SARS-CoV-19, better known as COVID-19, has been, and is, one of the most frustrating, disruptive, and mysterious infectious diseases with which man has ever dealt. It’s different than any previous bacteria, virus, fungus, or other pathogen (disease causing agent) we’ve ever seen. It has been in the public consciousness for almost two years, but it’s impact on American life has really been noticed only since March 17, 2020.

That was the last day many businesses, museums, restaurants, and public facilities were open in Phoenix and its suburbs. I know because our son and two grandsons from Dallas were visiting on their Spring break. We spent March 17th at the Arizona Science Center in downtown Phoenix and were told that was the last day they would be open because of the pandemic. That’s the day fear of the unknown began, and it has persisted until this very moment.

Most infectious diseases have been studied enough to know specific details about them; how are they transmitted? How long is the incubation period? When is a patient contagious and for how long? When does the contagious phase end? Can you get it more than once? Does infection convey permanent immunity? If not, for how long? Is vaccination effective, long-lasting, permanent?

Diseases like measles, polio, chicken pox, and rubella, were studied for decades before well-known, solid facts emerged which doctors have relied on for decades. For COVID-19, almost nothing is certain! We know far less about this virus than any we’ve ever encountered because it’s new on the scene. Anyone who makes dogmatic statements about COVID-19, and claims to know all the answers, is either lying, delusional, or trying to influence people in one direction. The real answer is no one knows all the answers and no one knows the truth.

That realization came to light when I read a blurb entitled “It only takes this long to get COVID in a room with someone who has it.” It purported to state how long it would take to acquire COVID from a nearby infected person. One might think there’s a simple answer to this question. It’s this many minutes! But nay, nay, my friends; not so fast! IT DEPENDS!

IT DEPENDS on numerous factors that are variable and inconsistent. For example,

It depends on the SIZE OF THE ROOM one is in—is it an apartment, a home, or Walmart?

It depends on the HEIGHT OF THE CEILING

It depends on the AMBIENT TEMPERATURE—is it hot or cold?

It depends on MASKS—are you wearing one, is the infected person wearing one, are you both

wearing one, what material is the mask made of, is it being worn properly?

It depends on HOW FAR APART the individuals are

It depends on the VENTILATION in the room/building—what HVAC system is used, is a HEPA

filter in use

It depends on the HUMIDITY levels of the area

It depends on the SIZE OF THE CROWD in the room/building/area

It depends on whether you’re FACING each other

It depends on the AGE and HEALTH status of the two people

“The possibilities are infinite!”

An example might be dinner with 10 other people, in a 20-by-20 room where everyone talked normally, did not wear masks while eating, and were 6 feet apart; the room would be safe for only 18 minutes. Wearing masks adds two minutes, opening the windows to improve ventilation adds 6 more minutes, and upgrading to surgical masks adds two hours. Wearing masks improperly, though, drops the time from 2 hours to 32 minutes. In a Walmart with 1000 people wearing good masks and breathing dry air you have 68 minutes.

Scientists at MIT have developed an online tool they use for judging your COVID risk. Simply enter your information in this program and suddenly you have your answer. Should you or should you not go to Walmart for toilet paper? How long should you stay there? Of course, how do you know how many people are in Walmart, how many of them have COVID-19, and whether you’ll come anywhere near one of them? You don’t! It’s completely a guess, and all it does is make you fearful—fearful to go out in public, fearful of the guy who walked too close to you, fearful of touching your grocery cart, and fearful of dying if you get sick!

We know COVID-19 is spread by droplets containing the virus. Sneezing, coughing, or blowing one’s nose disperses these droplets. But many other things are uncertain, especially when it comes to long-term immunity. We just don’t know yet. Incubation periods, quarantine time lengths, length of time COVID lives on various surfaces, and information on transmission are changing all the time as scientists investigate and learn more. Vaccines pose a whole host of other unknowns. Will there be adverse effects? Will there be long term or permanent immunity? Will booster shots be needed? etc.

Only more time will answer all these questions. Then, like measles and chicken pox, we’ll have a good idea what to expect from COVID-19. We’ll know how long we might be sick. We’ll know when the contagious period begins and ends, how long it will take to recover fully from the illness, if we can get it again, and if a vaccine will make us immune. Until then, anxiety and uncertainty will dictate our behavior. Being well-informed always makes dealing with stress easier and factual information has been slow to come this time. It’s very important that medical leaders present information for the good of the populace. That means without ideology and political or personal bias, and truthfully. I sincerely hope that’s possible, but in today’s world, honesty and ethics are in the mind of the beholder. We have to hope the good of the people and the nation are the main priorities.



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