How the COVID-19 pandemic changed us

One virulent disease has shown how connected our world really is. The interdependence between many systems (healthcare, economy, society, environment, and so forth) demonstrates that these relationships are the foundation to our own sustenance.

In a matter of months, the world became simple, still, and quiet after the crashing waves of the COVID-19 virus swept through the nations of the world. Social distancing and quarantine measures led to the closure of many businesses, schools, airports, community centers, shopping malls, gyms, cinemas, festivals, sporting events– pretty much any area that would unnecessarily gather groups of people and cause more harm than good. It became quite clear that the consequences would become a part of reality that we must ultimately face and accept.

The healthcare system was the first to experience an immense shock. Hospitals in notable countries like Italy, Iran, and Korea, became quickly overwhelmed. This was during a time when much about the symptoms of the disease and the virus itself was (and still is) unknown. Warnings from these countries became a missed call from the future. The situations that unfolded over the past several weeks provided a precious window on the best and worst case scenarios to date. Amidst the hysteria, politics, and conspiracy, we must filter out the noise. Rather than taking the advice of those who promote the injection of hazardous compounds into our lungs, look to important figures in national health for a step in the right direction. Believe and support the unwavering heroes, who are saving lives whilst sacrificing their own. And last but not least, use your own common sense. Stay informed, alert, and healthy.

In the midst of the lock-down, supply and demand slowed down, entering the economy into a deep recession. The United States, as the world’s leading economy, sharing about a quarter of the world’s GDP, recently passed a historic $2 trillion bill. This is the largest economic stimulus package in history that was pushed in order to bailout failing businesses and support those left unemployed. This affected economies worldwide, from international trade, markets, and stocks. Many countries scourged for essential goods like the infamous N-95 masks that were literally being re-routed midair between countries in order to meet increasing demands.

Society as a whole shifted to a new way of life. People surrounded themselves with those closest to them in the intimacy of their own homes. For some, life resumed as usual, with virtual classes and meetings held on Zoom. For many, life threw a huge curve ball; millions lost their jobs overnight and became dependent on unemployment insurance to pay off bills, rent, and mortgages. Losing your job, being isolated from coworkers, friends, or family is not easy. Nor is living in fear every time you step out to get groceries and not knowing for how long this nightmare will last. All of these factors can take a big toll on an individual’s mental health. It is definitely not easy, but we are nevertheless lucky to be well and alive. Our situation could have been way worse, so we should be thankful for that.

On the bright side, our planet is healing and so are we. Lock-downs on air travel led to unprecedented reductions in deadly air pollution, up to 60% since last year in the world’s most polluted areas. It was also observed that the Earth’s ozone layer has slowly been recovering, thus stabilizing rainfall patterns and ocean currents. When we go outside, the peace and grace of nature invites us to relax and have a moment to enjoy the slower things in life. We are learning to take a break from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and turn to the things that make us calm and happy. It can be as simple as taking a breath of fresh air, starting a hobby that you never had the time for, raising children, finally learning to cook, or taking some much needed rest. This is a time to gather our own physical and mental strength. This is a time to reflect about how the rest of our lives will unfold from here on out.

COVID-19

As you are probably well informed and aware by now (unless you are literally living under a rock with no human contact–super lucky for you), we are currently living in scary and apocalyptic times. COVID-19, known as the disease caused by novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), is a newly discovered respiratory illness that has pretty much spread to all corners of the globe except Antarctica.

COVID-19 (also known as SARS-CoV2) is an infectious illness caused by a novel coronavirus discovered in 2019.

COVID-19 is a global threat to all of humankind, affecting hundreds and thousands of lives as we speak. Invisible to the naked eye and more powerful than the world’s economic and militaristic strength combined, this small non-living particle exposes how vulnerable humans really are. We really are our own downfall with our too- big-to-win egos and harnessed potential to obliterate our own planet. We are no match for mother nature.

It is just month three of the year 2020 and things are only getting started.

Chunyun occurs before The Lunar New Year as the single most largest human migration event in the world.

Around December 2019, preparations for the Lunar New Year was underway in China. The Lunar New Year marks the start of the lunar calendar and is China’s most important holiday where many migrant workers can finally return home to celebrate with family and loved ones. A massive migration event called Chunyun (traditional Chinese: 春運; simplified Chinese 春运) takes place about a few weeks prior to the New Year. It was estimated that China would rack up around 3 billion trips, making it the single most largest human migration event in the world. Around this time, an outbreak resembling Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) occurred in Wuhan, China. This of course quickly became a cause for concern not just for China, but the rest of the world.

COVID-19 is a part of the coronavirus family that are characterized by their “crown-like structures” consisting of spike proteins surrounding the virus.

