No, No, Nipah–Virus Scarier Than Coronavirus Lurking

Think once the coronavirus dies down we’ll be out the woods? If that’s what you believe, think again. A virus scarier than the coronavirus is lurking out there possibly aiming to start the next pandemic. Nipping at the heels of the coronavirus for being a deadly threat is the Nipah virus.

Haven’t heard of the Nipah virus? Well, there’s good reason. Since first being identified in 1999 in Malayasia, all outbreaks have occurred in South or Southeast Asia. But, hey, the coronavirus didn’t start in the U.S. either, and we see how that has affected us.

Nipah is a zoonotic illness transmitted from animals to people. (The “zoo” in “zoonotic” is there for a reason….) The first recognized outbreak in Malaysia occurred among pig farmers. Most of the human infections resulted from direct contact with sick pigs or their contaminated tissue. (There’s yet another reason to lay off the bacon consumption.) The virus was also detected in animals other than pigs in Malaysia; sheep, goats, cats, dogs, and horses also were infected by Nipah.

Blame the bats, fruit bats specifically, for subsequent outbreaks of Nipah in India and Bangladesh. Fruit bats in the family Pteropodidae, commonly known as “flying foxes,” are natural carriers of Nipah. Scientists have determined that the most likely source of infection for those outbreaks was from fruit or fruit products contaminated by these fruit bats. In particular, the bats adore the raw sap of the date palm tree and feast on it. When humans harvested the sap for processing into fruit juice or picked fruit nibbled on by the bats, the consumer of the fruit or fruit product was at risk of contracting Nipah.

Just this month, Nipah has reared its ugly and deadly head again in Asia. The third outbreak of the virus since 2018 in the south Indian state of Kerala, known for its palm-lined beaches on the Arabian Sea, is ongoing. Hmm! Think those palms lining the beaches there are DATE palms? Yup.

On September 5th, a 12 year old boy died from the Nipah virus after experiencing a high fever and swelling of the brain. As a result, the authorities identified all those who had come in contact with the boy and sealed off a TWO MILE radius from his home. Why such a broad sweep of quarantine? Because there is no treatment or vaccine currently available for people or animals. The primary treatment for a Nipah virus patient is merely supportive care.

While the Nipah virus is not related to the coronavirus, the two may have the same originating source. Finger the bats! Bats have been identified as a possible source of the coronavirus in China. An investigation into a 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala traced infections to dead fruit bats found in a water well. In these case, they would probably rather have had bats in their belfry than in their water supply

Nipah and the coronavirus are unlike in several ways. One difference is that Nipah is not as transmissible and is less contagious than the coronavirus. The current average transmission rate for Nipah is less than one person per infection. As opposed to COVID patients, those with Nipah start spreading the virus only after symptoms set in. Accordingly, quarantine efforts can be more effective in halting the spread of the virus.

Those differences sound good for Nipah, right? But wait, there’s a big and scary downside. While only around 2% of those who contract COVID die, up to 75% of Nipah infections prove fatal. For example, in a 2018 outbreak of Nipah, only 2 of 19 infected people survived. That’s a little over a 10% survival rate. Yikes!

In addition to having a higher mortality rate, Nipah also has a longer incubation period of up to 45 days and the ability to infect a much wider variety of animals. These factors make the virus the source of significant concern for epidemiologists. In fact, the WHO (the World Health Organization and not the rock band) classifies Nipah as a “virus of concern for future epidemics.” The organization has placed Nipah on a priority list of diseases for which research and development is needed. The diseases on this list are those which pose the greatest public risk because of epidemic potential and are identified as in “urgent need” for accelerated R&D.

Of particular concern to health officials is that genetic changes to Nipah are likely. Each time a human is infected with the virus, the virus is in an environment allowing for human adaptation. New strains which appear could more effectively be transmitted person to person resulting in a devastating outbreak. Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of infectious diseases at Stanford, believes that a mutated strain of Nipa could lead to an outbreak which is “the worst humanity has ever faced.”

Although the virus has, so far, been contained to South Asia, the potential for worldwide transmission exists. A global problem could result due to spread through international trade, foreign travel, and climate change forcing fruit bats to seek new habitats.

What exactly happens to those unfortunate people who are infected by the Nipah virus? A fever and headache develop from three days to two weeks after infection. Thereafter a cough, sore throat, and respiratory issues appear. Finally, swelling begins in brain cells which causes drowsiness, confusion, coma, and often death. While some have survived a Nipa infection, they do not always recover unscathed. Twenty percent of survivors experience persistent neurological symptoms, seizures, and personality changes.

Efforts are underway to develop a Nipah vaccine, but as we have all learned from the current COVID pandemic, vaccine development takes time. Right now such development is a headache for researchers who feel pressured to come up with a lifesaving vaccine and prevent another worldwide virus outbreak. Given the existence of COVID and Nipah, we should all feel thankful if the worst thing we are experiencing at present is a headache. And, until a Nipah vaccine is developed, let’s avoid fruit bats and date palm trees.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Had you ever heard of the Nipah virus? As technologically advanced as society is today, does the appearance of such daunting viruses make you feel humans are not as in control as they might think? Is enough focus and funding being given to R&D efforts regarding deadly diseases?

COVID-19: The Grinch Trying To Steal Christmas 2020

A plot is afoot to steal Christmas, but the usual suspect isn’t the culprit. There’s a new grinch in town here in 2020, one that wasn’t created by the beloved Dr. Seuss. But just like the Grinch who targeted Whoville, this grinch also wants to stop Christmas from coming. The strategy is similar, however, with the trappings of Christmas being eliminated. Who is the mastermind of this evil plot? It’s not a who, it’s a what. It’s COVID-19.

The coronavirus has altered life as we know it during this calendar year. Schools went virtual, sports teams played in bubbles, and people worked remotely. Holidays were affected as well with gatherings at Thanksgiving discouraged. Up next in the crosshairs is Christmas. All we should want for Christmas is to actually have one because what we will get won’t be what we are accustomed to or even want.

Deaths from COVID-19 have now exceeded 300,000. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of St. Louis or Pittsburgh being wiped out. This context is hardly the backdrop for celebrating “the most wonderful time of the year.” But, regardless of what is going on in the world, December 25 remains on the calendar.

