2020 is a year of disguises. Some examples include computer models/modelers disguised as “science/scientists,” Tyrants/Dictators/Totalitarians disguised as “elected officials,” propaganda machines disguised as “news sources,” brainwashing disguised as “information,” censorship disguised as “public health safeguard,” panic and fear disguised as “social responsibility.”
Even the virus itself has been disguised by humans as an “apocalypse.” But, the last part is not the doing of the virus, but the doings of a select number of humans who are responsible for many of the other disguises as well. And if you look at the totality of events in 2020, it is clear that the average citizen has been treated generally less than human, certainly not as adults in any case.
I believe we are in as great a crisis as a species as we have ever been. The crisis is not from some seasonal virus (which is a health issue), but it is from ourselves and what we have devolved into as a species (social, cultural, ideological issues).
I have debated with myself on how to approach the following essay. Under normal circumstances, it would be easy. But, the topic has been so warped and sensationalized into political and social hyperbole, it is difficult to get a handle on it. I could go at it strictly from a scientific perspective, but that would tune many people out.
After about two weeks of my own internal debate and several versions, I have decided to treat the readers of this essay as Human Adults. I will try to not get too technical but rather use rational arguments to approach the issue of a viral infection from the perspective of the virus molecule outside of the host, i.e., the natural environment.
Computer modeling is “a” tool, not “the” tool. The model is only as good as the assumptions put into the model. It has been clear from the start that the modelers have NO idea of how a virus works in the natural world. They have based their modeling on the assumption that the culprit is the human being. The human being must be controlled in order to control the virus. This is completely wrong. I hope to present arguments that illustrate the weaknesses of the modeling concepts.
The natural perceptive abilities, i.e. the physical senses, of human beings are quite poor. For example, we can see only a very, very small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, illustrated as follows:
Consequently, humans have difficulty understanding that which is not directly observable by their senses. Size and mass we do okay at, providing we can see it. We tend to have better abilities with larger things that we can observe. But, even size perception has its limits. For example, many people cannot grasp the scope of our universe.
Smaller things, things we cannot see we have trouble with. We live, and have always lived, in a world with things that are far smaller than our ability to detect without some instrumental aid. For example, when I tell people that their bodies are mostly empty space, they scoff. We have solid substance, they say, we can feel it. I respond that the reason we feel it is solid is because that is how our brain interprets it.
For example, neutrinos are subatomic particles with no mass. They do not interact with matter. We are bombarded by interstellar neutrinos throughout our lives. They pass right through us. It makes no difference where you live because they pass right through the Earth, too. You can live a whole lifetime and never have experienced a collision of a neutrino with a cell in your body. Think about it; is it difficult to grasp?
Yes, neutrinos are exotic and basically of interest to physicists. But we exist in a constant interaction with other not-so-exotic things.
Bacteria and fungi, at the cellular level, exist at the micron scale (see the scale diagram below). But, they have the cellular machinery to grow on their own, i.e., their cells will divide and multiply as long as they have nutrients. We cannot see them normally without a microscope. But, if they keep growing, eventually we can see them (as things such as moldy bread, or mildew on the wall), or even feel them (old vegetables that get a “slimy” feeling actually have a bacterial plaque on their surface). Both bacteria and fungi can form “spores” to protect themselves under harsh conditions. It is a form of hibernation.
We have bacteria and fungi in our bodies constantly. Our immune system usually keeps them at bay, or more accurately, keeps them in balance. However, if our immune system weakens, or if a balance is shifted towards the bacteria/fungi, the balance can tip in their favor and we can experience disease. We tend to have more difficulty with control of bacterial/fungal infections than viral infections. In fact, the most common cause of a fatal outcome due to viral infection, including coronavirus, is a bacterial infection.
The reason the second week of infection is considered the worry stage is NOT because of the virus; rather this is the time when a weakened immune system, either by exposure or by losing the balance battle cannot prevent the bacteria/fungi from taking off. Most people who die from influenza, coronavirus, even rhinovirus, do so primarily from pneumonia (bacterial infection) or some other systemic bacterial infection.