Scientists later identified the SARS-like virus to be a novel coronavirus, now acknowledged as COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a subset of viruses characterized by their crown-like structures (or devilish crowns as I like to call them). These consist of spike proteins that attach perfectly onto receptors lining the cells of your lungs and respiratory tract, leading to a varied degree of respiratory symptoms from a dry cough, fever, fatigue, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and death.

As COVID-19 is a novel virus, nobody in the world is immune to it. Only those who recover from the virus and develop antibodies (immune proteins) against it can be considered immune. This is the entire premise of a vaccine: the introduction of a foreign compound (pieces of inactive virus or genetic template) to prepare the body’s front-line immune soldiers with ample ammunition (known as antibodies) to wipe out the foreign invaders. There are exceptions to this immunity rule of course, like when the virus mutates and re-infects you, causing all hell to break loose while your body tries to defeat the new enemy in disguise (P.S. this was how many people died in the “second wave” of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic).

Is there a cure? Right now, scientists across the globe are scrambling to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 at a pace like never before. Still, a major limitation for developing a vaccine, like everything else in life, is time. Therapeutics do not pop into the market in a couple of weeks or months. Believe it or not, the regular timeline from pre-clinical to clinical trials is roughly 10 to 15 years. A promising vaccine needs to be well-researched, backed up by valid experimental data, proven for safety and efficacy, approved by ethics committees, and mass-produced in large enough quantities before it can be jabbed into the arms or glutes of a person. For now, many hospitals are using existing drugs that effectively treated other viral infections to see if they might stand a chance against COVID-19.

Dr. Li Wenliang, a Chinese physician from Wuhan, China was one of the first to warn others about the spread of COVID-19. He was reprimanded for telling the truth and died from the very illness he was trying to protect his patients from.

Dr. Li Wenliang was a Chinese physician at Wuhan Central Hospital who initially warned his colleagues about the new SARS-like outbreak circulating in Wuhan in December 2019. A few weeks later, he was shunned and admonished by Chinese authorities for producing “false claims” and spreading rumours. A month later, in February, Dr. Li Wenliang succumbed to the very illness he had been warning about. The sudden death of Li provoked public grief and outrage against the government, starting an online movement for freedom of speech. The hashtag #wewantfreedomofspeech gained over 2 million views and over 5,500 posts before it was removed by Chinese censors. Li was proclaimed as an “ordinary hero” and a national icon of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating the importance of transparency and freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, the true number of reported cases and deaths (and the nature of the outbreak) was heavily downplayed in China. That is, until more and more whistleblowers followed in the steps of heroic Dr. Li Wenliang to spread the news far and as quickly as the virus was spreading to different parts of the world. It soon became undeniably apparent that the healthcare system and society itself was overwhelmed and that measures needed to be taken fast in order to stop its spread.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on March 11, 2020 that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.

On March 11, 2020, The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Director-General declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The number of cases outside of China increased 13-fold, with over 118,000 cases in 114 countries and 4,291 deaths.

Now, two weeks later on March 23, these numbers have grown exponentially: 381,521 cases and 16,553 deaths worldwide. China managed to stabilize their curve, with fewer local outbreaks, most of which are back-flow cases coming in from affected countries. With about 81,000 cases and about 3000 deaths, China’s peak has finally started to flatten thanks to intense authoritarian action, the incredible allocation of healthcare resources along with the collective action taken by the military and government to quarantine, test, and treat millions of people at unprecedented levels.

China stalled the spread of the virus and gave the world some time to prepare (*cue boss battle music*). Unfortunately, world leaders lagged behind, resulting in catastrophic events like healthcare system collapses, plunging economies, mass unemployment, hysteria, along with many, many preventable deaths. According to the WHO, Europe is now the new epicenter of the outbreak.

The hardest hit country to date is Italy. As of March 23rd, Italy has 63,927 cases and 6,077 deaths, surpassing China by a significant margin.

I will end with a quote made by the the WHO Director-General on March 11, 2020 that rings true to this day:

“The challenge for many countries who are now dealing with large clusters or community transmission is not whether they can do the same – it’s whether they will

Prevention. 

Preparedness. 

Public health.

Political leadership. 

And most of all, people.

We’re in this together, to do the right things with calm and protect the citizens of the world. It’s doable.”

In the mind of a pro-procrastinator

Are some people born with a tendency to leave everything to the last minute or is this a habit acquired from own behaviours?

If it is all in the mind, then when exactly does the drive to finish or start a task finally occur? What instigates us to finally start writing an hour before the deadline and rush until 11:59pm to submit that term paper? You see, it’s not so simple of an answer, nor too complex–it’s a bit of both. Simply stated, procrastinators know that tasks must be done (we are aware of this) but the last minute rush gives us a boost of adrenaline that allows us to spark up creative ideas on the spot, spilling a genius flow of talent that is paralleled to about three weeks of effort or more; it’s a spontaneous thrill that we so love and dread at the same time. The hard part is explaining this to non-procrastinators, who might be able to understand and perhaps fall into this high after following the footsteps of the master procrastinators themselves.

