Colleges got a schooling in virology this week. After ignoring recommendations from the local health department to hold virtual classes this fall, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started classes on August 10, in person. Within a week, with outbreaks spreading on campus, the school abruptly shifted to online learning. A day later, also facing an outbreak, Notre Dame did the same.
That Greek chorus singing “Hate to Say I Told You So” in the distance? That’s public health experts, virologists and other experts who have repeatedly warned that cramming a lot of people together into close living and working quarters during a pandemic is a bad idea. They also warned that colleges would try to blame students for outbreaks on campus, instead of owning up to the holes in their re-opening plans. Now, that’s happening as well.
Why the chorus of Cassandras? Because they know the virus doesn’t care about education. Or campus boundaries. Or the economy. It’s a virus. The point of its existence is simply furthering its own existence. We can’t convince it to go away because school is important, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that we have that ability.
What we can do is continuously adjust to the wealth of new information that we’re learning about this virus. Some of that information is the same as it was in the beginning: avoid crowds, watch the case numbers in your area. A lot more of it has changed dramatically over the past few months. It can be hard to keep track of this firehose of information, especially because our brains tend to latch onto the first pieces of information we gather — a phenomenon called anchoring bias.
Challenging your own tightly held beliefs and assumptions is something that happens a lot in college. Now it’s just happening to colleges, too.
It’s very likely that we’ll keep seeing these swings in policies not just in schools, but in workplaces, movie theaters, restaurants, and gyms as this keeps unfolding. But at the same time, we’ll keep learning better ways to reduce the spread, until we can stop the virus altogether.
Here’s what else people were talking about last week:
This Trawler’s Haul: Evidence That Antibodies Block the Coronavirus
Three sailors with antibodies didn’t catch the coronavirus during their time on a fishing trawler struck by a COVID-19 outbreak. That’s according to an early version of a study that was posted online this week. The results are intriguing to researchers studying coronavirus antibodies — but the study has not been formally reviewed by outside experts, and its conclusions could change in the future. (Apoorva Mandivalli/The New York Times)
Coronavirus is in the air. Here’s how to get it out.
“There are no perfectly safe indoor environments during the pandemic,” Brian Resnick writes in Vox. The virus can hang in the air, especially in poorly-ventilated spaces. And while there are no completely safe indoor spaces, there are ways we can improve ventilation inside our buildings. We’ve actually known how to build healthier buildings for a very long time — we just haven’t done it yet. (Brian Resnick/Vox)
FDA authorizes COVID-19 saliva test trialed in the NBA bubble
A saliva-based COVID test that was trialed in the NBA was approved by the FDA this week. The test aims to be faster and cheaper than the more common nasal swabs currently used across the country. (Nicole Wetsman/The Verge)
Pfizer and BioNTech’s favored Covid-19 vaccine has fewer side effects than their first
Back in July, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they were ready to start a large-scale trial of a coronavirus vaccine. But it wasn’t the vaccine that they’d initially planned to test. The switcheroo was a surprise at the time, but this week they released data showing that their new vaccine does seem to cause fewer side effects than their initial choice. (Matthew Herper/STAT)
An ‘Unprecedented’ Effort to Stop the Coronavirus in Nursing Homes
A drug designed to stop coronavirus infections is being tested in nursing homes. Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly is sending researchers to nursing homes with confirmed COVID-19 cases to test a monoclonal antibody infusion. Monoclonal antibodies are synthetic antibodies that can help fight off infection. In the experiment profiled by The New York Times, they were developed from antibodies collected from a person in Seattle who has recovered from COVID-19. Theoretically, the infusion could keep people from getting sick for a limited time. This experiment is still in very early stages. (Gina Kolata/The New York Times)
First Covid-19 vaccine trial moving at a good clip, but officials still “very concerned”
The good news? Moderna has already recruited 8,374 people to its Phase 3 clinical trial — it’s on track to hit its target of 30,000 sometime in September. The bad news? Only 15 percent of the recruits are Black or Latinx, reports CNN. That’s a discrepancy that could hold up the vaccine, as both groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic — but are not being adequately represented in the vaccine trials. (Elizabeth Cohen/CNN)
How to make drugs for the next pandemic
While we’re busy searching for drugs to treat this pandemic, some researchers are thinking of ways to treat the next one too. Check out this video, which gets into the current state of antiviral research. (William Poor/The Verge)
Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19
“We cannot fight what we do not measure,” Nisreen Alwan, a public health professor told The Atlantic’s Ed Yong. “Death is not the only thing that counts. We must also count lives changed.”
Yong has been tracking the experience of ‘long haulers’ with COVID-19 — people whose symptoms persist for months. Amidst uncertainty, skepticism, and debilitating symptoms, they’ve banded together for support. Yong’s story is a deep dive into their experiences, but it doesn’t end there. On Friday, a group of long-haulers met with officials at the World Health Organization to talk about how the disease has altered their lives. (Ed Yong/The Atlantic)
More than Numbers
To the more than 22,976,615 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.
To the families and friends of the 799,856 people who have died worldwide — 175,416 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.
Stay safe, everyone.