Other things, besides fighting a virus, can weaken the immune system. Aging, diabetes/obesity, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, lung disease, other infections (viral/bacterial/fungal), stress, circulatory problems, cardiovascular disease, and several others all can cause weakened immune systems (that is why they are called “comorbidities”). Clearly, the number and degree of conditions that weaken your immune system greatly increase the risk of severe disease or death from any infectious disease (bacterial, fungal, or viral).
All of these things occur at a level where our senses cannot perceive them. Fortunately, our bodies recognize these things at the molecular level and it is our own chemistry (we call “biochemistry”) that intervenes, mainly in the form of our immune system.
The Virus: What are we dealing with?
My Doctoral degree is in “organic” chemistry, specifically, chemistry involving carbon-based compounds. Chemistry is about working with problems at a molecular level. Guess what a virus like coronavirus is? It is a complex organic molecule. Organic chemists would call it a “macromolecule” where “macro” means large. It is only considered “large” in comparison to small molecules. I am naturally inclined to look at a virus like coronavirus as an organic molecule.
Coronavirus (CV) and influenza (IF) are very similar at the molecular level. Both are ribonucleic acid (RNA) viruses and both are enveloped helical (meaning that they have a similar 3- dimensional structure with a protein outer part and the RNA inside). CV is a positive strand RNA and IF is a negative strand RNA. This means they have opposite structures much like you have a left hand and a right hand. Their viral class identification is different partly for that reason.
Both CV and IF behave almost the same outside of the body and this is due to their size, structure, and relative chemical similarities. On average, both are about the same size, ranging around 100 ±30 nanometers or nm (CV can range smaller in size than IF). For consistency purposes, I will refer to both of them at the 100 nm size, which is reasonably accurate (nm is 10-9 meter (0.000000001 meter), a micron (μm) is 10-6 meter (0.000001 meter). The meter is about 10% longer than a yard, or 39.37 inches so 1 micron is 0.00003937 inch.
I have created the following scale for a reference point using font sizes, and I hope that the fonts are reasonably accurate. Note that our eyes cannot see 5 micron, so this is enhanced.
As the chart shows, both CV and IF as a molecule outside of the body are VERY, VERY small. They are undetectable without the use of an electron microscope. We simply cannot detect it in the natural environment. The tip of your finger, maybe 1 square millimeter, can literally pick up tens of millions of virus particles and you could not see any of them.
Because of the small size, we really do not know how they truly exist in the environment. They could be floating around as individual molecules, i.e. as single CV/IF particles. They could “aggregate,” meaning that they form clumps of molecules (again, too small to detect). They could attach to any other particle in the environment. Since they are so small, they could hitch rides with dust particles, pollens, leaves, just about anything that they may have an affinity for. The list of possibilities extends to anything you could think of in the environment, including living creatures. In short, they simply could be anywhere and everywhere.
Molecules can react with other molecules (reactivity), or they can remain as they are or fall apart into smaller molecules (stability). For the purpose of this essay, I will focus mainly on stability.
Most molecules have conditions that can render them either more stable or less stable. Clearly, with an infectious disease molecule, we would want to try and break it apart, or not give it stability. Breaking it apart usually renders it inert; i.e. non-infectious.
In an outdoor environment, we know that the CV/IF molecule will start to break apart within minutes or maybe last an hour or two. The local environmental conditions will determine how fast the molecule breaks up. We know that heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation are pretty good at breaking it up.
There are things that chemically will help break it up. For example, saline conditions, like in an ocean are good (it may be considered a “natural disinfectant”). There are man-made disinfectants such as bleach. We know that CV/IF are not stable under pH of 3 or over a pH of 10. So if the molecule encounters either natural or man-made conditions that deal with these pHs, the molecule will break up. Common soaps are good for breaking up the molecule. This is why there is the recommendation to wash with soap and water.
Likewise, there are conditions that increase the stability of the molecule. Both CV/IF survive longer under colder conditions. This is probably one reason why they tend to favor winter months and colder climates.
