Straight answers on Covid 19
All performers know their most valuable asset is good health. In the current pandemic, this is a paramount concern. Please inform yourself regarding what we do and do not know at this moment in time. Stay well, and know we will get through this. Many thanks to SongSalon hostess, Leslie Giammanco, for sharing this informative article.
By Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Founder
We’ve been told alternatively to not wear masks, to wear masks, to stay home, and
to get out and reinvigorate the economy. Hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir both
got our hopes up but now have largely fizzled. We’ve heard estimates that as many
as two million Americans will die and now, with 100,000 deaths, we’ve heard we’re
near the end of the crisis. Is a vaccination forthcoming? How likely we to get the
disease? What exactly should we do with our aging parents who are at the most
To get some clear answers, I called Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, an internationally
known expert in infectious disease epidemiology who has advised both Democratic
and Republican Presidents. I know Dr. Osterholm from the University of Minnesota. He serves as Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. He has also served as interim Director of the Centers for Disease Control.
In short, Dr. Osterholm is arguably one of the most dependable, non-political
sources for straight answers on what COVID-19 means to us and our world in the
immediate future. In his 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy, he correctly foretells a global
pandemic and offers the best strategy for fighting it now and avoiding it in the
Here are the highlights of our conversation. But if you really want to understand this
disease, read the whole interview. This disease may be the biggest event of our
3 months ago, COVID-19 was not even in the top 75 causes of death in thiscountry. Much of the last month, it was the #1 cause of death in this country.This is more remarkable than the 1918 Flu pandemic.
There is no scientific indication Covid-19 will disappear of its own accord.
If you’re under age 55, obesity is the #1 risk factor. So, eating the right diet, getting physical activity, and managing stress are some of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from the disease.
One of the best things we can do for our aging parents is to get them out into the fresh air, while maintaining physical (not social) distancing.
Wearing a cloth mask does not protect you much if you’re in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 contagious. It may give you 20 minutes,instead of 10, to avoid contracting the disease.
We can expect COVID-19 to infect 60% – 70% of Americans. That’s around 200 million Americans.We can expect between 800,000 and 1.6 million Americans to die in the next 18 months if we don’t have a successful vaccine.
There is no guarantee of an effective vaccination and even if we find one, it may only give short term protection.
Speeding a vaccination into production carries its own risks.
The darkest days are still ahead of us. We need moral leadership, the command leadership that doesn’t minimize what’s before us but allows everyone to see that we’re going to get through it.
Dan Buettner: The 1918 Spanish Flu broke out in the spring, kind of went semidormant
in the summer and then came back with a lethal vengeance in the fall. Do you
worry we might see a similar pattern with COVID-19?
Dr. Michael Osterholm: One of the things we have to understand is that this virus is
operating under the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. It doesn’t in any way,
shape, or form bend itself to public policy. Right now, about 5% of the US population
has been infected; although it’s higher in places like New York City and some urban
areas, across the world it’s about 5%.
A virus like this is transmitted by the respiratory route. I call it the leaky bucket
virus because if there’s one little crack somewhere, it will get out and will infect
people. Why is that important? Because we know that it will continue to infect
people into 60 to 70% of the population over time. When this happens, it’s called
herd immunity where these people are immune rods in the transmission reaction.
That means that if I’m in contact with four people and three of them are already
protected because they have antibody from having had the illness or been
vaccinated, I don’t transmit to them. So the bottom-line message here is that this
virus is going to keep transmitting to others until it hits that 60 or 70% level. And
even then, it’s like a plane at 30,000 feet when the pilot announces we’re going to be
dropping for landing. It doesn’t just suddenly land, it’ll just slow down.
So, we’re really confronted with having this virus in our population for months to
years ahead if we don’t get a successful vaccine. So to answer your question of how
we are going to get to that 60 or 70%, that’s what we don’t know. We’ve never had a
coronavirus pandemic infection like this. It may have happened centuries ago, but
we didn’t see it.
If it’s like influenza, of which there have been 10 such pandemics in the last 250 plus
years, three started in our North American winter, two in our spring, three in our
summer, and two in our fall. And in each instance when that happened, there was a
wave that lasted several months, much like we’re seeing now around the world that
seemed to disappear after several months. We don’t know what happens to the
virus and it is not just based on season — it’s always just after a few months. In
every instance the virus came back with a second wave. And when that happened,
usually three to four months after that initial wave was over, it tended to be much,
much more severe.
This is not just the 1918 pandemic because even in 2009 with H1N1, we saw that
same thing happening with a much less severe pandemic. We saw an early Spring
peak of cases when it first emerged in March, April, and May. Then it disappeared
and came back in late August / early September and then took off with a peak in
October. So that’s one model that could happen. But because this is a coronavirus
[not an influenza virus], we don’t know what might happen for sure. Our group has
actually put a paper on our website and the scenarios for what this might look like.
