Dr. Blair's COVID-19 Report
Because I can't put a bunch of links and newsletters, here is one link to a blog post at my website. I will put all of the links that I reference in here at that blog post. BLOG POST LINK HERE.
First, allow me to remind you that I hold a PhD in microbiology, and my area of concentration was in virology. In the lab, I have studied everything from herpes to HIV, and I worked on the WHO analysis of the last major polio outbreak in the Western Hemisphere in the Dominican Republic. My postdoctoral research was a neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania, though this is less relevant.
So, we're seven and a half months into this god-awful mess, and I can't believe I'm still sitting here telling you how to try to keep yourself safe.
First, I want to express my sincere sympathy if you're getting dang tired of this mess. I am, too. There's an excellent twitter thread that I will have links for at the blog post listed above. Basically, the woman who wrote it is an emergency relief doctor for charities who goes all over the world into horrid situations to try to help people. Her major point is that when you're in a crisis situation, and about the six month mark, you lose energy for a while. Your body just can't take the stress, and you have to step back and take care of yourself for a few days or so. I think a lot of us have gone through that recently or are going through it now, depending on where you are when this thing started. If you are feeling overwhelmed and upset, the six month crisis pause may be affecting you. Please take a deep breath and take care of yourself.
Next, let's go with some practical advice. These are things that I am still doing due to this pandemic.
Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do. The better the mask you wear, the better your chances of not getting sick or only getting mildly sick. There is some excellent research that has just been published that wearing a mask will protect you from getting very sick. It's because the initial dose of virus is reduced if you're wearing a mask. It's kind of like poison, where the dose relates to how sick you get from it. I highly recommend wearing the best mask you can find or afford. I wear KN-95s when I go inside buildings, good cloth masks when outdoors and near people. If I'm going to be inside for a long while, I put a cloth mask over the KN-95 and double-mask. There are some excellent patterns on the Internet out there if you want to make cloth masks. The best practice that I've seen right now is three layers of quilting cotton, the kind from a quilting shop, not Walmart. There's nothing wrong with making a quilt out of Walmart fabric, but it's not thick enough nor tightly woven enough for a mask.
Also, (links at the blog post linked at the top of this). I've been buying disposable KN-95 masks from Discount Mugs. They evidently laid in a really big supply at the beginning of this, and they are selling them at very reasonable rates. As long as a mask is not damaged or wet in any way, when I'm done, I put it in a Ziploc bag and leave it on the dash of my car for 5 to 7 days. That'll kill the virus.
Also, wearing a mask does not harm you in anyway. It is not bad for you. It is not bad for your lungs. It does not cause respiratory diseases or allergies or anything else. As a matter of fact, it will help with your allergies because you won't be breathing in mold or spores or anything. When people say that masks are “bad for you,” it reminds me of the commercial for Nicorette smoking cessation chewing gum a few years ago. The person in the ad asked the pharmacist whether Nicorette was bad for you, and the pharmacist said that no, smoking is bad for you. That's kind of like what these people are talking about with masks. Yes, it can be kind of uncomfortable and warm wearing a mask. It can make your nose itch. But really, wearing a mask is safe. Covid-19 is bad for you.
If wearing a mask makes you uncomfortable, wear 2 around your house. When you go somewhere, take one off and walk around like a wild chick.
Yes, I am still washing my groceries that I bring into the house right away. If something is perishable or frozen, I decontaminate it with a 3% volume/volume spray of household bleach, and then wipe it off with a paper towel. My nonperishable dry goods, I'm leaving in the garage for 4-5 days before touching them. If something needs to come into the house right away, it gets wiped off with bleach. You can use Lysol or other disinfecting spray, which will also work just fine, but those have soaps in them. They can leave things sticky. Using a bleach and water solution will keep things from being sticky or slippery.
Yes, after I get home, I still decontaminate myself.
At the very least, when I get into the car, I spray hydrogen peroxide on my hands and wipe it all over my face and hands.
When I get home, I spray the bottoms of my shoes with the same bleach spray and wipe them off on an old bathmat kept in the garage for this. I gargle with Listerine and change my clothes, throwing those clothes directly into the washing machine.
If I've been inside anywhere for an extended length of time, I shower and wash my hair.
Yeah, it's a pain in the patoot. So is lying on your stomach on a ventilator for two weeks and receiving a $300,000 hospital bill.
