Here we are, in the middle of dealing with COVID-19. We’re stuck at home, trying our best to deal with a bad situation. We naturally want to know when things will go back to some semblance of normal.
To do this, we need models. In science, a model is a way to make some part of the world easier to understand. In this case, how dangerous COVID-19 is. We hear about esoteric things like R0 (R-naught), which is how many people an infected person infects. But that’s hard to figure out. So we predict what the things that make up R0 are. That means that different people/organizations come up with different values of R0. The same things go into trying to determine how deadly this blasted disease is. Just what goes into making these predictions anyway?
Well, the author of the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a really good explanation of what scientists are dealing with trying to come up with a good model. You can read it over here. It gets into the nitty-gritty of what is going into the models for COVID-19. As such, it is pretty technical. But worth reading if you want to know more about why R0 seems to be different in the US than in Italy.
Right now, with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our communities, it is important to be physically distancing ourselves from others. This is hard to do. Humans are social animals, and we crave contact with others.
Here’s a site that uses avatars that you customize that will help explain why distancing is important, and why we need to keep doing it until we have a way to get immunity.
And here’s a video I made on why it is imporant to keep distancing ourselves.
Don’t believe everything you read on social media. This is a good general rule, but it’s especially important when the news (and your newsfeed) is filled with misleading to straight-up false information about an easily misunderstood topic like the coronavirus.
So how do you know what—and who—to trust?
Journalist Will Oremus points out that a best practice is to cross-check everything you read rather than taking it at face value. Instead of viewing a single source of information as absolute truth, look elsewhere for confirmation of (or to debunk) supposed facts.
Here are a few reliable resources to cross-check about CORVID-19 claims:
The World Health Organization (WHO): WHO has the most up-to-date information about what’s going on with coronavirus on a global scale. You’ll find travel recommendations, situation reports and prevention best practices on the WHO website.
The CDC: The CDC offers status updates about coronavirus cases in the US and abroad as well as information about testing, prevention and treatment, as well as recommendations and resources for specific groups (schools, hospitals, and airlines, for example).
Your state, county, and local health departments: If you want to find out what’s going on in your area, check your health department’s website. This is where you’ll get the latest information about local cases, prevention procedures, community resources, recommended closures, and who to contact if needed.
Major news outlets: The media isn’t an “official” source of information, but if you’re looking for news about what’s happening in a specific city or state, check outlets that are local to that area. Don’t rely on your local news in your home state to tell you what’s going on in Washington.
This all boils down to basic media literacy skills—as in, being able to think critically about where information comes from, whether it’s credible and how to evaluate sources. This takes a little more time than retweeting a meme, but it’ll help prevent the spread of bad intel.
Common Sense, a nonprofit that educates kids and families about digital and media literacy, recommends asking the following questions about anything you read:
Who created this—and why?
Who is this message or information for?
What’s being used to make the message credible or believable? Stats? Expert quotes?
What details were left out—and why?
How does this information make you feel?
Bottom line: think before you worry—and don’t simply repeat everything you read.
In 2009 there was the swine flu pandemic, with anywhere from 150,000 to 575,000 fatalities. Since it was influenza, it was quite contagious, with an R0 of 1.2 to 1.6. And the world’s medical institutions quickly responded, and in less than a year there were 100 million vaccines available. Click on the graphic below to see more clearly how the world responded.
The R0 for COVID-19 seems to be slightly higher, from 1.4 to 2.5. Still, they are pretty close. Hopefully the WHO and CDC manage to come up with a vaccine quickly for this.
Archaeologists have found the oldest wooden structure ever found. It is a 7000 year old wooden well in eastern Europe. Scientists used dendrochronology to determine how old the wood is. The well shows sophisticated carpentry skills for neolithic people.
Scientists in the UK and Germany have viewed individual metal atoms making and breaking bonds. They used carbon nanotubes as a scaffold to hold the atoms in place. This is with individual rhenium atoms. You can see the distance between the atoms grow and shrink depending on the environment. It looks like this type of microscopy will become important in chemistry.