April 22-23, 2020 Moonshine Minutes
Part 1: Becca
We entered the month of April unsure when the “peak,” or the time with the highest medical resource use and number of cases of COVID-19, would happen in Tahoe. After citing initial projections showing our area as a COVID-19 hotspot on April 1, Tahoe Forest Health System CEO Harry Weis told Moonshine Ink on April 7 that he was optimistic that the pandemic’s local rampage was en route for a plateau, a steadying of cases that we may now be seeing.
While Weis’ optimism is encouraging, experts warn that predictive models are never certain, and much rests on the next few weeks in the region. I’m Becca Loux, Moonshine editor and reporter, here to kick off today’s Moonshine Minutes.
First, a quick area recap on the novel coronavirus status in Tahoe/Truckee:
Nevada County, while holding steady at 34 confirmed positive cases from April 7 to April 16, has now bumped up to 38 cases being reported by county authorities, 26 alone in the eastern portion. Placer’s count of confirmed cases sits at 133 as of this recording, having risen by four in the past week. And El Dorado County is reporting 39 confirmed positive cases, with 13 in the Lake Tahoe region (though 34 of that county’s cases have been declared recovered).
Meanwhile, as of the recording of this broadcast, Washoe County reports 495 active cases and 20 deaths. 195 people have recovered and 40 are currently hospitalized. The county’s COVID-19 dashboard also breaks down case counts by age, gender, and zip code.
Each county has its own COVID dashboard, providing different levels of information on what’s going on with cases behind the scenes, and we fully encourage listeners to visit each website for the latest numbers.
But rewind to before the effects began trickling into Tahoe, and there was a beginning. Today, we’ll take a few minutes to go back to the basics of the novel coronavirus: How did it start? How does it spread? And what happens if you survive one round, but are reinfected?
Part 2: Alex
The source of the coronavirus is unknown, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Current evidence points to an animal-based origin, likely a bat. I’m Alex Hoeft, news reporter for the Ink.
The first known human cases of COVID-19 were identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Again, it’s unclear how exactly humans were infected by the coronavirus, but experts are comparing the virus, more specifically known as SARS-CoV-2, to the SARS 2003 outbreak, which also stemmed from the virus jumping from an animal to humans, then human to human. Until a source is confirmed, reintroduction of the virus is an ongoing risk, and outbreaks could continue.
According to NPR, an opthamologist in Wuhan warned Chinese authorities of the emerging coronavirus’ danger early on and was reprimanded. He then contracted COVID-19 himself and he died in early February. Authorities posthumously apologized to his family for their actions.
If you have the disease, knowingly or not, you are able to spread it to those you come in contact with through small droplets from your nose or mouth — this and direct contact with an infected person is how the virus is primarily transmitted, according to the CDC, which analyzed 75,465 cases in China. Of that total, airborne transmission (or aerosolized droplets) — which is different from droplet transmission — was not reported.
COVID-19 spreads person to person, though some animals have now tested positive for the disease. The first United States animal case was a tiger with a respiratory illness at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. The CDC is saying it doesn’t have evidence that companion animals can spread the virus, but a small number of pets outside the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19.
A rapid COVID-19 testing process known as ID NOW by Abbott Laboratories has become popular in recent weeks for its ability to produce results in 15 minutes. This testing is currently available at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital in Grass Valley, as reported in Moonshine’s article, Testing Triage for COVID-19 in Tahoe, available on moonshineink.com/coronavirus.
But Dr. Gary Procop out of the Cleveland Clinic recently told NPR the ID NOW only detected the virus in about 85% of samples, meaning a false negative report of 15%. If Abbott testing becomes the norm, those 15% of people tested thinking they’re negative for the disease when they’re really positive could become a large number. Moonshine has heard from TFHS CEO Harry Weis that he is actively seeking these tests for the hospital, referring to them as the “gold standard.” We’ll be following up with the hospital regarding this new information.