Getting together with family will make it feel like Christmas, right? Well, it might if you could do that. Good luck with achieving that Christmas tradition. The Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”) believes that the safest way to celebrate is to stay home with the people with whom you live. Oh, joy to the world–not. Our immediate family members are likely already on our last nerve from quarantine, lockdowns, and social distancing, right?

In particular, things aren’t looking very golden in the Golden State for the holiday gatherings. Gov. Gavin Newsom issued regional stay at home orders on December 3rd, and most of the state is under those restrictive orders. Stores are limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time; retail stores can have a maximum of 20% capacity. Wineries are among the numerous businesses required to close, nonessential travel is banned, and private gatherings of ANY size are off limits. No dine in eating is allowed; thus, you have to get your Who hash to go. Oh what fun it won’t be for Californians….

How about a lively Christmas party to inspire some cheer? That plan is doomed to crash and burn. Michael Osterholm, newly appointed by President-elect Biden to his coronavirus advisory board, has flat out stated: “There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now.” Realizing how popular his comment would be, Osterholm went on to remark,”I don’t care if I am accused of being the Grinch that stole Christmas.” Sorry, Mr. Osterholm, COVID-19 has already laid claim to that title.

Well, never mind about the gatherings and parties, there are still gifts to be received to make Christmas merry and bright. But exactly what gifts might you be receiving? You thought that getting socks or underwear for Christmas was bad, huh? How about getting a shot? In response to the pandemic, the U.S. has begun its most ambitious vaccination campaign ever.

This attempt to combat COVID-19 has also succeeded in compounding the stress of Christmas shipping of gifts. With millions of doses of vaccine clogging the supply pipes, distribution of Christmas gifts has been bogged down and delayed; many will likely not timely receive their Christmas gifts. But it’s a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that there’s a delay in gift receipt; the good news is that the gift will probably be received in 2021–which is only good because it will no longer be 2020.

How can tiny doses of a vaccine be such a strain on the shipping infrastructure? It’s because those Pfizer doses need VERY special handling. They must be kept in ultracold temperatures. Yup, I’d say -94 degrees Fahrenheit is ULTRAcold.

Adding to the typical stress of the holiday season is more bad news on the COVID-19 front. A mutant strain has reared its ugly head in the U.K. This new variant of the virus may be up to 70% more transmissible and is “getting out of control” per their Health Secretary Matt Hancock. As a result, a tier 4 lockdown, the most restrictive lockdown, was imposed there on Sunday. Meetings with ANYONE outside one’s household are off limits. In addition, flights from the U.K. have been banned by over 40 countries, including Spain, Russia, and Canada. Will Santa be forced to avoid jolly old England when he takes flight on Christmas Eve?

All these COVID consequences point to the modern coronavirus being a grinch like the well-known Dr. Seuss character. The fictional character was a grumpy old creature who attempted to put an end to Christmas by stealing the trappings of the holiday from the Whos in Whoville. The Grinch stole presents, decorations, Christmas trees, and even (GASP!) the roast beast.

Because of the immense popularity of the Seuss story, “grinch” is now included in dictionaries as an informal noun meaning a killjoy or spoilsport. COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on Christmas by stealing people’s ability to gather with others, travel to be with family, get presents shipped in a timely manner, and have asense of peace and well-being. Yes, we’d have to call the coronavirus a grinch.

But in the classic story, Christmas came without the items stolen by the Grinch anyway, and the Whos rejoiced on Christmas even in their absence. Dr. Seuss, who drove a car with a license plate that read “GRINCH,” used this story to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. In the end, his Grinch came to the realization Christmas “perhaps, means a little bit more” than just presents and feasting.

Are we as insightful as Seuss’ Grinch and realize that Christmas is about more than the trappings surrounding it? Think we’re are smart as the Whos? Will we be able to experience the joy of the real meaning of Christmas–the love of God expressed through the birth of his son in a humble stable? Let’s not allow the grinchy COVID-19 to rob us of Christmas–the real one.

WONDER-ing Woman:

Are decorations, ornaments, gifts, and trees essential in order to experience Christmas? Do you need material things to bring you joy during Christmas? Can you be grateful about what the Grinch and COVID-19 teach us about the real meaning of Christmas?

Latest COVID Casualties? Minks–Fur Real

Deaths from coronavirus continue to mount with some countries heading into a second lockdown. Over 1.3 million people have died from COVID-19 during 2020 with the end apparently nowhere in sight. While that’s scary for humans, the situation is much more dire for minks. Minks? Yup. Fur real. They are toast because if COVID-19 hasn’t killed them, man will.

We all know what a mink is right? It’s a furry animal whose skin is used for stoles, etc. for human adornment. (Insert “GASP!” from readers who are PETA supporters.) More specifically, minks are dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammals who are members of the weasel family. Other members of this family include otters, weasels, and ferrets.

Minks are valued for their luxurious fur. Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink fur with about 17 million furs produced annually. Unsurprisingly, that country is also one of the world’s largest mink exporters with most of the furs being exported to China and Hong Kong. Aha! We’ve identified something not made in China.

The furry critters are grown on farms. Guess that shows what I know; city girl that I am, I thought it was grains and vegetables which farmers raised. But, no, 1,139 mink farms are located in Denmark mostly in the northern part of the country. Between 15 and 17 million minks call Denmark home. With that country’s population slightly under 6 million, minks outnumber humans there. However, the Danish mink population is about to be wiped out one way or the other.

Outbreaks of COVID-19 have ravaged the Danish mink farms since the summer. Part of the problem is that the minks are kept in crowded conditions which are ideal for spreading a virus. Although minks which catch the virus suffer similar symptoms to humans, the course of the virus’ progression is much more rapid. Most of the infected minks are dead by the day after their symptoms appear. Well, at least they didn’t suffer long.

Even more disturbing than the death of the minks is the fact that, according to the Danish Health Minister in a press conference held November 4th, half of the 783 human cases of COVID-19 in northern Denmark “are related” to the mink outbreak. While some humans (non-PETA supporters) don’t mind minks giving us the fur off their backs (literally), they do mind minks passing along coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned the coronavirus is going from humans to animals and back to humans. Each time there is such a transmission, the virus can mutate. Health experts say mutations show a decreased sensitivity against antibodies meaning a COVID-19 vaccine could be less effective. Therefore it is crucial to stop the back and forth transmission between humans and minks. How will the transmission be stopped? The solution is bad news for the minks. They are going to be killed not for their fur but as a preventative health measure.

