Why what scientists say about COVID keeps changing

SARS-Cov-19, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, is a new (novel) coronavirus. No human had ever been infected by the virus.

Scientists looked at other recent coronaviruses, such as SARS, MERS, swine flu, and influenza viruses to help them understand COVID-19. Scientists are learning more daily, even hourly.

Scientific research is shared openly and is transparent. For COVID this means new results can change what we understand about it.

Sometimes what was reliable last week may be wrong this week. We will know a lot more in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, etc. But, recommendations had to be made early in the pandemic, based on the viruses we knew about.

Comparing Covid to seasonal influenza (flu)

When Covid first started, scientists assumed it would be similar to seasonal influenza, where children are a major source of infection. We think now that this is not correct.

Usually, the only complication with the flu was pneumonia. The death rate from flu averages 0.1 percent. COVID is currently estimated at .6% to 1% (estimates vary) or 6 to 10 times the flu death rate, which averages 35,000 per year and can be as high as 60,000 people per year. Note: there are differing, and changing, estimated death rates for both seasonal flu and COVID.

COVID was assumed to be a respiratory infection (lungs/breathing) like the flu. But, it is becoming clearer that it also affects blood vessels in organs (brain, kidney, liver, lungs). It can take a long time to recover because of this damage to your body. It can become a chronic disease.

When new data and research is available, recommendations change: examples

At the beginning of the pandemic face masks were not recommended for people except heathcare workers. The reason was there was a mask shortage and they should be reserved for front line healthcare workers. Unfortunately, this reason was not communicated very well. Now, face masks are mandatory in many states and cloth face masks are recommended.

Not recognizing that about 40% of cases never have symptoms (asymptomatic) was a mistake. (Note: This percent has changed over time.) Adequate testing would have shown us that was not correct. Not changing recommendations soon enough can be a very bad mistake, costing lives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, scientists focused on the risk of larger droplets being expelled from the lungs by coughing and sneezing, similar to other influenza viruses. They dropped down quickly, typically within 6 ft. Now we know that there may be risk of infection from very small airborne particles that can spread widely, traveling much farther than 6 ft. How much virus transmission occurs is not known yet.

From an article I wrote in June, 2020, 3 months ago: What changed from February to June – 8 things we got wrong — at first — about the deadly pandemic

From masks to contagion rates, our understanding of COVID-19 came a long way. Remember what it was like back in February and March??

“A lot of our early assumptions about the new coronavirus have flip-flopped. This is normal. That’s how science works — it’s a process of being less and less wrong over time. COVID-19 is new, so there’s lots of uncertainty. And the pandemic’s size and scale caught us by surprise. As we learn more, our understanding of the virus continues to change.”

Topics discussed:
– Masks are useful after all. CDC changed their recommendation.
– Don’t just blame China; our early cases came from all over. (In September we keep finding new data that it has been spreading in the U.S. since late last year. Lack of testing. (In September we know that about 40% of infected persons are asymptomatic – no symptoms. CDC finally agreed. )
– It’s less deadly than we first feared. About 0.6%. Flu is about .0.1%.
– It’s spreading more slowly. (In September we know that it spreads at varying rates)
– It’s not just a respiratory disease. Attacks many parts of the body.
– Your mail probably won’t kill you. Primarily spreads through breathing, coughing, sneezing, etc.
– Children aren’t completely safe. (In September we are still finding out about children transmission. The age of the child is very important.)
– You were smart to store toilet paper. (In September we can finally get tp at the local grocery store.)

A well written, understandable June article. With scientific references. To read the article, click here

What does this mean for you?

Every day there is new scientific information about COVID that may change your risks and how you and your family, keep safe. Use reliable sources. If you are not sure about something you hear, especially on social media, go to www.snopes.com or your favorite “rumor debunking” web site and check it out.

For this blog, I only use information from reliable sources. I have used most of them for many years. Whenever possible I read the original scientific research. Sometimes friends tell me about what they have read or heard on tv news. Often, when it is reliable, I have known about it for several months. This is one of the reasons I started this blog: to let readers know what is happening at any time.

Please leave a comment. We want to know what you think!!