Doc Gumshoe – COVID-19 Miscellany, May 2020

I decided to add the year to my title in the event that this thing goes on for another full year, and I have to do an update in May 2021.   I pray fervently that such an eventuality will not come to pass, but it’s certainly possible.   Having said that, your obedient servant Doc Gumshoe continues to be an optimist, more or less, and continues on the alert for positive developments and hopeful bits of news.

Well, all I know is what I see on the internet, as Will Rogers would have said if he were around these days.   But here are some topics that Doc Gumshoe has looked at carefully, and which I hope you will think deserving of attention.

The first, and likely most important and most hopeful of these is the emergence of herd immunity.

When, and how, will herd immunity emerge to protect us from the coronavirus?

The “herd” I am referring to here is not cows or sheep, but us – the human population.   The way it works, and the reason it works, is that viruses are not able to survive on their own.   They can exist for a limited time outside of a host.   The duration of that limited time varies among different viruses; in the corona virus (now designated SARS-CoV-2) under normal circumstances it may be as long as 48 hours, but usually much shorter.   It depends, as probably you have heard, on its specific environment; for example, on steel or hard plastic, it might still be present and a possible source of infection 48 hours after it was first deposited there by a cough or a sneeze.   On some other metals, such as copper, not more than about 6 hours.   On paper, cardboard, textiles, and other absorbent surfaces, a considerably shorter time.   Of course, researchers have their ways of keeping the virus alive and active for longer.    

Therefore, in order to survive, a virus needs to penetrate a living being and kidnap the resources it needs to reproduce, which it manages with considerable efficiency.   Multitudes of viral particles can take up residence in a single living cell, appropriate the cell’s own functions, kill the cell, and emerge to invade other cells.   In the case of the novel corona virus, the spikes on the exterior of the virus have the special ability to attach to receptors on the exterior of living cells in the host.   These spikes, by the way, are what give corona viruses their name – they resemble a crown.   

When it penetrates the living cell, the virus is recognized as an invader, and the innate immune system of the living being that the virus has invaded (the host) will produce antibodies, which at the same time can attach to the viral particles and alert the immune system’s defense forces to attack the virus.   The host that the virus has invaded – human or animal – uses its immune response to combat and eliminate the virus.   An all-out war has been declared, and the host is the battlefield.   This is not necessarily agreeable for the host.   We – the human hosts that have been invaded by the virus – develop fevers, inflammation, aches, and other symptoms that we may interpret as signs that we are sick, but are in reality signs that we’re desperately fighting off a severe disease.

But even after the virus’s host wins this war – which we fervently hope the host does win – the antibodies remain, and act as sentries in case the virus should invade again.   It’s not known at this moment what degree of immunity those persons have who have been infected with the evil corona virus and fought off the COVID-19 disease, but what is known about viruses strongly suggests that some immunity will be present in those individuals.   How powerful that immunity will be and how long it will last is a matter of speculation at this time.   

Vaccines are the other pathway to immunity.   At present, more than 100 potential COVID-19 vaccines are in development.   We’ll take a look at a few of the more promising candidates later on in this piece, but despite a certain person’s promise to have 300 million doses of a vaccine available by January of 2021, that timetable seems a stretch.

A vaccine is carefully crafted to produce an immune response without causing the actual disease.   Frequently vaccines do cause some mild symptoms, and the symptoms do vary among the many vaccines.   The smallpox vaccine usually produced a single little pox on the skin at the site of the inoculation.