SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update, March 11th, 2020: Finally, WHO Declares a Pandemic (And Why I Will Be Taking a Break from Blogging About the Coronavirus)

Both of the statistical dashboards I have relied on in the past (here and here) now only give Canadian map breakdowns of coronavirus cases by province instead of by city. So today, the best visualization of the cases that are closest to me in Winnipeg is via The New York Times (original article, archived copy), where you can see me slightly above the North Dakota-Minnesota border, the Red River:

In Canada, the closest cases to me are in Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta (about 750 miles west of me) and Ottawa, Toronto, and Hamilton in Ontario (about 1,000 miles east of me) and one case in Sudbury, Ontario, a man who recently attended a mining conference in Toronto with 25,000 attendees (780 miles away).

So the closest cases are still 4 in Minnesota, plus 5 new cases in South Dakota. It would appear that, still, I am living in a little island of safety on the frozen Canadian prairies. Of course, it is only a matter of time until Winnipeg reports its first case of COVID-19; I am operating under no illusions that we will remain immune to the coronavirus!

Schools and universities around the world are shutting down in-person classes and and asking students to move out of their on-campus residences, but so far, my employer is still happily up and running. (There’s absolutely zero reason to implement any measures until there are actual cases here.)

However, today has still been a very stressful day for me. The biggest news today is that the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO) has finally officially declared a pandemic.

The image that accompanied the tweet sent out by WHO today.

But, of course, there have been any number of news stories about the coronavirus pandemic today, from all around the world, and I will not attempt to summarize them. Somebody else’s job. (As I have said before, Get down off the cross, honey, people need the wood!)

It has been a surreal experience to see something that you originally prepared for 15 years ago (during the H5N1 bird flu crisis of 2005), and which hit your radar on January 25th, explode into the situation that we see today. I have had trouble processing all my emotions as a result.

In the back of my mind, over the past fifteen years, I have been dreading this eventuality. And now that it is here, I discover that you can make the most elaborate, detailed physical and logistical preparations in the world, but if you don’t handle the emotional and mental toll that an ongoing global public health emergency can have on you, you’re still screwed.

And, at the moment, I feel a bit like a marathoner who has stumbled across the finish line, only to collapse in a puddle of sweat. My anxiety is through the roof. I have been on a near-constant state of high alert now for six and a half weeks, and frankly, I am starting to wear out.

I am trying to take good care of myself, but as part of that, I am going to have to take a break now from blogging about the coronavirus pandemic. I have done my little bit to alert people (including my long-suffering family, friends, and coworkers), and warn them to prepare via this blog, which I essentially hijacked from its original purpose. It’s time to return to my usual coverage of social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse for a while.

I do know many of you have personally reached out to thank me over the past few weeks for compiling and sharing the pandemic preparation information that I have published here. I deeply appreciate each and every message. I hope that I helped prod some people to get ready. (I have also learned that there is just no convincing some people. Again, I simply say to myself: Get down off the cross, honey, people need the wood! What other people do at this point is not really my problem or concern. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the Polish proverb says.)

But after this, I will be taking a break from pandemic blogging, for the sake of my own mental health. I might also be taking some longer daily breaks from obsessively following the various news feeds, and let the news come to me more naturally instead. (At this point, it certainly will. It will be wall-to-wall, 24/7/365 coverage, impossible to ignore, even if I wanted to.)

Stay healthy! Expect more blogposts on social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse shortly!

P.S. On January 24th, when there were only about 1,000 cases in mainland China, I made a $50 bet with my best friend that we would have a pandemic. I’m sorry to say that I won that bet today.

P.P.S. My order of 99% isopropyl alcohol arrived from Amazon, and was waiting for me when I got home from work today (thank God there are no porch pirates in my neighbourhood!). So I can make some more hand sanitizer (recipe here).

P.P.P.S. I’m just gonna leave this one here…a Sansar friend shared it with me (source):

Not my circus, not my monkeys…

UPDATE 11:01 p.m: North Dakota has now reported its first case of COVID-19, in Minot. At 283 miles or 455 kilometers from Winnipeg by road, this is now officially the closest outbreak to where I am. My little island of safety is getting smaller by the day!

SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 Update, March 4th, 2020: The Wuhan Coronavirus Has a Much Higher Fatality Rate Than the Flu

Today The New York Times newspaper reported (original, archived copy):

The head of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the global mortality rate for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, was 3.4 percent, a figure that primarily reflects the outbreak in China, where the vast majority of cases have been detected.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director general, said in a news conference in Geneva that Covid-19 was deadlier than the seasonal flu but did not transmit as easily. “Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported Covid-19 cases have died,” Dr. Tedros said. “By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”

The estimate takes into account the growing number of infections being recorded outside China, mostly in Iran, Italy and South Korea.

“While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, Covid-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity,” meaning more people can be infected and some will suffer severe illnesses, Dr. Tedros said. The coronavirus does not transmit as efficiently as the flu but “causes more severe disease,” he added.

This new overall case fatality rate (CFR) of 3.4% is significantly higher than regular seasonal influenza, which usually has a CFR of 0.1%. As I have written before, about the broadest research study of clinical outcomes published to date, the actual CFR varies by the infected person’s age, weight, and the presence of any underlying health conditions:

Some sobering statistics from that study of 72,314 cases, the largest conducted to date, are:

– 81% of cases are mild, 14% are severe, and 5% are critical (the case fatality rate for critical cases was 49.0%; in other words, half of the critical patients died)
– the case fatality rates were 8.0% in patients aged 70-79 years and 14.8% in patients aged ≥80 years (I worry for my parents)
– the case fatality rates were 10.5% for people with cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer

How to Prepare for a Potential Pandemic

Here, once again, is a reminder of what you should be doing to prepare: mentally, emotionally, and physically/logistically.

You will probably need to prepare to stay isolated in your homes for a period of several weeks, avoiding contact with as many other people as possible, as a wave of illness caused by the Wuhan coronavirus sweeps through your community, forcing schools, businesses, and public transportation and public gathering places like movie theatres and shopping malls to close (as we already seen in Wuhan and many other cities in China, as well as places such as South Korean, Iran, and Italy). The time to prepare for the imposition of quarantines and social distancing policies by local governments is NOW.

If you need lists of how to prepare and what to buy in order to get your household ready for a potential pandemic, here are six suggestions to help you get started:

You will need to have on hand:

  • At least two weeks of food and other supplies (toilet paper, first aid supplies, soap and hand sanitizer, garbage bags, etc.). There are already reports of panic buying in many places around the world, including North America. You do not want to leave it to the last minute! If you cannot find any hand sanitizer, you can make your own (see recipe below).
  • Refills of all your presecription medications, plus a stock of over-the-counter medicines (talk to your doctor and pharmacist about creating an emergency supply of your prescription medication).
  • Power sources (flashlights, extra batteries, car chargers and adapters for your mobile devices, etc.).

Other things that you should do:

  • Sign up for any local alerts from your city, state/province, or federal government (or know where to find the information on the Internet). Find out what plans your employer is making (and if they’re not making them now, they should be).
  • If you haven’t yet, get your seasonal flu shot. It can’t hurt, and it will help to figure out whether or not you do have SARS-CoV-2 if/when you do become sick. Many areas now give out the flu shot for free.
  • Train yourself NOT to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth! The SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain viable on hard surfaces anywhere from 2 hours to 9 days (scientific journal article source), and you can transfer the virus from your infected hands to your mouth, nose, and eyes by touching or rubbing them.
  • Watch the following video from the World Health Organization on how wash your hands! Yes, I know I have posted it before. You may think you already know how to wash your hands properly, but you still might learn something you didn’t know before. Proper hand hygiene will also help you avoid catching regular seasonal colds and influenza, so there’s a net benefit to society.

How to Make Your Own Hand Sanitizer

There have been reports of panic shopping in various countries around the world, including in North American. In particular, hand sanitizer is in short supply, with many stores being sold out of stock. Fortunately, if you cannot find sanitizer to buy, you can make your own. Here’s the recipe:

2/3-cup rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol)
1/3-cup aloe vera gel (GEL, not liquid)

Directions: Add the alcohol to the aloe vera gel and stir. Using a funnel, pour the mixture into a pump bottle; you can use cleaned soap bottles for instance, or you can find inexpensive pump bottles at dollar stores. If you have empty store-bought hand sanitizer bottles, you can use those.

If you wish, you can add 8-10 drops of essentials oils. Lemongrass, eucalyptus, peppermint and orange oils, which have been shown to have some antibacterial properties (source), would be a good choice.

