Coronavirus Covid-19: Some Questions and Answers

Many people have been asking questions about the Coronavirus outbreak. First, if you’re scared, you should be. This pandemic is not a hoax as expressed by people like Trump and Hannity, and the USA is woefully unprepared to diagnose, prevent, contain, mitigate, and treat this exponentially spreading and deadly disease. Understand, even if you don’t die from the disease, if you are severely infected with the disease you may suffer permanent scaring in you pulmonary system, potentially resulting in lifelong  respiratory problems. Be concerned, take action, and don’t panic. Follow good public health practices such as social distancing, cleansing your hands, and not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose unless you have cleansed your hands. To best set your immune system to fight the infection and quell the inflammation induced by your immune system response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19, eat right, exercise, don’t smoke, limit or stop alcohol consumption, and sleep well. In my book, “Thinking And Eating For Two: The Science of Using Systems 1 and 2 Thinking to Nourish Self and Symbionts,” I detail much of what you can do to become healthier and improve your innate and adaptive immune systems. Eat vegetables, with soluble and insoluble fiber, limit salt and sugar intake, no processed oils, including olive oil, especially coconut oil and even MCTs. I’ll now answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about Covid-19.

Why is it called the novel “coronavirus”?

Novel because we’ve never seen this virus in the human population previously. This virus probably originated in bats and then spread to other animals with whom humans interact, including those animals in our food supply. The virus is called a coronavirus because of the 3 dimensional shape of the virus; named for the crown-like spikes on the virus’ surface.

What does this mean and what is known about how the virus compares to
others in the same family?

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. There are seven coronaviruses that can infect people. These types of viruses are typically responsible for common colds more than serious diseases. However, coronaviruses are also behind some more severe outbreaks, including Covid-19, SARS, and MERS. These viruses mutate in time and new strains emerge. When the virus mutates, chemical and structural changes can result that may change the viruses’ spread and infection patterns. The dangerous new strain called SARS-CoV-2 started circulating, causing the disease COVID-19 in 2018, but seriously emerged in 2019. Scientists discovered and had warned that this disease would spread in 2018, but the Trump administration had dismantled the “Predict” program begun by President GW Bush and expanded by President Obama. Trump ignored warning after warning that an outbreak was imminent. We were caught totally unprepared for this pandemic because of Trump and his lack of scientists (Ph.D.) in key positions. Scientists, such as Prof. Dr. Wayne Getz, Ph.D. at UC Berkeley have published very recently the specific needs in order to understand, predict, and contain future outbreaks, especially due to zoonotic disease, borne from animal transmission.

I’ve heard that the novel coronavirus may be spread by droplets. Can you explain what this means and what is known thus far about the spread of the virus / how long these droplets may spread the virus between humans/on surfaces?

Yes, SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads most readily in droplets originating from our upper respiratory system and transmitted to others when we cough, sneeze, and even during talking. If you’ve ever smelled onion or garlic on someone’s breath, then you’re inhaling some form of droplets from that person, including any viruses contained in their breath. While the CDC recommends distancing yourself 3-6 ft from someone who is coughing or sneezing, a study from scientists at MIT found evidence that these droplets can travel much farther. Scientists have also found that these droplets that have landed on surfaces can remain active, potentially for hours. If you touch a surface with viral droplets, and then put your hand in your eyes, nose, or mouth, transmission may occur. This is known as fomite transmission. Viruses are not alive, but we refer to them as active or inactive. If you wash your hands with soapy water or 60-90% alcohol, you’ll inactivate the virus. The virus has a lipoprotein (Fat-protein) structure that covers the genetic material to protect the fragile RNA. Also expressed on the outer surface are proteins with specific amino acid sequences that impart a number of functions to the virus, including whether it can bind to proteins in lungs or cardiovascular systems. Washing your hands or applying alcohol can disrupt the lipoprotein coat and inactivate the RNA rendering the coronavirus harmless. This is similar to what is done to inactivated viruses for the development of an inactive vaccine.

Is our healthcare system prepared for this outbreak?

No. We still have few people being tested and have no idea of the spread, rate of infection, and morbidity and death rates from this disease. People who were originally diagnosed with influenza and died have now been found to have died of Covid-19. Our hospitals and clinics are likely to be overwhelmed with severe cases of Covid-19 within a few weeks. In Germany, for many reasons, including the country is run by a scientist (Dr. Merkel is a PhD level physical chemist), has medical care for all, and their physicians who earn an M.D. degree in addition to medical training have scientific training unlike here in the USA, has responded much better to the pandemic than has the USA. Science and evidence based decision making, with scientists who are trained and experienced at solving problems, leads to better outcomes. Unfortunately in the USA our response team is run by physicians, not scientists. Fauci and the rest have done a poor job at protecting the people of the USA. Our healthcare system is a mess in general, and this becomes becomes especially transparent during these times of crisis.

If a package is handled by an infected delivery person and they coughor sneeze on the package, could you theoretically become infected by touching it?

Yes, this would be an example of fomite transmission. A number of variables would contribute to whether you become infected in this way, including the level of infection of the person sneezing, how long the droplets sat on the surface, the volume of the droplet material on the surface of the package, and how much of the droplet you transmitted to your eyes, mouth, or nose. The fomite transmission won’t occur through the skin. A number of studies found evidence that fomite transmisssion is less probable than transmission by breathing-in aerosoled droplets from a cough or sneeze that contain the virus. Be careful, because the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains stable in the air and remain active for hours, perhaps even days, on some surfaces.

How does Covid-19 kill people?

Basically they die of suffocation, even when on a respirator. This virus, SARS-CoV-2 attaches itself to a number of sites in the body using the ACE2 receptor, including in our alveoli in the lungs. This virus also seems to bind to integrins that are expressed throughout the body. This possible pathway of entry is just beginning to be studied. The virus attaches to epithelial cells in the lungs, including in alveoli, where gas exchange occurs (Oxygen comes in, CO2 goes out) and sets up of a dramatic immune response to kill the virus. Along with cells dying from the virus, in the process of our killing the infection, collateral damage occurs where our own cells are damaged or killed. The damaged cells build up in the alveoli. Also liquid begins to seep into the alveoli because the matrix that normally prevents liquid flow has been damaged. Gas exchange stops occurring in the alveoli because of debris and liquid. No matter how much oxygen you pump-in, not enough enters the blood to sustain cellular respiration. If the patient is saved using a respirator, the damaged alveoli will likely suffer from scarring, called fibrosis, with possible ensuing respiratory problems. Scientist and physicians in China report that the those affected by Covid-19 respond well to steroids. Prophylactic and therapeutic low dose steroid oral tablets/inhalers at the earlier stage of COVID-19 and high dose steroid treatment according to the severity of the disease can play important roles in decreasing the fatality and pulmonary fibrosis.

I’ll answer more in an upcoming post.



Published by Dr. Greg Maguire, Ph.D.

Dr. Maguire, a Fulbright-Fogarty Fellow at the National Institutes of Health, is a scientist, innovator, teacher, healthcare professional. He has over 100 publications and numerous patents. His book, "Adult Stem Cell Released Molecules: A Paradigm Shift To Systems Therapeutics" was published by Nova Science Publishers in 2018.

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