Unfortunately, outbreaks at mink farms have continued in Denmark despite repeated efforts to exterminate (fancy schmancy word for kill) the infected animals. Thus, more serious measures have to be taken. How serious? The minks are going to be totally wiped out.

Denmark plans to kill its entire herd of minks. That’s up to 17 million minks headed to that great mink farm in the sky. The Danish police, army, and home guard are to be deployed to speed up the killing process. Not only will the furry creatures be killed, but their pelts will be destroyed as well. This culling of the minks is estimated to cost around $800 million and may lead to the end of the mink industry in Denmark. (Insert “Hurray!” from PETA supporters.)

American minks should be nervous. Could the same fate await them? Quite possibly. In 2011 there were 268 mink farms in the United States. Per USDA, American mink farms produce over 2.5 million pelts each year. Wisconsin is the leading mink-producing state followed by Utah. In October, officials reported approximately 12,000 mink had died of COVID-19 on farms in Wisconsin and Utah. If not killed, those minks definitely need to be wearing face masks.

One positive which may come out of the 2020 pandemic is that it could hasten the end of the controversial fur industry. Fur farms are already banned in many countries such as Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Although fur farming is not (yet) banned in the United States, California has set housing requirements for minks that make fur farming cost-prohibitive. In addition, a ban on the sale and manufacture of fur has been imposed by the City of Los Angeles. Hollywood lights are okay; Hollywood minks are not.

Public health concerns related to COVID-19 may just be the nail in the coffin for the fur farming industry. Who needs fur in 2020 anyway? With lockdowns and stay at home orders, there’s nowhere to wear a mink stole anyway. Possibly a mink face mask, but not a fur coat. While a ban on fur farming would provide a brighter future for later generations of mink, it’s curtains for Danish minks, and possibly American minks, now.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware the coronavirus could be transmitted back and forth between humans and animals? Is it acceptable for minks to be bred in crowded conditions merely to be killed so humans can look marvelous? Is killing the entire herd of Danish minks the best option to prevent further spread of the virus? If not, what should be done?

Coronavirus Crisis in the Capital–Washington Isn’t Well

With less than a month to go until the presidential election, one would think the upcoming vote would be the biggest headline. Nah! Nothing is normal in 2020; a health topic has been all the buzz. Sure COVID-19’s old news, but there’s a twist now. The high and mighty in our nation’s capital, the Commander in Chief, his staff members/aides, FLOTUS, members of Congress, and the top military brass, have fallen victim to coronavirus. Washington isn’t well.

The D.C. coronavirus crisis started off with a bang when President Trump announced his positive diagnosis via Twitter at 12:54 a.m. last Friday. Call me old school, but I’d have thought such a momentous piece of news would rate a press conference in broad daylight. But, nevertheless, the word got out and spread like–take your pick here in 2020–California wildfires or, fittingly, the coronavirus itself.

By Friday night, President Trump had developed a fever and his blood oxygen level had “dropped rapidly,” requiring him to be given supplemental oxygen at the White House. No ambulance was called for Trump’s transportation to the hospital though. This COVID sufferer is the Commander in Chief, so a helicopter, Marine One, was summoned to fly him to his medical care destination. Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s Trump’s Covid Copter.

The medical destination for the mask-clad president was Walter Reed, a tri-service (Air Force, Army, and Navy) military medical center in Bethesda, Maryland. While the facility’s official name is Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (“WRNMMC”), it is more commonly known simply as “Walter Reed” after the yellow fever researcher. This facility routinely treats presidents and vice presidents in a secured and autonomous ward. A presidential office is available offering a sitting room, kitchen, conference room, hospital bedroom, and an office for the White House Chief of Staff (assuming that individual isn’t down for the count with COVID and unable to work).

Speculation was rampant as to the president’s condition after his admission to Walter Reed. He is, after all, at higher risk due to his age (74) and weight (just over the threshold for obesity for his height). If the Physician to the President (Navy Commander Sean Conley, D.O.) and the White House’s world-class medical resources weren’t enough to handle the situation, there was cause for concern. Would the president be able to carry out his executive duties or would the 25th Amendment be utilized to designate VP Mike Pence to take over for his boss?

Dr. Conley gave press briefings, but they didn’t provide as much detail as enquiring minds wanted. The press pressed for for further information but were rebuffed. The president must be hiding something, right? Not according to Conley who explained that doctor-patient confidentiality had not been waived. Donald Trump may be the president and live in a fishbowl, but he is a patient like anyone else and entitled to some privacy. Sorry, Charlie! No one’s getting ahold of the president’s lung scans.

Medical updates did reveal Dr. Conley’s patient had been drinking while at Walter Reed–an experimental Regeron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail that is. President Trump downed one 8 gram dose of this so-called cocktail which supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight the virus and rid the body of it. The Commander in Chief also started a five day course of the expensive (think about $520 or so per vial) antiviral remdesivir used with moderately to severely ill patients and shown to speed recovery. This drug curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.

Additionally, the president underwent steroid therapy. Unlike athletes, he wasn’t trying to bulk up; Dexamethasone was given to tamp down on possible dangerous inflammation. This cheap and widely available steroid drug has been around for decades, but it is usually reserved for patients deemed severe or critical cases. In this case it was used because it was critical to get the president better and back to the White House to run the country.

The COVID hospital drama ended Monday evening when the president was released and flew home aboard Marine One. But of course the drama continued thereafter because opinions were offered by many that President Trump had been sent home too early. Home for him, of course, is the White House, which offers “world-class” medical resources and a personal physician unlike the home of your average COVID patient.

Why should the president have all the COVID fun though? The high and mighty in Washington began following suit and testing positive. Forget the D.C. “A” list. There’s now a lengthy “C” list in the nation’s capital, and that “C” stands for COVID. Joining President Trump as COVID patients, among others, are his press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Republican National Committee Chief Ronna McDaniel, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett politely declined since she’s already participated over the summer.

It’s not just politicians who are on the “C” list either. The military brass didn’t want to be left out. Taken captive by this unseen enemy were the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Millay, the Army Chief of Staff James McConville, the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown, the chief of the National Guard Gen. Daniel Hokanson, and the naval operations chief Adm. Michael Gilday. Sounds like a lot of “stars” are under the gun from this rampant virus.