Procop said to NPR that tests for the coronavirus should be at least 95% reliable.
Abbott Labs responded in a statement, saying they have confidence in the performance of the test.
Part 3, Becca
So how sick does one have to be to spread the virus? It is possible to catch the disease from someone who only has mild symptoms, and experts recently confirmed that transmission of the virus can happen before symptoms are apparent, up to three days before the onset. The study, performed in Singapore, is the latest CDC-approved research on asymptomatic or presymptomatic transmission, though many others have found even more potential for this. The Singapore study revealed that 6.4% of the cases they reviewed were attributed to presymptomatic transmission of COVID-19. A similar examination in China found that 12.6% of patients studied likely acquired the virus in a similar way. Most people who contract COVID-19 will only experience mild symptoms.
It’s currently understood by the World Health Organization that one infected individual can infect between 2 and 2.5 people — a higher reproductive number than for influenza.
Some people may become infected and not develop any symptoms or feel unwell, and roughly 80% of those with the disease won’t need any special treatment. The WHO notes that about 1 out of every 6 people with COVID-19 will become seriously ill and develop difficulty breathing. People with underlying health conditions like high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes are more likely to develop a serious illness.
On the possibility of being reinfected, Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explained in an interview with The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah that though it’s not confirmed because studies haven’t been done yet, he’s pretty certain that those who recover from the disease won’t get it again.
Fauci said: “I feel really confident that if this virus acts like every other virus that we know, once you get infected, get better, clear the virus, that you’ll have immunity that will protect you from reinfection. It’s never 100%, but I’d be willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection.”
Another avenue governments and health organizations are going down to get a handle on how widespread this virus has become is antibody testing. Because you can carry the novel coronavirus (and thus spread it) without experiencing tell-tale symptoms, many people have already been through COVID-19 and possess antibodies that may protect them from contracting it again, though science doesn’t yet know to what extent.
Antibody testing could start to build a force of essential workers and medical professionals that will be natural community heroes, unable or unlikely to contract or spread COVID-19.
The same investigative article Alex mentioned before, Testing Triage in Tahoe, delves into this question of antibodies and how the local hospital district is thinking about this solution.
The spread is shifting. Worldwide hotspots for the disease have been Italy, Spain, Germany, and China. The United States, however, has surpassed all of these countries in number of total cases.
Part 4, Alex
So let’s get the most basic terms straight: it’s the coronavirus vs. COVID-19 showdown, moderated by the AP Stylebook:
Yes, we know that person who keeps saying “COVID-19” instead of “coronavirus” sounds annoying, but they could actually be right … or very, very wrong. Or at least, not specific enough to this particular pandemic; turns out, our current coronavirus has a large family. Here’s the skinny:
Coronavirus is a family of viruses named for the crown-shaped spikes on their surfaces. These viruses can cause anything from the common cold to SARS, MERS, or our latest enemy, COVID-19.
COVID-19, or coronavirus disease 2019: This disease is caused by a virus known as SARS-CoV-2.
To reiterate, COVID-19 is the disease; the coronavirus is the virus. Additionally, because the term ‘coronavirus’ refers to a viral family rather than our specific virus, you are only technically referring to this pandemic’s villain by specifying it as the “novel coronavirus.” Novel, here, means that this exact strain has never been seen before, and with vaccine development likely to take at least a year, this microscopic foe is still vastly unknown to science.
Next Wednesday, April 29, we’ll be hosting our third Tahoe Talks, community conference calls that dive deep into important issues. This next virtual gathering is your chance to get answers about COVID-19 straight from the source. Lined up to be on the call are local healthcare officials, including Harry Weis with Tahoe Forest Health Systems, Dr. Aimee Sisson with Placer County, and Nevada County’s Dr. Ken Cutler. Visit moonshineink.com/tahoetalks to be part of this community conversation.
That’s it for today’s Moonshine Minutes, everyone. Thanks for your continued support.