The emergence of the novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it created, known as COVID-19, has truly been a menacing ordeal. With case numbers rising into the millions, it is putting science to the test–and scientific acceptance and literacy. From calling social distancing “fake news” to a halt in worldwide orders for fear of contracting the virus through the mail, the scientific misconceptions behind COVID- 19 have been spread all over. Apps like Whatsapp and Facebook have let these fictional ideas soar, and due to a lack of control on the apps, false rumors continue to spread from neighbor to neighbor and across the seven seas. With many individuals believing any information they may have heard, the virus is now spreading in two ways, both physically and by word of mouth. It is important to know the true science behind this virus before rumors and hearsay cause serious damage.
Let’s look at the origins of the virus. Though many believe the origin of the virus can be traced to Wuhan, China, new research has shown that the virus was located in Spanish wastewater back in March of 2019. “SARS-CoV-2 detected in wastewater in Barcelona on March 12, 2019″ states the Global Times. Yet, the virus we see now can be linked to Wuhan due to it being much more widespread.
Coronavirus, though quite disputed, is believed to originate from bats and/or pangolins. Whether it is one theory or another, it is recognized as a zoonotic virus, also known as a disease that “spreads between animals and people”. SARS-CoV-2 is common in certain livestock and wild animals. For a virus to jump from animals to humans, there has to be a point of contact with humans. Scientists that are currently doing research on the virus had to trace it back to how it traveled around. Viruses are perceived to jump from one animal to another before reaching humans. Looking at a genome of SARS-CoV-2 shows that it is most closely related to coronaviruses found in horseshoe bats from China. Given this information, it is believed that the virus then hopped to another animal and then to humans through various hypothesized ways such as consumption, waste, etc.
With SARS-CoV-2 being as small as 1/900th the width of a human hair yet infecting almost 19 million people globally with over 717,687 deaths, we must explore the question: how is this virus so powerful?
Just like other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 has changed over time and is still mutating. Healthline states that “the new coronavirus is an RNA virus: a collection of genetic material packed inside a protein shell”. Once the virus makes contact with a host, it will start duplicating itself in order to infect other cells. Change is normal for RNA viruses and changes will occur frequently, as SARS-CoV-2 has demonstrated. Yet, it hasn’t been mutating as we all may think. In fact, this virus is mutating at a slower and steady rate compared to other coronaviruses.
Due to predicted changes in the virus itself, how can we protect ourselves and others? And what information should we listen to?
Two sources that have been putting out information are the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). It is important to note that while these organizations have been broadcasting information, it has often been introduced late and/or been less than comprehensive. Both the CDC and WHO are influenced by the political climate of our time. Further, information about the virus is constantly evolving, meaning that they sometimes have to correct earlier declarations, as was demonstrated by the WHO’s changing stance on mask-wearing. Therefore we must look into other sources and information to fully understand what is going on and we should not rely on any singular source.. That being said, these organizations, along with other sources noted below, have released valuable information on misconceptions and realities during this time, including:
- Surgical and Cloth Masks
Some people believe that surgical and cloth masks don’t work and aren’t necessary. It’s important to note that their true function is, in fact, to prevent others and yourself from getting the virus. By having people wear these masks when going out, the chances of others getting infected become much lower. For example, when two people in a conversation both wear their masks, it lowers the chance of contracting the virus.
It is also important to look at the different types of masks and why some are better than others. A cloth mask can prevent those infected from spreading the virus by stopping large droplets that are emitted when sneezing, coughing, and so on. A surgical mask is quite similar to a cloth mask due to its loose fit, preventative measures, and more. These masks are recommended for public use, but the best mask is the N95 which is recognized as a mask that catches around 95% of droplets produced. That said, although it is a fantastic mask, please leave them for the use of healthcare professionals as a way to better protect themselves from SARS-CoV-2.
- Social Distancing
Social distancing is an umbrella term used to make sure people stay in their homes unless it is necessary to go out. Though many people are following the regulations, others are ignoring them and some are protesting against social distancing and their state laws during this time of uncertainty. It must be said over and over again that social distancing is a key factor to help bring an end to the pandemic.
- Mail and Packages
Many people on an international scale have stopped ordering items due to a fear of getting infected. This is a big misconception. The chances of getting the virus “from the mail” is quite low, yet it is very possible to get infected from boxes and other surfaces. USA Today states that the lifespan of the virus on different surfaces is “three hours after aerosolization in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel”. If packages and mail are treated correctly before touching them, then the chance of getting the virus is once again limited.
- Hand Washing
Hand washing is also necessary to prevent infection. The reason why we’re told to wash our hands often is that if we don’t, the virus may be on our hands from the surfaces we have previously touched. The recommended way of washing our hands is with soap and water for 20 seconds. But what difference does soap make? The reason why soap is so effective is that soap molecules are similar to the ones that make up the outermost layer of the virus. Science Focus states “The molecules in the lipid bilayer are as strongly attracted to soap molecules as they are to each other. This disrupts the neatly-ordered shell around the virus, dissolving it in the running water and killing the virus”. Therefore hand washing with soap and water truly helps us defend ourselves from the virus.
All in all, we must distinguish fact from fiction and assess the world around us. So please, do research and learn about what you can do to avoid this virus and prevent others from becoming infected.
Alina Nodrat is Next Gen Politics’ Science and Technology Editor. Alina’s love for writing, politics, and science has truly shaped her life. She uses her abilities to her advantage, looking for answers and writing her thoughts down in hopes that others will gain their own understanding through it. Alina intends to go to college and major in Biology on a Pre-Med track and minor in Political Science.