Notice how the country has come to a screeching halt with all the “C” listers out of action? No? Me either. That’s a good thing since the Russians are surely watching the evening news on our major networks and keenly aware the top honchos are out of the office. But the C-listers are still minding the store even while sick–just remotely. Washington’s not well, but are country is still up and running.

Just WONDER-ing:

How much medical information about a sitting president are Americans entitled to have? Where do you draw the line between patient confidentiality and the public’s right to know? Was it inevitable influential individuals running our country would at some point come down with COVID?

Bats To Blame For COVID-19 Driving Us Batty?

Forced self-isolation and social distancing due to the ongoing pandemic driving you batty? The finger of blame for our current circumstances can likely be pointed at bats. Bats? Yup, the only flying mammal in the world may be the source for COVID-19.

A coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a zoonotic disease. “Zoonotic” is a fancy schmanzy term meaning it is caused by an animal virus picked up by humans. Scientists must determine what animal started this crazy pandemic, and bats are the prime suspect.

Previously we feared bats because they might (according to books, movies and TV) turn into vampires. No worries. Just keep a cross or some garlic handy. Unfortunately, vampires are the least of our concerns when it comes to bats. Scientists tell us bats have been linked with seven major epidemics over the past three decades. Holy health crisis, Batman! 

Bats are thought to be the natural host of the Ebola virus, rabies, SARS, and MERS. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is a distant relative of SARS; it shares about 80% of the same genetic sequence. Yes, criminals and bats alike can be busted by DNA. According to the scientific journal Viruses, at least 200 coronaviruses have been identified in bats. That’s a lot of viruses for such a small creature.

Researchers in China have traced COVID-19 to horseshoe bats, a common bat species in China. These bats are found in Yunnan, over 1,000 miles away from Wuhan, the initial epicenter of the pandemic. Yunnan is a region in southern China with an extensive system of caves. And even if we don’t have Ph.D.’s, we all know bats like to hang out (literally hang) in caves. 

Virologist Shi Zhengli, known as China’s “Bat Woman,” has years of experience with virus-hunting expeditions in dark and dank caves. Her data, published in the journal Nature, identified a disease in the Yunnan horseshoe bats with a genetic sequence which is 96% identical to COVID-19. Why not 100%? Apparently a virus mutates as it jumps from species to species, so scientists would not find an exact copy of the coronavirus in animals as is found in humans. A 96% match is about as close to a smoking gun, or in this case a smoking bat, as one is going to find. 

But why should we worry about what bats in China carry? The fact that the bats are in China isn’t the point; it’s the fact that bats are the carrier. Over 1,300 species of bats exist, and bats are found on every continent except Antarctica. According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), three of four emerging infectious diseases in humans come from animals, and bats contain the highest proportion of mammalian viruses likely to affect people. 

So why don’t we just eradicate bats then if they are natural reservoirs for viruses that can negatively affect humans’ public health? Alas, such action would cause unwanted repercussions because bats are essential parts of ecosystems. They control insect populations by eating them, fertilize through their guano, and assist with pollination. Who knew bats were so helpful?

Even if bats are the source of the virus which has mutated and wreaked havoc on the human world in the form of COVID-19, are the bats ultimately to blame for this outcome? A well-reasoned case can be made that humans, not bats, are the real villian.

Bats are increasingly coming into contact with humans due to deforestation and urbanization–activities carried out by, you guessed it, humans.. This contact allows the opportunity for the transmission of viruses the bats carry. Moreover, when bats are stressed, say from the loss of their natural habitat, their immune system is challenged; it is then harder for them to cope with the virus. Infections increase and viruses are excreted.

A second strike against humans is how they deal with bats. Bats are eaten as food in China, so they are captured and brought to wet markets such as the one in Wuhan. Talk about stress. Think a caged bat observing fellow bats being slaughtered for customers right in front of them won’t stress them out? They will excrete the virus which may hop to a caged animal of another species who contracts the virus. In the SARS epidemic, for example, it was determined that the virus went from horseshoe bats to civets (a catlike creature eaten in China) to humans. Yuk to eating both bats and civets!

This point is where the story takes a sinister turn. There were no bats found at the wet market in Wuhan which was the suspected source of contamination for humans. Where were the bats? Why they were hibernating in their dark, comfy caves in late December when the first outbreak was reported. But what WAS present in Wuhan was the Wuhan Institute of Virology located mere minutes away from the wildlife market. Could the virus have come from there?

The virology institute is a high security lab in Wuhan which was built right after the SARS outbreak. It contains the largest virus bank in Asia. (Not sure who’d be depositing viruses there, but they call it a bank.) The institute holds more than 1,500 strains of deadly viruses and specializes particularly in viruses carried by bats.

Scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology experimented on bats as a part of a project funded by the U.S.’s National Institutes of Health. A $3.7 million NIH grant funded the institute’s coronavirus experiment on mammals captured in Yunnan, site of the horseshoe bat caves. Part of the research included growing coronavirus in a lab and injecting it into three day old piglets. I don’t think those piglets were squealing in delight at their treatment.

As a result of the institute’s location at the initial pandemic epicenter, conspiracy theories have been put forth. According to one theory, the virus escaped from the lab. (That’s one smart and determined virus!) Virologist Shi, the lab’s deputy director, refuted that claim stating none of the genome sequences in infected patients matched the institute’s virus samples. A second theory is that China was experimenting with the virus as a biological warfare weapon. If so, they were either heartlessly testing it on their own citizens or careless in not controlling its spread. 

Regardless of whether you hold bats, humans, or both responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak, the fact is a pandemic is ongoing. Pointing a finger of blame doesn’t change the current reality. However, we don’t want the current reality to occur again in the future. Therefore, we need to get a handle on where the virus originated and how it was transmitted. Scientists are working on that as the rest of us are going batty in self-isolation and practicing social distancing. I, for one, am happy to socially distance myself from any and all bats–virus carrying or not.

Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever visited a bat cave? If so, would you do so again after reading this post? Should wet markets selling wildlife be banned either for public health or humanitarian reasons? How would you feel living next to an institute holding a bank of deadly viruses? Is it a good idea to have one located near a large population center?









COVID-19–Wanna Get Away? But Where?