We said, well, maybe it’s not going to be like a flu virus, maybe it’ll just be a slow
burn and just keep doing what it’s doing now for potentially months and months to
come if we don’t get a vaccine. Or we could see more of these kinds of peaks and
valleys where basically certain areas light up for anywhere from a month to six
weeks, and we work hard to suppress it, and then it disappears, but then it lights up
somewhere else. And any of these are still possibilities.
But I can say with certainty, what I call the laws of virus physics, is that this is going
to continue to transmit until we see a large part of the population infected. When
you think about only 5% of this country’s been infected to date, and you understand
the pain, the suffering, the death, and economic disruption that’s occurred with just
5%, then you can imagine what it’s going to take for us to get to 60 or 70%.
DB: There’s no chance it will just mysteriously disappear after the first or second
MO: We have no reason to think that that will happen. Put it in this context: If we
drop 1000 books, we can pretty well predict moment after moment after moment in
every instance, where each book is going to go when it hits the floor. And the same
thing is true with viruses like this. There’s nothing in our past history that would
suggests that it would just suddenly disappear and die off. While it does change
genetically over time, it’s still a very stable virus. There’s no evidence that somehow
it might just mutate itself away. That’s just not going to happen.
DB: So there’s a lot of hope around a vaccination. But we haven’t been able to find a
vaccination for herpes or for the common cold. Is there any reason to have any greater
hope for COVID-19 than we’ve had for these common diseases that have been around
for decades or centuries?
MO: The one thing we’ve done here is we’ve put probably the hundred best hockey
players we can on the vaccine ice. And so, we’re getting lots of shots on goal and
they’re as good as they’re going to get. So that part is very positive. The world has
responded. There are over 120 vaccine candidates being evaluated right now. But to
go to the heart of your question, will any of them make it in the goal? We don’t
know. There are challenges with coronaviruses. We know that from two other
coronavirus infections called SARS and MERS; in both instances, we were not able to
get easily and effectively applied vaccines.
We also know that it’s possible we could get some short-term immunity with these
vaccines. That means you may not be able to develop what we call durable immunity
that lasts a long time. That would be a real challenge, because then you’d have to
keep re-vaccinating people if that would even work. The final piece is safety as we
do have challenges with this virus. We know that there’s a condition called antibody
dependent enhancement, which is a condition where you make just a little bit of
antibody, but not enough to protect yourself. There’s also an immune enhancement
phenomena where your body goes out of whack in terms of immune response. And
so, one of the things that we are having to look at very carefully is the safety of these
I would say at this point we can all be hopefully optimistic. But we know hope is not
a strategy. I think the key message is that, first of all, is that if it does happen, it’s not
going to happen soon. The idea that we’re going to have a readily available vaccine
by the end of this year is just not realistic. And while we all want to be aspirational,
we also have to be highly practical in how we plan. I think the second piece of it is
that if we do get a vaccine, it’s not going to happen overnight in terms of making it or
distributing it. There are 8 billion people in the world that want this vaccine right
now. What happens if China has an effective vaccine before we do, are we going to
get any of it? And so, there are still many challenges yet that are before us in terms
of what happens even if we do get an effective vaccine.
DB: Good answer. A Blue Zones core value is honoring older people. For people who
have aging parents or relatives, do they need to sit at home by themselves for the next
year? Or how do we best protect them?
MO: This is a challenge that is as daunting as any I’ve ever faced in my public health
career, including HIV / AIDS or any other condition. How do we try to protect those
people who are at the highest risk of having a severe outcome? And right now, if
you’re over age 65, you’re male, if you have underlying heart disease, hypertension,
diabetes, renal disease, certain lung cancers or blood cancers or if you’re moderately
to severely obese, then these are all risk factors for developing the disease. And I
might add to the obesity piece, which is something very near to the hearts of your
readers here — healthy lifestyles are so important in reducing your risk for severe
Right now, among those people who we see having severe disease under
age 55, obesity is the number one risk factor for COVID-19.
So what do we do to protect these people? We don’t have a ready answer. Locking
people up to bubble them from this virus for 18 or more months, or however long it
might take to get a vaccine, is a severe challenge. Mental health-wise — we have to
understand the issues. I categorically reject the concept of social distancing. It’s
physical distancing. I hope we never social distance, ever.
Minimizing your contact with large groups, numbers of people, will surely help. We
know that you can reduce transmission that way. Beyond that, wearing a mask will
reduce your risk and not in a major way, but it’s another possible means of reducing
transmission. But in the end, this is why we so desperately need to get a vaccine.
DB: Let’s say you have two 80-year-old parents who live in a house by themselves.
What do they do for the next year?