” NPR. 2018
Howenhuyse, Shira, et al. “Back to the future in a petri dish: Origin and impact of resurrected microbes in natural populations.” NCBI. 11(1): 29-41. 2017