A cloud of fear and anxiety envelops our pandemic panicked world. The news is an endless stream of death counts, PPE shortages, and job losses. A person can only take so much. At some point we’re all going to end up like the lady in the commercial who’s in the bathtub saying, “Calgon, take me away!” Wouldn’t it be nice to go some place untouched by coronavirus? Sorry to burst your bath bubble, but that’s simply a pipe dream. There’s nowhere good to go.

The smart folks at Johns Hopkins University (“JHU”) have helpfully compiled a map detailing the virus’ presence and provided a breakdown of the confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries by country. (Check it out at  Confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide are approaching 1.5 million with 87,000+ deaths. Yet, believe it or not, there are countries in the world which have yet (and I stress “yet”) to record a coronavirus case.

Per JHU, 16 countries are coronavirus free as of April 8th. In alphabetical order, they are Comoros; Kirabati; Lesotho; the Marshall Islands; Micronesia; Nauru; Palau; Samoa; the Solomon Islands; Tajikistan; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu; and Yemen. Detect a pattern in these places untouched, as yet, by the pandemic? Mainly they are small, remote islands which are not tourist hot spots. 

So, assuming international travel was currently a possibility, what virus free country would be your destination of choice to ride out the pandemic? Think any of the possibilities would be THE place to be right now? Let’s check out some of the options and see how viable they are as a place to get away from it all–with “all” mainly meaning the coronavirus.

Honestly, I’ not even heard of some of the countries JHU listed. Take Nauru for example. Confess. You hadn’t heard of it either, right? Well there’s a good reason we haven’t. It is a SMALL island country northeast of Australia with just over 10,000 people. Sure, Nauru may be an exotic location, but the place only has one hospital and a shortage of nurses. Is that really where you want to hide out from the feared coronavirus? If the pandemic did rear its ugly head in Nauru, you would be sunk.

Asia has three countries without confirmed COVID-19 cases–North Korea, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. For political reasons, I’d have to pass hunkering down in any of these countries even to get away from a pandemic. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were both part of the former Soviet Union. Turkmenistan is still described as repressive. If I’m going to be forced to stay home, I’d prefer to do so here in the U.S. where the order was issued by a democratically elected government that recognize I have rights.

Then there’s North Korea. The fact that (so they say) it has no coronavirus cases is the only good thing you can say about that country. North Korea is widely accused of having the worst human rights in the world. A United Nations human rights inquiry in 2014 found concerns about the scale and nature of such violations. North Korea is run by Kim Jung-un, a (possibly crazy) dictator with access to the button to launch nuclear weapons. The military is everywhere with 37% of the country’s population active, reserve, or paramilitary personnel. And the availability of food can be an issue. A famine between 1994-1998 resulted in between 240,000 and 420,000 deaths in North Korea. Not a top getaway choice, huh?

A beach paradise might be a good get away spot. Would Comoros fit that bill? For those of you who are geographically ignorant (like I was), Comoros is an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population approaching one million. While the location sounds intriguing, it becomes less ideal the more you learn. The country has a high level of poverty with a mostly rural agricultural economy. Moreover, the islands comprising it–3 major islands and numerous smaller islands–are volcanic. You might avoid being in a pandemic hot spot in Comoros but be in the path of some hot, hot, hot lava instead. Nope!

Would Kirabati be a more suitable island location.? The island country,  located in the central Pacific Ocean, is made up of 32 atolls and one raised coral island; only 21 of these islands are even inhabited. That sounds pretty exotic! But….it is one of the least developed countries in the world. Fifty-four percent of the population are heavy smokers. In addition, Kiribati suffers from a lack of fresh water. Hmm…die of thirst or from inhaling second hand smoke in an attempt to avoid catching the coronavirus? What appealing choices–NOT! Water being essential to my continued existence, I’d pass on hanging out on Kiribati till the pandemic blows over.

Perhaps a more high profile island location, like Vanuatu, is needed for the great coronavirus escape. If the name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Vanuatu was the location for season 9 of the reality TV series “Survivor.” It is also well known to scuba enthusiasts. The country, which is a Y-shaped archipelago of 82 small islands, is considered a premier destination for scuba exploration of coral reefs. Vanuatu additionally boasts access to one of the largest shipwrecks recreational divers may explore–the wreck of the SS President Coolidge which was sunk during World War II.

Sounds good so far. But wait. There are some significant drawbacks to Vanuatu. First, it was just hit by Tropical Cyclone Harold which was packing winds of 250 km/hour and approaching Category 5 status. Yikes!  Second, your social life will be even worse on Vanuatu than if you stayed in the good old USA. The country has banned social gatherings of more than FIVE people for now. As with Comoros, Vanuatu is of volcanic origin. It also has frequent earthquakes. Bottom line? Beautiful scenery doesn’t trump the threat of cyclones, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes.

You know, maybe things aren’t as bad as we think they are being on lock down here in the U.S. after all. Considering alternative locations, we have it pretty good even if we do have to frequently wash our hands, stay six feet away from others, and forgo engaging in non-essential activities. We are a developed country with lots of resources and, even better, it’s home. There’s no place like it–even during a pandemic.

Just WONDER-ing:

If it was possible, would you run away to a different country to escape COVID-19? Will any country be able to avoid having a confirmed coronavirus case? In post-pandemic times, where would you like to go to get away?





“I Want A New Drug” — One To Treat Coronavirus

Not that any of them have time to be singing right now, but health care professionals are certain to embrace “I Want A New Drug” as their current anthem. This 1984 hit by Huey Lewis and the News was a love song, but medical workers today are taking the title literally. Everyone is clamoring for a drug–“one that does what it should,” i.e., take on the dread coronavirus. Why is that? Well, duh, none exists at this point. 

Doctors are worried about the coronavirus pandemic because there is no specific medicine available to prevent or even treat coronavirus. What this lack means is that if a patient contracts coronavirus, all a doctor can do is to monitor him and provide supportive treatments. It’s not like having strep throat where the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, and you take a pill that very quickly makes you feel better.  

So, there’s no medicine to prevent someone from getting coronavirus. Why don’t we just have our crack scientists and medical personnel come up with one lickety-split? After all, necessity is the mother of invention. By golly we need that medicine yesterday as thousands around the world are dropping like flies during this pandemic. Nope. Doesn’t work like that.

