COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, has been plaguing the entire world for the past couple of months. From shutdowns to travel bans, most governments are taking serious measures to control the spread of the virus. Amidst the havoc, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Seema Yasmin, Director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, and CNN Medical Analyst, on Wednesday, March 18 2020 to understand the current situation from an academic perspective.
Jayanth: How is the research on COVID-19 going at Stanford and also at other universities?
Dr. Yasmin: There is a lot of research happening about the coronavirus, the way it spreads and its causes. There are literally new scientific articles published every day. But, there is research in the field of epidemiology, clinical medicine, antiviral development, and vaccine development just to name a few.
Jayanth: How do you see the progression of Coronavirus?
Dr. Yasmin: It’s really hard to predict with the spread of a new virus. What we do know is that the whole population doesn’t have immunity and is susceptible. So even though many viruses have seasons like flu or the RSV [Human Respiratory Syncytial Virus], often when a virus emerges in a new population, like in humans for the first time, it may not have seasonality. So what we’re thinking now is that there will be an increase in cases at least in the U.S. and that the epidemic curve will continue to rise until it reaches a peak and then declines. How long that takes is challenging to predict. But, it could be weeks to maybe even a month or more. And that’s based on the data from various models that I’ve looked at.
Jayanth: How do you think the government is handling the pandemic? Is there more that the government could do in tackling the issue?
Dr. Yasmin: Sadly, in the US, we’ve seen a delayed response to the epidemic, and we’ve seen a demonstration of a lack of preparedness. This was known in some regards. For example, in 2009-2010, when we had the spread of pandemic H1N1 flu, 85 million N-95 respirators were deployed from the Strategic National Stockpile, but they were not replenished, after the fact. So, we weren’t ready for the pandemic; we hadn’t done that advanced thinking and preparation. So, we’re left now in a situation where we have about 12 million N-95 respirator masks, an additional 5 million which expired in the Strategic National Stockpile when we might need by the government’s own estimates, 3 or 3.5 billion masks. So, in that regard, the government is failing at being prepared for these events. And then it’s failing during the crisis by being slow to respond. And we’ve seen the slowness play out with the issues with testing kits.
Jayanth: During a pandemic like this, people are always exposed to unreliable information. How should people avoid these false sources?
Dr. Yasmin: It’s very hard in this information ecosystem to avoid the scams, the hoaxes, and misinformation, and disinformation. Even very intelligent people I know were slightly fooled by a recent hoax about the Coronavirus, which was said to have come from Stanford Medicine and did not. It said all these things and people are believing them. The important thing to do is to check the source of information. So, don’t just believe a WhatsApp message or Facebook message. Is it saying the information came from somewhere? Then, you always need to follow that journey of the information and go to the direct source. If someone’s sending you a scam and they’re saying that came from Stanford,don’t just delete that message, find out if it really did and do that before you believe it. And certainly, before you hit Send and share it with others.
Jayanth: How effective are quarantines and social distancing at this time?
Dr. Yasmin: Quarantine is limiting the movement of people who are healthy, who may have been exposed but don’t have symptoms and isolation is for people who already have symptoms where you’re keeping them away from others, so that they don’t become infected. Both quarantine and isolation can be useful in breaking the chains of transmission and if not completely stopping, at least slowing down the spread of disease. Now with social distancing, we’re doing something that we’ve seen at work in previous epidemics and pandemics, where you’re trying to keep people further away from each other to either stop or slow down the spread. They can be effective measures if they’re done properly and if they’ve been done early on, and if they’re done for the right amount of time. Sadly, we’ve seen a political game being played where there was a lot of talk about “this isn’t serious” and “this is under control.” And then suddenly, we’re being told by politicians. “No, this is serious. And this is not under control.” I think that makes it very difficult for the public to decide what is the right action to take and who should they be listening to.
Jayanth: Sometimes we see people panicking about a common cold or a mild fever, mistaking it for the coronavirus. How is the coronavirus distinguishable from regular viruses?
Dr. Yasmin: Currently, it’s difficult to differentiate somebody who has pneumonia caused by one virus and pneumonia caused by the coronavirus. Similarly, it’s difficult to distinguish between a person who has a runny nose because of Rhinovirus versus a runny nose because of this new Coronavirus. That’s why we need adequate testing that can be done quickly. Sadly, in the US, we’ve had a situation where testing has been delayed; the initial test kits were faulty. Now that tests are being made more available,there are shortages of reagents that are needed to run the tests. Really, it’s testing that helps you differentiate a patient with the novel Coronavirus from a patient that’s blue, for example. That’s why testing is so important.
Jayanth: What are some precautions that the public can take to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus?
Dr. Yasmin: It’s important now that we perform social distancing so that we are limiting the spread of the disease and we’re keeping safe the most vulnerable people in our community. It’s also important that we become good at differentiating legitimate information from the scams that circulate. It’s hard but it’s on all of us to be good citizens in terms of not sharing false information and checking the accuracy of information before we share it.
Jayanth: Finally, how historic do you think the current pandemic is?
Dr. Yasmin: This is a historic pandemic and the public health crisis of a generation. We are hearing that in Britain, medical schools are being told to graduate their medical students early. Here in the U.S. I’m hearing from second year medical students being told to get to work and start helping with triaging the coronavirus patients. We’re looking at changes in the way that we live our daily lives; We’re working from home; We are canceling events; We are social distancing as much as possible. I think when we look back, we will see it as a major event that changed the way that we interact with each other. I think we might look back on it as a crisis that could have been managed a lot better, and that more lives could have been saved with enhanced preparedness, and better leadership.
This Editor-In-Chief graduated in 2020. Jayanth Naga Sai Pasupulati, popularly known as Jay, is a current senior at Washington High School, Fremont and one of the Editors-In-Chief for the Hatchet. Jay is a first-generation immigrant who lived in Hyderabad, India and came to the United States at the age of 14. Before he was the Editor-In-Chief ,he worked as a Staff Reporter at the Hatchet. As a staff reporter, he was interested in covering critical news that affect our society and stories that encapsulate what it is like to be a human.Besides Journalism, Jay also likes to watch movies and to jog at Lake Elizabeth. In the future, Jay is unsure of what he wants to do but he aspires to be a friendly leader, like during his time at the Hatchet.