We know that certain types of surfaces can make it more stable. For example, CV has good stability on plastic (1/2 life of almost 8 hours) and has even been detected up to one week on surgical masks. Some types of metals, such as copper, can speed up decomposition and some metals lend stability (such as stainless steel).
Skin can actually be good at destabilizing because of not only sweat but also the natural oils and detergents that are produced in the skin can break apart these types of molecules. That is a reason that skin absorption is not considered a vector of infection. Serious breaks in the skin, however, such as from burns or injuries, could lead to infection due to the decreased natural inhibition.
So, in general, we would want to try and increase exposure of the molecule to conditions that destabilize while trying to minimize the stabilizing conditions.
The Virus in Disease Transmission
The “rationale” for lockdowns, masks, distancing, etc. all rest on the assumption that human direct transmission is the greatest risk for disease. Anyone, at any given time, in any place can pass the virus to another. It sort of reminds me of the character “Cofi” in the movie “The Green Mile.” People seem to be convinced that somehow, the only way to catch this virus is because it makes a beeline from person to person. In other words, we are the culprits.
But, is this really the case? In short, “No” and here is why.
Because of the modeler’s view, if we imprison people (“lockdown” – a term used in penal institutions when prisoners become unruly), cover their faces (“masking”), and keep them from doing what people do, i.e. socializing (“distancing”), we can stop the virus. This concept is what “wanna-be” dictators all over the world have embraced.
This is NONSENSE. Certainly, you can get infected that way but that is only one way of many ways. It may not even be the main way. It is “losing sight of the forest for the trees.”
To examine the path to infection more closely, let’s make the following assumptions (which you can see are more or less worst case assumptions):
Assumption 1. A person has CV/IF and is shedding, i.e. releasing virus from their bodies. Further, let’s focus on the nasal/oral route for shedding as the only route, even though we know that the virus can be shed from feces.
Assumption 2. All shed virus is infectious. This may sound like a strange assumption but we really do not know HOW infectious shedding viruses truly are. What is being shed could be combinations of fragmented virus and more intact virus. The reason it is not clear is because a main method that is used for identification of samples is PCR. PCR cannot tell whether what is being amplified is actually infectious or not.
When we exhale breath, speak, sing, laugh, cough, shout, sneeze, hiss, scoff, grunt, etc., air is expelled from our, mostly, upper respiratory tract. This air MAY or MAY NOT contain particles of moisture (mostly water). These moisture particles MAY or MAY NOT contain mucus, cellular debris, bacteria etc. from our respiratory tract. These moisture particles MAY or MAY NOT contain virus particles. In other words, there MAY be virus particles hitching a ride or there may be NONE.
There is no scientific evidence that when a person is infected that they are continually expelling virus, but that goes to a different essay. Please note, I am not referring to the playground use of the “spitball,” which is a massive collection of saliva, which may or may not contain any of the above. However, I think that we all can agree that amorous kissing when there is an infected person involved runs the highest risk of transmission. But this has more to do with direct contact. I want to deal with indirect routes of transmission.
The expelled moisture particles range in size from very, very small to much larger and for scientific purposes are divided typically into two categories: (1) aerosols, which are the very small particles usually below 1 micron, and (2) droplets, which are particles larger than 5 micron. The range between 1-5 micron is sometimes ambiguously defined either as an aerosol or a droplet but that is not really important for this discussion. You can see the whole range is involved.
Once expelled (egress) away from the nose/mouth, moisture particles will travel certain distances depending on their sizes. Larger droplets fall closer to the individual while aerosols can travel much farther or remain suspended. We have imaging techniques to see droplets using special high speed cameras, but we cannot visualize aerosols.
Clearly, independent virus particles that are NOT hitching rides are expelled as nanoparticles and go out into the environment. We cannot begin to see these. But, as nanoparticles, we should assume that they can remain air suspended for long periods of time and are taken up by the local air movement patterns.
Aerosols and droplets, after leaving the mouth/nose will quickly lose their moisture, i.e. the water base will evaporate. The smaller the particle, the quicker this will happen. With aerosols, it may be within a fraction of a second. Environmental conditions will also affect the timing. Warmer and dryer conditions will speed up evaporation while colder and more humid conditions will slow it down. Studies have indicated that under most normal temperature conditions, aerosols and droplets less than 100 micron in size evaporate before they hit the ground.