Development of a vaccine usually takes 10 to 15 years. After that amount of time, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will hopefully be nothing but a bad memory. Timing is everything as they (whoever “they” are) say.  Developing a coronavirus vaccine that won’t be available for a decade or so is of absolutely no help now. A fast food mentality is incompatible with the vaccine development process. 

OK, then, why don’t we just whip up a new drug to use in treating patients with coronavirus since we don’t have a vaccine to prevent them from getting it?  Nope. That won’t work either. Why? Because developing a new drug treatment also takes time–time that patients in the ICU don’t have. How much time is needed? Typically it is a decade from the discovery of a new drug treatment until it is on the market. 

Because it is impractical to timely develop a new drug, pharmaceutical companies throughout the world are working 24/7 to develop an effective drug treatment with existing medications. Unfortunately, there have been no clear breakthroughs yet. But there are some good possibilities. 

This past weekend the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) gave emergency use authorization to treat coronavirus patients with two anti-malarial drugs–chloroquine and hdroxycholorquine. These medications have produced positive results in small, early tests, but no controlled clinical trials have been completed yet. And, of course, controlled clinical trials take–you guessed it–time.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m on my deathbed with coronavirus, I think I’d take the gamble to try something that has given promise in test tube form even if hasn’t been vetted through painstaking and lengthy clinical trials. The worst that will happen is that it doesn’t work I’d die, which I’m likely to do anyway if I take no medicine.

But how does an anti-malarial medicine used to treat a disease caused by a mosquito bite help a patient with coronavirus? According to the experts (of which I am clearly not one), chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are effective in two ways. First, they block the virus; second, they reduce the inflammation which occurs when the body reacts to the presence of the coronavirus.

Understanding what the virus does is key to combating it medically. You need to know your enemy as they (whoever “they” are) would say during the Cold War. A coronavirus typically attacks one’s respiratory system. So if you are wondering why there’s such a clamor for ventilators for coronavirus patients, now you know. Yesterday, it was toilet paper; today, it is ventilators in huge demand.

Infected patients may develop pneumonia, but the virus isn’t what’s causing the pneumonia–it’s the patient’s strong immune response to the coronavirus. An overprotective immune response can be fatal. You’ve heard of too much of a good thing? Well, that’s what’s happening to some coronavirus patients whose immune systems are compromised by age and/or underlying health conditions. The normal immune response doesn’t cut off when it should. Immune cells flood the infection site causing surrounding tissue to become inflamed. The inflammation causes severe respiratory distress and the subsequent shutdown of multiple organs. 

If inflammation can be reduced, the patient might be kept from being put on a ventilator or could be taken off of one–assuming there was one available to put him on. Therefore, medications with anti-inflammatory benefits are being considered. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are oral prescriptions drugs which have been used since the 1940’s for the treatment of malaria and some inflammatory conditions. President Trump’s plan to deliver large amounts of these anti-malaria drugs to hospitals was given emergency approval by the FDA while clinical trials are ongoing. Hopefully, the supply of such drugs is larger than the apparently woefully short stockpile of ventilators.

An experimental drug named leronlimab is also being considered for use against the coronavirus. Although typically used to treat breast cancer and HIV, it is deemed a promising treatment for coronavirus. This IND (Investigational New Drug) calms the immune system’s overly aggressive response to the virus which can lead to pneumonia or death. If trials prove  leronlimab is not effective against coronavirus, it is still most certainly effective in twisting your tongue when you try to pronounce the drug’s name–especially if you say the name quickly three times.

It’s going to take time to develop a vaccine to prevent and new medications to treat coronavirus. Nevertheless,it takes no time at all for everyone to simply engage their brains and act with common sense. Stay home if at all possible. If you must go out, practice social distancing. Wash your hands frequently. It doesn’t take a decade long controlled clinical trial to establish that these are prudent ways the average citizen can protect himself against contracting the coronavirus. After all, as they say (whoever “they” are), an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware that it took so long to develop vaccines and new drugs? What’s less expensive to do–practice social distancing or formulate a new drug? What’s easier for you to do–stay home or develop a coronavirus vaccine? If you were in ICU, would you consider using an experimental drug which showed promise even if it hadn’t passed controlled clinical trials yet?











Pandemic Pandemonium–Just History Repeating Itself

Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there’s nothing new under the sun. And when this Bible verse says “nothing,” it means nothing. Not even pandemics. The world may currently be having an uncomfortable and scary confrontation with a “novel” coronavirus, but people having to deal with pandemics is a recurring story throughout the history of mankind.

You do know what a pandemic is, right? The WHO, Worldwide Health Organization and not the band, defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease. And the disease must be infectious for it to constitute a pandemic. WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Clearly coronavirus is infectious since we must practice social distancing, refrain from gathering in large groups, wear face masks, and constantly wash our hands.

As bad as coronavirus may be, it isn’t the worst pandemic to inflict the world. Ever heard of the Bubonic Plague, also known as The Black Death? That pandemic, which ravaged the world’s population with a mortality rate between 30% and 75%, is believed to be the deadliest one in history.

The total number of deaths from the Bubonic Plague is estimated to have been around 75 million, with 25-30 million of these deaths occurring in Europe.That’s a huge number of people to have been covered in black boils oozing blood and pus. Yuk!  Approximately one-third of the European population died during the Bubonic Plague, and it took  200 years after this pandemic for the European population to recover to its previous level.

Not only did The Black Death strike people, but animals were affected by the disease too. So many sheep died from the Bubonic Plague that there was a European wool shortage. That’s a BAA-d fix to be in!

Similar to the coronavirus, the Bubonic Plague is thought to have originated in Asia. It struck China, India, Persia, Syria, and Egypt in the early 1340’s. From there it traveled along the Silk Road to the Crimean Peninsula and then on to the Mediterranean basin aboard merchant ships.

The Bubonic Plague arrived in Europe in October 1347 when twelve ships from the Black Sea docked in Messina. Most of the sailors on the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They suffered from buboes (hence the name Bubonic), painful lymph node swellings which probably made them wish they were dead if they weren’t yet.

Because of ship transportation and some unsanitary practices, The Black Death rapidly spread through the world. In a Crimean port, a literally DEADly weapon was utilized by the Mongol army who undertook a lengthy siege of the city of Kaffa. Numerous members of the ranks were suffering from the disease. Whey they succumbed to it, their fellow soldiers catapulted their corpses over the walls to infect the besieged city’s inhabitants. Even after death, these fighting men still served their country.