Should you send your kids to school? If there's any way you can keep them home for remote learning, it's best to. My kid is a junior in high school, and I have him on all-remote. I understand that not everyone has the luxury of making that decision. If you do, then you're not only protecting yourself and your kids, you're also reducing the kids in the school and helping others. Seriously, if half of families could do remote, the other half of families that absolutely must send their kids to school would also be so much safer.
Groceries: I'm doing contactless pick-up for everything I can. My local grocery store chain is amazing, and OMG it's so much faster. I will do this forever.
Take-Out from Restaurants: yes. And I tip 20%. I decon the outsides of containers with paper towels wet with hydrogen peroxide. I only buy hot food, not salads. If it's iffy, I transfer to plates and stick them in the oven at 250F for 10 minutes.
Social distancing: yes. You need to do it all the time. Think of the virus as that someone around you is smoking, and you don't know who, but someone is puffing on a stinky cigarette. If you can smell it, there's enough virus to make you sick.
If you were in a movie theater and someone was smoking something stinky, you could smell it, and the air would be blue in a few minutes. Ditto in a restaurant. Also in church. Etc.
Going to an enclosed building with other people is very, very risky. We're still doing Zoom/YouTube church.
Don't go to restaurants and eat inside. For the love of God, don't go to a restaurant that has set up an enclosed tent and eat in there. That's just like being inside, except it's cold, too. If you're not outside under the sun with no walls around you, it's just like being in a small room with a bunch of people smoking.
I understand that this isolating is hard for everyone's mental health. I'm an introvert, so I feel this less than other people. (If you're a big reader, which if you're on this mailing list for a romance author's new books, you might be, too.) However, even I feel the restrictions.
Anything you can do outside and at a decent distance from people is probably pretty safe. We will golf with friends right up until we have to use orange balls so we can find them in the snow. We've been hiking or just walking around parks with friends on most weekends. I have lawn chairs with backpack straps in the back of my car, and we throw some lunches together or pick up food from a restaurant and meet people in parks or their yards to hang out. You just sit a decent space away, and you keep a mask on until you actually start eating.
A really good practice is to have a campfire or fire pit in the middle of a ring of people. A fire will create an updraft that will suck air from behind people and levitate it straight up. In the lab, we used to just set a Bunsen burner on the counter, and do all kinds of tissue culture work right on the bench. It works. Also, s'mores.
Sleeping bags are great. If you're hanging out outside with people and getting chilled, haul out those mummy bags. You can sit in those for hours. Level it up with a heating pad or hot water bottle inside the bag on your lap.
Zoom meetings are better than nothing. I have lunch with friends over Zoom on most days.
Depending on where you are and how the pandemic has played out in your area, there might have been some times that are better or worse, but right now I can assure you that things are definitely worse. I live up in the far northeastern US. We were in one of the hardest hit areas right at the beginning, with our hospitals overflowing and people dying on the emergency room floors and in corridors. And now it's getting really bad again.
The second wave is coming, and it's going to be worse. All this was just practice for when it gets really terrifying.
Will this ever end? Okay, as you might remember, my husband works for Pfizer. In the early months of the pandemic, I was sitting in with him on a lot of meetings because I have that PhD in virology. I was basically consulting to Pfizer for free about what compounds are likely to work against the virus and what compounds definitely wouldn't, plus basic virology that the p-chemists didn't know. There are things which it would not be ethical for me to talk about, but I can tell you this because it has been published in readily available sources: Pfizer's mRNA vaccine is based on excellent science.
Quite honestly, it's amazing science. As a scientist, I see it as art, and it's exquisite. There are no adjuvants in it.
When Pfizer's vaccine is available, it will be safe and effective. You should get it. I certainly will, and I'll have my kid get it, too.
Things I can say. The phase 3 studies on the Covid-19 vaccine have not been publicly unblinded, so there is nothing I can tell you about actual data. (Read that again.)
However, it is public knowledge that Pfizer has signed contracts to rent and are already retrofitting large planes and an enormous fleet of trucks with special cold storage. The contracts for these vehicles begin in late November.
If published estimates are correct, the vaccine will be two doses that are spaced thirty days apart. Two weeks after the second dose, immunity will be sufficient. Also, assuming published reports are correct, the Pfizer vaccine has produced neutralizing antibodies at levels far in excess of actually having and recovering from the virus. In addition, it is thought that enough vaccine will be produced and distributed for everyone in the US and many other countries to be vaccinated before June, 2021. If published speculations are correct, some people will begin being vaccinated next month, like, December.
So a vaccine is coming. Hold on.
