The “What,” “Why,” and “How” of COVID-19 and Our Community
As we embark on another semester, one with uncertainty brought on yet again by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is only normal that we look for ways to control our own destiny. Faculty forced to adapt class material to a technological world for Distance Learning. Staff, unsure about which of their tasks can be done from home, and which require braving the office and potential exposure. And Students finally having the opportunity to experience some independence, having it ripped away by government oversight and school administrative policies put in place to keep them safe. In these times, we often look to blame, and in blaming we often fail to see the true culprit of our misfortune. In the midst of this pandemic, it is important not to give into fear, but to rely on logic and facts, and to band together in order to move on. To do so, let’s look at the What, Why, and How to Move Forward in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is COVID-19?
COronaVIrus Disease 2019 (CO. VI. D. ’19) or COVID-19, is a disease caused by the pathogen SARS-CoV-2, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2 (Forchette, Liu, Sebastian, 2021).* It’s a viral pathogen, not bacterial, which means it is not a living organism on its own. Viruses need a host in order to survive, whereas bacteria can live outside of a host until one is available. Because of this, viruses are coded to mutate within their host in order to be more adept at surviving. Viruses generally mutate in one of two ways: 1) They take more from their host (become more deadly), or 2) They become more communicable (easier to transmit). Think of this as Brawn vs. Brain. We can see this in COVID with the Delta Variant which was more severe, and the Omicron Variant which is more transmissible.
So far in the United States (as of the writing of this article) 838,000+ (according to the New York Times’ tracker) people have been confirmed deceased as a direct result of COVID-19. This number does not include heart attacks, strokes, or other stress related causes that occurred in individuals who had been taxed by, but ultimately recovered from, the virus itself. This also doesn’t include the countless number of people who have expired while trying to find a hospital during a non-COVID related emergency, as our hospitals are currently (and have been for the last 2 years) overrun with COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 is a serious, and highly contagious virus that impacts each person a little differently, as our bodies, and immune systems, are all as unique as our fingerprints. That said, there is hope, and that hope comes in the form of Public Accountability and Preventative Measures.
Why Do I Need to Take Preventative Measures if I am Healthy?
Everyday we step outside and address the world, hoping to regain some semblance of normalcy. In doing so, we make conscious decisions about the roles we will play in this ongoing pandemic, and how it will impact those around us. Every day, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
- Am I willing to be an easy target for the virus?
- If not, what can I do to prevent it?
- The answer is easy: get vaccinated, social distance, and wear your mask. It’s uncomfortable, sure, but it could save your life or someone else’s.
- If yes, am I okay with being an incubator for a future viral variant? Am I okay with the responsibility of spreading it to another person who may have a severe reaction?
- Am I okay with someone else getting seriously ill because I chose NOT to get vaccinated or wear a mask? It’s my right, but at what cost?
- Again, our immune systems are all different, and we don’t always know if our friends have asthma or a genetic predisposition that would make them have a more serious infection from the virus, if contracted.
- How can I trust vaccines? We don’t even know what’s in them!
- Yes, we do. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines contain viral mRNA (messenger RiboNucleicAcid) which is the viral coding without the actual virus. It’s like the computer’s motherboard without the rest of the computer mechanics. The Johnson & Johnson contains a weakened strain of a virus RELATED to COVID-19, but not COVID-19 itself, and allows your immune system to develop some resistance to the virus.The other ingredients are mostly fats, proteins, and sugars (same as in common food products) that act as a suspension fluid to hold these in place in your bloodstream while your immune system takes action. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/facts.html) No, there is no actual computer chip, mind control chemical, or any other nefarious material used for world domination mixed into the vaccine.
- Why are people getting sick from the vaccines?
- They’re not. Oftentimes, the symptoms we see (runny nose, fever, mucus buildup in lungs, throat and nose, etc.) are not caused by the virus, but are ways our body tries to protect us from it. Our temperature rises to try and kill the virus with heat. The mucus buildup catches foreign particles in our airways and keeps them from getting further into our bodies, and runny noses and coughing allow us to expel those foreign particles from our body. This is like the gates closing on a fortress during an unexpected siege. You close the gates so no more attackers can come in from outside. Now you can focus on fighting the ones that already made it in. You sometimes show symptoms after a vaccine of any kind, because your immune system is tricked into thinking you are sick. When it thinks you’re sick it can develop antibodies for that sickness. So your immune system responds with its most powerful tools: mucus and fever. Sometimes, the stress from the immune response can cause other conditions on the body, which is why some people have reported heart issues after having been vaccinated; however, those same heart issues are significantly worse and more common among people who actually get sick with COVID-19, than they are from the vaccinated.
How do we Move Forward if the Virus Keeps Changing?
This task seems daunting, but the good news is that it isn’t one that we need to carry the burden solely on our shoulders. It is a burden we share, collectively, as a community. It is our primary responsibility to keep ourselves safe, and in doing so we protect the people closest to us. It is also our responsibility to be informed by reliable sources, and not take the word of political pundits and conspiracy theorists. The following questions will help us all collectively move forward together, safely:
- These last two years have been hard. I can’t keep doing this. Social distancing is keeping me from my friends and family.
- Social distancing and quarantining are two different things. With social distancing, we ask that you stand at least 6ft apart from one another, and avoid LARGE groups in closed spaces. If you want to have a large group, gather on a lawn where you can spread out. If you want to be inside, keep it to 3-5 individuals. Leave space so that if anyone in the group is infected with the virus, you are LESS likely (not impossible) to get infected yourself or carry the virus to someone else later who might be immunocompromised. Also, don’t share your eating/drinking utensils.
- If I do one of the Preventative Measures, I don’t have to do them all right?
- Preventative measures stack, but none of them are 100% effective because everybody’s immune system is a little different and everyone’s habits are more/less efficient. People who are vaccinated have a high level of immunity to the virus and if they do become infected are less likely to transmit the virus. People who are vaccinated and wear a mask are even less likely to transmit the virus or get a breakthrough case. Those who are vaccinated, social distance appropriately when they can, wear a protective mask, and wash their hands regularly and carry hand sanitizer, are the least likely to get sick or transmit the virus. This goes the opposite direction as well. Those who are not vaccinated, but practice all other preventative measures are more likely than a vaccinated person to get seriously ill from the virus, but they are less likely to get sick or transmit the virus than those who do not practice preventative measures at all.
- My religious/cultural beliefs prevent me from getting vaccinated, what should I do?
- Again, even if you can’t get vaccinated, you can still take other preventative measures to protect yourself and others around you, as noted above. The more people we get to maximize their preventative measures within their religious and cultural values, the more likely we are to get control of the viral spread; however, it’s an uphill battle against viral mutation and misinformation which you have the power to control within your own body and mind.
COVID-19 should never have been a political issue. It’s a disease that has infected and claimed the lives of millions of our friends and family members around the globe, and hundreds of thousands here in the United States. It is real, it is serious, it is here, and it is on each of us to do our part in preventing the spread. By making responsible decisions about how and where you socialize, and who you socialize with, you can help keep Lewis & Clark a safe campus, and keep yourself safe as well. This isn’t a sentence to quarantine in your rooms away from others. It is just learning new ways to protect yourself and others when you do socialize. The school policies are in place to inform you of our expectations for you to help keep our Faculty, Staff, and Student Body safe during this time. Thank you for doing your part. Stay safe, stay educated, and let’s control our destiny together, not apart.
* Lauren Forchette† , William Sebastian† , Tuoen LIU# Department of Biomedical Sciences, West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, 400 Lee Street North, Lewisburg, West Virginia 24901, USA