The Black Death finally ran its course in the early 1350’s. Nevertheless, the plague continued to strike Europe and beyond for the next 400 years. It reared its ugly head every 10-20 years.

Pandemics have also wreaked havoc in more modern times. Approximately one-third of the world’s population was infected during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-1920, and anywhere between 17 and 50 million people died. This pandemic, which occurred during World War I, got its name as a result of news censorship. In an effort to maintain wartime morale, reports about illness and deaths from the flu in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany were minimized; nevertheless, Spain was neutral, and reports of the epidemic’s effects in that country were widely publicized. As a result, the outbreak was  referred to as the Spanish flu since it mistakenly seemed Spain was the worst hit country. Perhaps fake news has a lengthy history as well as pandemics.

Two other types of flu led to pandemics during the last few decades. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1969 resulted in around 1 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 34,000 here in the United States. Less deadly was the swine flu (H1N1/09) pandemic of 2009-2010. About half a million died worldwide from this flu with some 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the U.S. Happily, the number of deaths from each of these pandemics was far less than from The Black Death; the more recent pandemics’ names are also less frightening.

Numerous other pandemics have occurred during the history of mankind. Those outbreaks involved smallpox and tuberculosis, among other diseases. But regardless of the type of disease, the results were similar–widespread suffering and loss of life.

Right now the coronavirus pandemic is dominating the news, our thoughts, and people’s daily lives. Despite how novel the situation is to us, fighting a pandemic is nothing new. Mankind has been there and done that again and again.

Yes, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions in our world. The Summer Olympic Games, which were supposed to start in Tokyo on July 24th, have been postponed. The pandemic has also threatened everyone, not just the common man. Politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and the heir to the British throne, 71 year old Prince Charles, have tested positive for coronavirus.

But the death toll from the coronavirus to date pales in comparison to past pandemics. As of March 25, 2020, there were 20,912 deaths. While any loss of life due to disease is tragic, this number of fatalities is nowhere close to past pandemics such as The Black Plague and the Spanish flu. History is repeating itself with widespread disease, but current numbers of lives lost are lower than in the past.

Since history is a required school subject, there must be something to be gained from studying it. What history teaches us about pandemics is that humans are resilient. Bad things come their way, but humans take a licking and still keep on ticking as a race. Let’s not let the pandemic get us down. Based on past experience, most of us will survive and the human race will continue in existence. It will be around to see that next pandemic which will invariably occur at some future point. Why? Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that history repeats itself.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the magnitude of deaths in past pandemics? In light of those death tolls, do you still view the current coronavirus pandemic in the same way? What, if anything, should be done to prevent future pandemics?











Public Calm Wiped Away By Panic TP Buying

Is it socially acceptable to publicly discuss toilet paper? Although the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette purportedly gives advice for every occasion, I somehow doubt that it touches on proper conversation during a coronavirus pandemic. Proper or not, I intend to talk about toilet paper (“TP”). I can’t buy any because the shelves are devoid of this hot product, so I guess all I can do is talk about it. And talk about it we should. Let’s be in the know about the TP buying craze and resulting TP shortage.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that toilet paper is in short supply now due to panic/excessive buying. Social scientists explain that stockpiling is not an uncommon reaction produced by fear. Let’s admit it. Everyone is afraid of the coronavirus. And if you for some unknown reason aren’t, you’re an idiot. But why stockpile TP? Hand sanitizer and face masks I get because they may be used preventively to keep you well. But TP can’t protect you.

The explanation lies in that people are afraid when they feel a lack of control. Stockpiling whatever item it is gives them a sense of control. So, there may be a coronavirus apocalypse outside, but people feel better knowing everything is peachy keen in the bathroom which is amply stocked with TP.

The fear of running out of TP is not valid. The current shortage is expected to be brief. The TP industry typically has a few months of inventory on hand. Moreover, manufacturers report they have significantly upped production to meet the soaring demand. Normally around 83 million rolls of TP are produced daily, and more than 7 billion rolls of TP are sold yearly in this country. That’s a lot of TP!

According to industry data, 90% of the TP sold in the U.S. is made in this country too. Thus, the idea that we won’t be able to get TP because it comes from China which is on a lock down, is wrong. Only 10% of the giant rolls of paper used to make TP rolls comes from China and India. 

And how much TP do you really need even if you are confined to home with a shelter in place order? The average American uses 50 pounds of TP or 23.6 rolls per year. Hopefully, the pandemic won’t last that long. Actually you can get an idea of how long your household supply of TP will last by going to [HINT: You’ll need to estimate how often you go to the bathroom to get the answer.] This website not only gives you handy information, but it gives you good advice too. It states: “Not everyone is able to get to a store and stock up on toilet roll. (sic) Don’t be selfish.” Translate that to read: DON’T HOARD TP.

As I see things, if you can deal with the very worst thing that could happen, you can get through the situation. Worst case scenario? You run out of TP. So you simply use some common substitutes: paper towels, tissues, wet wipes, and printer paper. Or skip the substitute all together and just wash off with water in the shower. 

Since the kiddos are home with schools being closed, maybe you could turn the lack of TP into a history lesson. What did the Romans do? They didn’t have TP. They just found a stick and stuck a sponge on it. After using this device, they’d put it in a pail with vinegar to clean it for reuse. Talk about a historical reenactment….

Want to learn more modern history? With the advent of printing came bathroom reading. Kill two birds–er, subjects–with one lesson. Have your in house student read some of your newspaper (the paper kind and not the digital edition please!) or a few pages of a cheap book and then use them as a TP substitute.

How about some fresh air and sunshine to take away the drudgery of being confined to home? Time for a science lesson. Various leaves can serve as natural TP. Just make sure before use that your little darling is not holding poison ivy and that the leaf doesn’t harbor an insect. 

And let’s not leave math out of the fun home activities you can do with your student during the TP shortage. Take a poll as to whether they prefer TP to be hung over or under. Three out of five family members prefer over? That’s 60%. Just FYI, surveys show that 60%-70% of individuals prefer their paper over. Heck, at this point, aren’t we just glad to have TP to put on the holder whether over or under?

Humor can help you get through just about any situation–even a TP shortage. Real news stories about what people are doing under these circumstances are sure to make you chuckle. In Hong Kong last week, armed robbers held up a delivery driver and stole hundreds of rolls of TP. Unsubstantiated are reports that the robbers told the driver, “Give me all your TP!”