This is not your fault, but the way things have shaken out is every epidemiologist's worst nightmare. I'm still in some virology and epidemiology loops online, and I can tell you right now that everybody is tearing their hair out how badly this pandemic is being handled. Like, no one thought any government would be so badly run and allow this to happen.
The US response to this pandemic has been botched badly. Up here in the Northeast, we got hit before we knew what was happening, and our state and local governments worked their butts off to help everyone figure out how to get it under control.
Unfortunately, other states' governments and the US national government screwed this pandemic response up beyond all belief.
Last March, the United States Postal Service had purchased reusable fabric masks and was planning to launch a massive distribution program to mail five reusable fabric masks to every man, woman, and child in this country. The Trump administration refused to allow them to do it. If just that had happened, and if national leaders like the president had gone on television and through other channels and told people to wear those masks, this pandemic would've been very different. We would be eating in restaurants now. We would be going to movies. Broadway and music events would be going on. Sporting events would be being played. We could go to a dang football game and watch it. Trick or treating would have been fine. Traveling for holidays would have been okay.
We shouldn't be sobbing into phones and iPads and telling our loved ones good-bye while a nurse holds the phone up to their ear because we can't be in the ICU with them. I think I've had 10 friends do this now.
If the president or other national leaders had gone on television and other social media channels early on and asked the women and mothers of this country to sew fabric masks and wear them, everything would be different now. Up here in the Northeast where I live, during the initial wave in March/April, the quilting guilds responded. (I'm crying again now.) I made some and donated my stash of quilting fabric after it became clear that other quilters were much faster than I was. The quilting guild in my area sewed over a 100,000 cloth masks and other PPE in a month for chemotherapy clinics, pain management clinics, and other doctors' offices who desperately needed any sort of PPE so they could continue to operate. They were magnificent.
Americans respond when challenged. We rise to every occasion.
But when our own government lies to us, we don't stand a chance.
Covid-19 has killed 231,000 Americans so far.
We are at the beginning of the second wave. It's going to get worse. It's going to get a lot worse.
If you don't know someone who has died from Covid-19, you will soon.
I am begging you to do everything you can to prevent getting sick and prevent spreading it to others.
Even if you've had it, after 2 or 3 months, you are probably no longer immune. As a matter fact, you may not be immune even right after you recover. That's one of the problems with this virus.
That's why “herd immunity” will never, ever work with this virus. If we continue to do nothing, 2 million to 6 million Americans will die every year, until we do something.
That's one of the reasons why a vaccine that produces a lasting immunity is our only hope of getting back to normal life at this point.
We also need a much better governmental response than thinking and hoping it's going to go away, because it's not.
It's only going to get worse. There will only be more deaths.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has proved that it does not know how to handle this pandemic.
Americans go to the polls tomorrow.
If you haven't already voted, I'm asking you to vote for people who will put the policies in place so that we can get back to normal and get back to work.
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have put forward good plans that will make America safer so that our kids can go to school, we can go to work, and we can go out to a restaurant and have a decent meal.
All of the Democratic plans at the local, state, and national levels for combating the pandemic are much better than the Republican ones. They'll work.
I grew up very conservative, but I also grew up hearing that you don't listen to what people say, you watch what they do.
Donald Trump did not protect the United States from this virus when just a few good public policies would have saved hundreds of thousands of American lives.
That's what he did. And he doubled down on bad, bad policies that are killing Americans.
I understand the idea of wanting to vote for someone who's not a politician, but he's not the guy.
The vaccine program can be screwed up with bad public policies. The Pfizer vax scenario I quoted above is if everything goes well. With just a few more bad decisions, this pandemic could last five or ten years, and ten percent of Americans could die.
Vote like your life depends on it. It does. Also, your job might. Your kid's school year might. Your ability to eat a cheeseburger and fries in a restaurant definitely does.
That's all for now. I don't like talking about politics and believe they are private, but bad public policy right now is killing Americans. It needs to change. You'll probably never, ever hear me talk politics again after this newsletter, but the Covid-19 pandemic is my territory. So, I did. I'm not going to argue with anyone about it.
I'm certainly not going to shame anyone for the way they voted in the past. I don't think people should. You made the best decision you could, then. But there's more information now.
And dang, I really want to go to PF Chang's and eat some nice GF Chang's Spicy Chicken with friends without risking my life.
If you read all the way down here and don't hate me now,CLEEEK HERE.
Please stay safe and wear a good mask, and as always, may love fill your life,
Dr. Blair, PhD