Without batting an eyelash, I can say that I am a procrastinator. I leave deadlines and work to pile up on a desk. I would rather do more desirable tasks like binge watching Youtube videos and scrolling through Reddit until the wee hours of the night, letting loose a wave of guilt and disappointment once dawn approaches. But the huge stack of regret that rouses out of my rational and fearful side is soon replaced by what Tim Urban so cleverly describes in his excellent Wait But Why blog as “the Instant Gratification Monkey”. This monkey exists in all of us. The monkey is silly and playful and seduces you to crave everything fun, free, and satisfying. In the procrastinator’s mind, think of a colossally obese and addicted simian occupying the larger portion of our brains. This monkey is tricking the mother board to reason that the only concern right now is to finish watching the next dog rescue or dance choreography video on your screen right now, nothing else. So what in the world can stop this cheeky monkey from wreaking havoc and utterly destroying your reputation and everything else at stake? There is one creature. That creature is what Tim Urban calls “The Panic Monster”. Yes, this monster is the mortal enemy of all instant gratification monkeys out there because it snatches away this illusion of a wild and happy-go-lucky jungle gym. The panic monster “yeets” the silly monkey face first into hard, concrete reality; a place that consists of boring, stressful, and time-constrained deadlines.

Procrastinators find a reason to delay things because the task at hand has a time stamp not necessarily enforced by you, but by someone superior to you. If that deadline isn’t met, then your life or career is at stake. The panic monster and concrete reality really check out. But what about tasks without any deadlines, like buying groceries, taking a shower, hanging out with family, or settling a broken relationship? How do we procrastinators handle those situations? Do we ever settle those tasks and if so, the question is, when?

The answer, again, is foggy and unscrupulous. Every passing second turns into minutes, hours, and days. Only when we realize that we need to get shit together and force our monkeys do we get a few things done. But sooner or later, that cheeky bastard finds a way to get back… with a vengeance. Schedules, beautiful to-do lists or decorative sticky-note wallpapers are for naught because in my mind, it won’t really matter. The only thing I will take a risk with is time. The only way to change that is if something is in the way to prevent me from doing just that. Perhaps we should try forcing our minds into the opposite extreme for a little while…into pre-crastinator mode. Could we then, little by little, accustom our deadly habits, accomplish things way in advance, and tweak them once the deadline nears? Can we or our peers find an ingenious way to trick our monkeys and panic monsters alike into believing in earlier deadlines by warping our sense of time? Is trickery the way to fix this or are we forever doomed to be adrenaline-rushed junkies governed by instant gratification? What do you think?

365 blogs a year

Welcome to merve365: a blog platform for dynamic discussions related to current and interesting events in science, medicine, and health. 1 blog/day, 365 days/year.

Hi! Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read my blog, merve365. If you are curious about the world, want to question and know why things are the way they are, then you have come to the right place. First, off let me start by introducing myself. My name is Merve. I grew up in TheSix, Drake-city, otherwise known as Toronto. As the eldest of three kids, I was naturally the first one to fly out of the nest. Five years ago, I landed upon the lovely city of Montreal, where I recently completed my bachelors degree in Honours Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill University. Despite the numbing cold winters and terrible construction, I fell in love with the city (in the summer of course), and decided stay, until who knows when. I wasn’t ready to leave McGill yet either. I am currently getting my diploma in Clinical Research while working part-time as a clinical researcher and lab assistant at a few hospitals. Dear readers, if you have any relevant experience or even want advice from me, I am happy to talk about the best of both worlds, from life on the bench to the clinic.

Merve365?

I started merve365 as a way to collect and organize my own thoughts, summarize interesting findings in science, medicine, and health, and provide some of my own perspectives, (hopefully) everyday. The aim is to not only teach you some interesting facts, but to also garner some interesting discussion surrounding selected topics. With that being said, I am not limiting myself to topics that only I find interesting. I want to get feedback from YOU about relevant and important topics that you wish to talk about NOW.

What’s Hot?

2020 started out with a bang. So much so that some feared the coming of an apocalypse. But let’s not get too carried away. There are many new discoveries and events that need updating and fact-checking, so let’s get on that.

A few topics to get us started:

  • The novel coronavirus outbreak: are we getting close to generating a vaccine?
  • Immunotherapy and cancer: modulating our own immune system to fight itself.
  • Artificial intelligence: powerful machine learning tools in science and health.

Here are some Science-y websites that inspired me to get started:

Thanks again for joining me on this exciting new adventure. Let’s talk science!