Some businesses are trying to help their customers weather the shortage in creative ways. An Australian newspaper, the NT News, printed an extra 8 blank pages in a recent edition for use as emergency TP. A newspaper spokesperson made clear that the paper didn’t think that this was “a crappy edition.” 

Who ya gonna call when you’re out of TP? Don’t call Ghostbusters and don’t call your local police either. Terrified residents of Newport, Oregon rang 911 to report a lack of TP. No, seriously. So many calls were received that the Newport Police Department were forced to issue a public statement: “It’s hard to believe that we even have to post this. Do not call 911 just because you run out of toilet paper. You will survive without our assistance.” 

Public servants that they are, the Newport Police did offer residents of their town some ideas on what to do. They suggested citizens try old grocery receipts, pages of unwanted catalogs received in the mail, and even the “empty toilet paper roll sitting on the holder right now.” Pointing out that a lack of TP was not an actual life or death emergency, the public statement concluded with these words: “There is a TP shortage. This too shall pass. Just don’t call 9-1-1. We cannot bring you toilet paper.”

One day we will all look back on this time and laugh. “Remember when there was no TP on the shelves?,” we’ll ask each other. Well, that’s in the future. For right now, having no TP on the holder in our bathrooms is no laughing matter.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you surprised that there has been a run on TP? Confess. Have you stockpiled (hoarded) toilet paper? If so, did you do so with the fear that it would run out and be unavailable to you? 







The Olympic Flame — Torched By The Coronavirus

WHO has declared the coronavius outbreak a pandemic. This health scare has caused pandemonium in the sports world making March Madness even madder with the announcement games will be played without fans present. The craziness has taken its toll on an even higher profile event–the Olympics. While it remains to be seen whether the Olympics will be modified, postponed, or simply cancelled, a very special pre-opening Olympic event has already been torched–the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony.

Ever wonder where the flame comes from that is carried into the stadium for the opening ceremony of each Olympics? Well, it comes from ‘Greece–the country, that is, not the substance used to fry things. But the flame doesn’t simply go from Point A in Greece to Point B in the Olympic stadium in the host country for the Olympic Games. Oh, no. There is all sorts of pageantry and circuitous travel involved.  

So where exactly is Point A? The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, so Olympia, Greece is Point A for the Olympic flame. The familiar Olympic flame seen today is derived from the ancient practice of keeping a sacred fire burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics on the altar of the sanctuary of Hestia. The flame is a symbol of the continuity between the ancient and the modern Olympic games.

Just getting the fire started is an event unto itself. No one merely flicks a Bic and–voila, a flame is born. No, there’s quite the to do in starting the Olympic flame. It involves an elaborate ceremony with the sun, a mirror, a temple, and eleven Vestal Virgins. I kid you not. The flame is lit by the reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera. The women lighting the flame represent the Vestal Virgins of Rome–priestesses of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth (fire place) and home–whose main tasks were to keep the fire lit and to remain virgins. 

Sadly, as announced on March 9th, the coronavirus has torched the Olympic flame lighting ceremony set for today, March 12th. The usual thousands of spectators gawking at Vestal Virgins and a fire ignited by sunlight have been banned due to health concerns. This will be the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that the ceremony will be held without an audience. Only 100 super special invited and accredited guests will be present to witness the Olympic flame burst forth.

The High Priestess of the Vestal Virgins uses the fire started in the parabolic mirror to light the Olympic torch. Research has not yet confirmed if the initial torchbearer says, “Come on baby light my fire” to the High Priestess at this point. Torch bearers are selectively chosen and must be at least 14 years of age and able to carry the Olympic torch at least 437 yards (400 meters).

Once the Olympic flame is lit, the Olympic torch is off and running–literally. The lighted torch embarks on a scenic seven day relay around Greece. The prefecture of Ilia, where Olympia is located, is one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Anyone but me see an issue with having people run about in a contagious area and then throughout the rest of the country spreading not only Olympic good will but possibly coronavirus as well?  

A handover ceremony is scheduled for March 19th. The torch will thereafter be flown from Greece to Japan, site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The plane bearing the Olympic flame will land in Miyagi in the northern part of the county at a Japan Air Self-Defense base. Due to coronavirus concerns, organizers are downsizing the arrival ceremony.

A torch which originated in a coronavirus infested Greek prefecture and taken throughout Greece is loaded onto a plane which will transfer the torch (and accompanying germs) to a different continent. Hmm. Good plan? Perhaps if the Japanese base is doing it self-defense job, the plane bearing the torch and presumably a torch bearer possibly contaminated by coronavirus in Greece won’t be allowed to land. 

Another relay procedure in Japan precedes the arrival of the Olympic flame at its final destination , the Olympic stadium in the host city of Tokyo. This relay will pass through all 47 prefectures of Japan and by World Heritage sites such as Mount Fuji over the course of 121 days. The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26th in Fukushima prefecture which is about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. The relay will end on July 24th at the new $1.43 billion national stadium in Tokyo. Hoping the Olympics won’t be cancelled resulting in Japan having built the stadium, but no one came.  

The modern torch relay ceremony is not an ancient practice. The Germans introduced it for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Whether ancient or not, having a torch runner enter a packed Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony to bring the flame which will ignite the Olympic cauldron is quite dramatic.

Regardless of how dramatic the igniting of the Olympic flame, the torch relay, or the lighting of the Olympic cauldron is, none of these events can compare with the real drama of the 2020 Olympics–the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Olympic organizers have repeatedly stated the Olympics will open as scheduled with the Paralympics following on August 25th. It is hard to imagine more massive crowds than those which would gather to witness Olympic events. How smart or wise is it at this point to offer events where thousands of people from all over the world will gather?

I know I’ll be safe watching Olympic competitions on TV from the comfort of my home, but how safe will the athletes, their families, the officials, and the spectators be at the actual events? Is the chance of winning or bestowing a gold medal worth more than someone’s life or health? I’m sorry, but it may come down to the Olympic flame being ignited but the Olympic games ultimately being torched. 

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the history behind the Olympic flame? The story of how it is lit? If you won an all-expenses paid trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics, would you go? How wise is it to proceed with such a massive event with a coronavirus pandemic ongoing?