Coronavirus Questions

Today circulated a Facebook, Reddit, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube statement on misinformation related to COVID-19, or Coronavirus. The statement is laudable and timely; its goals are sound. But it also sidesteps the wide gulf between facts and uncertainties in a messy and complexly unfolding public health crisis. Turn to social media with wonder, fine. Express curiosities, unknowns, and so on, yes. Speculate and even sense-make together. This is slow-built knowledge, and it’s especially messy when it intermixes non-experts, heightened anxieties, and unverifiable contagion. I have questions, too, and I’m no expert on viruses, much less the Coronavirus.

  1. How did it begin? From a March 12 Vox article, “The genetic evidence and epidemiological information, according to three esteemed infectious disease researchers writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, ‘implicates a bat-origin virus infecting unidentified animal species sold in China’s live-animal markets.'” There are numerous other conspiracy theories. Those aside, to the point of this “bat sniffles and some other succession of animals” theory, what does this mean for continued contagion that moves between humans and animals? I’ve read of swine flu and bird flu resulting in the slaughter of carrier-animals. In the case of COVID-19, is it clear yet that animal cross-contagion is not an issue?
  2. If there aren’t enough tests (yet), or if the tests are sparingly issued such that everyday people calling their general practitioners to disclose symptoms are being told, you don’t meet the CDC criteria for testing, how are the rate of spread analytics considered reliable? Word of mouth indicates that some people with symptoms have been told they do not qualify for testing. They wait. But this alone would indicate serious limitations on what is knowable insofar as rates of spread.
  3. How lightly experienced are the most lightly experienced cases? That is, can someone have Coronavirus, experience negligible or mild symptoms for only a short period of time, and thereafter carry on (after two weeks) without putting others at risk? Without further risk, themselves? Does the lightest possible case of Coronavirus generate in a system the antibodies that will mitigate future risk of susceptibility or contagion?
  4. What is the relationship between viral load and severity of symptoms? If someone is exposed to a high viral load, is that person more likely to contract a serious case? Is the gravity of the illness linked to the viral load exposure? Does viral load in a patient fluctuate throughout the arc of affliction (the duration of the illness)?
  5. What is the relationship between the number of tests given and the number of people tested? Does one test mean one person has been tested? Two tests mean two people? Are most people who are tested tested twice? Is anyone tested more than twice? Are tests yielding inconsistent results counted as tests given?
  6. Has anyone answered directly/concretely how the Utah Jazz and other NBA teams were so swiftly able to get their player personnel tested? Or how an asymptomatic Idris Elba was tested? Are these simply matters of income or celebrity capitalizing on improved medical treatment?
  7. Is there any credence to homeopathic interventions, whether tinctures, infusions (vinegars), kombuchas or other fermented drinks, probiotics, or atmospherics (smudging)? That is, are there any dietary or physiological aids in anticipation of continued spread that chance mitigating the grip and spread of infection? Health advice circulating seems status quo generic–“take good care of yourself, eat right, get exercise, and so on.” Is there anything else likely to reduce or disrupt vulnerability? Like gargling salt water, taking extra vitamin C, use of a humidifier, and so on?
  8. Is there anything at all to be said for sequestered acceleration clusters (e.g., teams of ten who intentionally contract but who do so in isolation), particularly for intentionally getting some responders ahead of the curve? This is perhaps outlandish, and yet it chances being a reasonable tactic, if after contracting it and recovering, one’s system is emboldened so as to be better positioned for aiding others.

I realize the questions here cover quite a bit of range–from speculative scenarios to highly pragmatic decision points. They’re not meant to inspire misinformation but instead to put a finer point on concrete details that, to be fair, perhaps just are not known or knowable at this time. I’m wholly on board with curtailing the circulation of misinformation, but I hope can do better to express uncertainties as questions that might find their way to those who can–sooner or later–answer them well.

Not Every Dog

Not Every Dog

The safety officer at Is.’s school hands out safety leaflets like this one each week. Most of these “coloring sheets” concern animal safety messages on letting sleeping dogs lie, never putting your face close to a dog’s face, and so on. In a friendly gesture, s. officer always hands me two. “Take an extra one for the refrigerator.”


At this time of year–because it is semester’s end, the last Friday of Fall 2010 (before final exam week)–I am thinking again about patterned precarity. “Patterned” because the academy’s clock punctuates our lives with fairly arbitrary (if systemic) endpoints. That semesters end means for many students an intensified two-week window near the end of time when a flurry of deadlines, for admittedly complicated reasons, amount to a heap of dustbin deliverables and an even taller heap of stress. I know I am generalizing: it doesn’t always go this way, nor does it have to go this way. But often it does. End of semester grunt/strain/anguish is palpable, thick in the air.

Especially so this semester, it seems.

E., my friend in Kansas City, shared an anecdote with me once about the learner’s mindset and the thrill of close calls. The story I (mis)remember goes something like this: in Kaffa, the region of Ethiopia known as the original growthplace of coffee, there emerged an astonishingly widespread practice among teenagers of something like “fender glancing.” Fender glancing is a game of chicken with moving cars. Basically, participants in this activity enjoy a rush by close brushes with automobiles. A near miss is invigorating–literally life-giving. I made it! As you might imagine, this does not always turn out well. Almost being hit by a car–when the choreography goes badly–can be lethal or at the very least bone-breaking. E. explained how he saw many correspondences to this in those he was teaching (to play soccer), particularly when they were bored.

Thrill seeking isn’t a new discovery or even a new cultural phenomenon elucidated by the derivative (i.e., friend of a friend said; an admittedly lazy, heard-about method) anthropology above. But it nevertheless reminds me about revaluing the relationship between what happens all along, in a given semester, and what happens at the end, as well as rethinking how practices in a given course must spill beyond the time-bounded container of fifteen weeks. In other words, for teaching, how can we redistribute intensive encounters so that a class doesn’t reduce to an ultimate showdown at semester’s end?