What happens to the hitchhiking virus? IT IS STILL THERE! It does not evaporate. It has lost its ride but it is still there.
What happens to it now? It can go anywhere, i.e. it can be dispersed just like the free molecule. It will last as long as it is stable. It can be carried by the wind (outdoors) or by air movements or HVAC (indoors). It can hitch a ride with other carrier things (outdoor examples such as above). It can land on surfaces, any surface, whether indoors or outdoors. Animals or even insects can carry the molecule if it lands on them. If it lands on another person, it can land on their clothes, hair, skin, etc. and be carried by them. If it happens to get sucked into the respiratory tract or absorbed on the eye, it may eventually lead to infection if it can survive the body defenses. The possibilities really are endless.
Indoors, the picture becomes even more complicated because now the vectors of movement, displacement, and contamination possibilities increase. Air handling units can redistribute the molecules to other areas far from the original source. Surface contamination is now a real consideration. Simple items can become sources of infection.
For example desk pens and pencils, office equipment, telephones, notebooks, furniture, electronic devices, cups/glasses, dishes, light switches, etc. Just look around the room that you are sitting in and remember about when you (or someone) “dusts.” At least anywhere that a “dust” can go so can a molecule like a virus. In fact, the very act of “dusting” could reintroduce the molecule back into the environment. Anything in that environment that you touch is a potential source.
It should be easy to see why a lockdown is disastrous. A single sick person can spread a virus throughout a whole building and no one would know it until too late. Clearly, air handling, sanitation, people movement, shared items, all will play a significant role in transmission risk.
Further, indoor conditions are better generally for stability and survival of the molecule. Why are meat processing/packing plants at risk? They are refrigerated facilities. There are many people so there is a lot of movement. There are many surfaces for the molecule to sit, like carcasses, that are handled often and routinely.
I think people can start to see the problem that we are dealing with and why the virus doesn’t just go away so easily.
Don’t “Masks” Make A Difference?
Before going into that question, I want to provide both some personal background and maybe a little comic relief.
The photo below was taken about 30 years ago, and yes, that is me. I was being fit tested for my own respirator. In my first position after the Ph.D., I was given charge of developing a molecule that was so lethal (yes, it is used medicinally but in very dilute solutions and under strict controls) that even the tiniest of amount contacting my skin, nose, eyes, etc., could knock me out and kill without my ever knowing it; the risks I faced were far greater than any coronavirus. I had to undergo serious Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) training as a result. When your life hangs in the balance, you learn all that you can. I was also a member of an isolator design team to develop a manufacturing unit to contain the production process.
Yes, I do know something about PPE.
The type of respirator that I am wearing in the photo is designed to protect the wearer from chemical agents, mostly, although there are biological filters available. It has unidirectional airflow. That means that the air that I would breathe in would be pulled through a series of filter cartridges (the round canisters on the sides) in order to remove the potentially offending compounds. After inhalation, a valve would close off the incoming air (ingress) and my exhaled breath would exit via another one way valve (egress), which you cannot see but it is located in the middle of the canisters directly in front of my mouth. Of course, this was used with other head and body protection since ALL physical contamination had to be guarded against.
This kind of respirator required both fit and physical certification. I had to be certified on an annual basis to show that my lungs were capable of breathing with this apparatus since the pressure differential was great. That means, I had to be able to suck in the air through the filters as well as deliver out through the valve. Lung capacity was very important; it was NOT a normal breathing experience. You also had to take periodic breaks, as well as a thorough and careful decontamination after each use. The respirator worked only as long as the filter cartridges were effective. They could reach a saturation point or a point where the cartridge was spent and beyond that there would be no protection.
The idea of “masks” on people did not suddenly appear in March of 2020. The usage of face protection with infectious diseases has been well studied, especially with influenza. Do not forget, the mechanics of these two viruses (CV/IF) are essentially the same so what works or doesn’t work for one is the same for the other.