My local drug store had aloe vera gel in stock, but they were sold out of isopropyl rubbing alcohol, but I was able to order some on Amazon last night, and it should arrive next week sometime. I have enough regular hand sanitizer to last me until then.

Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19

Here is my updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are three good places to check:

Stay informed, get prepared, and stay healthy!

Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 29th, 2020

UPDATE Jan. 30th, 2020: You can view my latest daily update here.

(Source: BBC)

The World Health Organization (WHO) held a press conference on the growing crisis today.

The Globe and Mail reports:

“The whole world needs to be on alert now,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said during a news conference in Geneva. “The whole world needs to take action.”

Dr. Ryan and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, spoke publicly for the first time after returning from Beijing earlier this week, where they were meeting with Chinese health officials about the situation in China.

And the World Health Organization’s emergency committee is meeting again on Thursday, January 30th, where infectious disease experts from around the world will determine whether to officially declare the Wuhan coronavirus situation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC for short). The Evening Standard reports:

Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said the decision to reconvene was due to the increasing number of cases and evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

Dr. Ryan said multiple countries implementing measures at different times based on their individual risk assessments was a “potential recipe for disaster, at least politically, economically and socially”.

The WHO said person-to-person transmission had been confirmed in three countries outside China – Japan, Vietnam and Germany.

The official WHO declaration of a PHEIC will help manage global, coordinated efforts between countries to stem the spread of 2019-nCoV.

Forbes published an infographic on January 27th that answers the question: which countries are best and worst prepared to deal with an epidemic? The article explains:

Last October, the Global Health Security Index was released, exploring that very issue. It was the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries. The index analyzed preparation levels by focusing on whether countries have the proper tools in place to deal with large scale outbreaks of disease, with scores measured on a scale of 0 to 100 where 100 is the highest level of preparedness.

As you can see, most of Africa is ill-prepared to deal with a potential pandemic. If cases of 2019-nCoV begin to pop up here, it will be very difficult to contain human-to-human transmission in these countries.

What Happens Next?

All travel, including tourism, will be severely impacted. Many airlines around the world announced today that they were suspending flights into and out of mainland China, and we can expect that trend to continue as other outbreaks of 2019-nCoV occur. Many countries have now advised their citizens to avoid all travel to China. Expect global travel tourism to go into a free fall; nobody wants to be trapped away from home during a global health crisis. This is going to be a very difficult time for the travel industry as a whole.

The growing health emergency will trigger a global recession. The current situation in China will have a direct impact on the production of goods in that country, including the manufacture of ingredients used in many medicines, as STAT News reports. Many corporations have announced that they are shutting down their Chinese locations and asking their employees to curtail travel to/from and within China, and work from their homes. You can expect to see growing disruptions in product deliveries to stores, and potential shortages of products that come from Chinese factories: everything from clothing to electronics.

Anxiety, fear and panic will begin to take hold. People can react irrationally during times of stress. Unfortunately, social media has already become a breeding ground for wildly unfounded conspiracy theories. We have already seen incidents of anti-Chinese racism occur in Canada. Again, the best response is to remain calm, cultivate resilience, and be a discriminating information consumer. Double check and verify any news you hear via social media channels before you accept it as fact. Don’t panic, but prepare.

What is the Best Way to Prepare?

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. And the worst thing that could happen is that you will be asked to stay in your homes for a period of several weeks, limiting your outside contact with other people, as a wave of illness caused by the Wuhan coronavirus sweeps through your community, forcing schools and workplaces to close.

That means that you need to prepare by stocking up on food and other supplies to last you at least two or three weeks. The time to go shopping is NOW. Start by reviewing the Personal Health Preparedness lists provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here.

Second, inform yourself. Learn as much as you can about the virus and the illness it causes. Dr. Roger Seheult is posting short videos to his YouTube channel, explaining the medical concepts behind the Wuhan coronavirus in an easy-to-understand way. Here is a sample from today:

Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV

Here is my updated list of good, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV):

Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: News You Read Here May Not Be 100% Credible!)

PLEASE READ: In addition to the sources listed in the previous section, there are other places you can check, which might have reports (including translated links to local social media in China) that have not yet made the mainstream news media. Please keep in mind that the situation in China is chaotic, and that some of the information you find in the sources I list below might be gossip, rumours, hoaxes, misinformation, or disinformation! If you are already feeling anxious, I would recommend you avoid these sources, but if, like me, you want to get a fuller picture of what’s going on, then I provide the links below.

Stay healthy!