The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.”
Source: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim
So what is some wisdom we can take from this?
Do not place yourself in risk, but also do not spread this risk to others. We often tend to think of ourselves first, wanting to escape from an area where the disease is spreading, but leaving may unknowingly spread it to even more people.
Analysis shows that even a few cases can seed an outbreak in another location, emphasizing how international travel quickly spread this into the global pandemic we are now facing.
However, even local travel and community spread of the virus are significant, causing local outbreaks to become more severe and putting strain on hospitals and clinics, making it difficult for such centers to treat the large stream of patients effectively with limited resources.
What is the R0?
An estimate, called ‘R0,’ represents a ‘reproduction number’ of the virus based on a variety of factors (e.g., the density of a given population), causing it to be a representative value that can change over time. This metric is useful since it describes the potential for transmission within a population. Or, in layman’s terms, how many healthy people one infectious person will infect.
So if R0 is less than 1, an infectious individual will transmit to fewer than one other person on average, causing the virus to slow and eventually die out in that population. Consequently, the goal of many intervention strategies, including isolation and quarantine, is to reduce the R0 to a value below 1. In the SARS pandemic in 2003, such efforts were successful in reducing the effective R0 from 2.75 to below 1 over time.
The R0 for COVID-19 is currently estimated to be between 1.5 and 3.5, which means each infected person infects 2-3 healthy people on average. This can be reflected in the exponential increase in cases, especially in the United States recently as seen below, leading to over 30k new daily cases and over 489,000 total cases in the nation as of 12 p.m PT April 10, 2020.
So why is decreasing the effective R0 so important?
Producing vaccines or cures takes time due to both the extensive research and testing that needs to be done before they can be used widely. Such urgent matters can and are being fast-tracked by the FDA, yet still need to show safety and efficacy in trials. Multiple vaccines and treatments are currently being researched around the world but are still in early to middle phases, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Development of vaccines is a long process that usually takes 10-15 years from start to finish, due to the research required, the multiple phases of FDA trials, and the regulation following approval while in the market.
As such, reducing the R0 is the key factor in reducing transmissions and ‘flattening the curve’ as heard many times. Hospitals and clinics are facing shortages due to the large surge of incoming patients, forced to reuse masks or use equipment of different standards. This poses dangers to medical staff who risk getting infected themselves due to this and also to patients, as there may not be enough ventilators or equipment to treat them all.
Splitting ventilators to treat multiple patients at the same time and other such innovative techniques are currently being explored at hospitals but pose their own difficulties and risks – as each patient’s breathing needs u be different, patients often need to be sedated to keep their breathing similar enough for the one ventilator to adequately keep both alive. Flattening the curve taxes the health care system less, and should reduce the fatality rate of the virus as most of its symptoms are treatable with adequate equipment and measures.
So how do we reduce the effective R0?
Reducing the possibility of transmissions and the rate of spread of the virus can make a significant impact and is something we can all play our part in. The COVID-19 virus is spread mainly through respiratory droplets, such as coughs or sneezes, and contact routes, primarily hand-transmission.
Social distancing is encouraged as the distance usually prevents exposure to droplet transmission. However, the 6 feet is a MINIMUM and an average reference point for how far such droplets may travel or stay in the air, not a guarantee. Estimates even extend to 10 feet, and research is still ongoing regarding airborne transmission and other means of spreading. As such, it is crucial to stay at home for nonessential activities and limit any gatherings as much as possible, such as by opting for deliveries when shopping for essentials and using virtual meetings for work.
Hand-to-hand transmission and surface-to-hand transmission are also considered to be main ways the virus spreads. Preliminary information and studies suggest that coronaviruses and COVID-19 specifically can persist on surfaces for hours up to several days, and perhaps even longer in different conditions or on different surfaces. Consequently disinfecting surfaces and hands is vital in minimizing the risk of infection.
Hands can be cleaned with soap and water or disinfected with alcohol-based (at least 70% alcohol) hand sanitizer. Simple disinfectants, ethanol sprays (at least 70% alcohol), diluted bleach solutions, and soaps/detergents can be used to clean and disinfect surfaces, to remove and kill any viruses present respectively. Guidelines on preparing homemade bleach solutions for disinfecting can be found here.
Cleaning and disinfecting hands and surfaces properly and regularly can prevent the transmission and spread of diseases. Using gloves as well when going outside and disposing after a single use can also especially help in environments where the virus may be present.
And some other less direct methods of contributing to the fight against this pandemic include donating computing power or intelligence to the pool of individuals and groups fighting against the spread. Universities, such as Johns Hopkins University and MIT, have opened virtual design challenges and provided resources and access to experts for students who are interested in finding innovative or helpful solutions to minimizing the spread of the virus, whether through information-based projects or engineering and medical applications.
Individuals with computers can also donate processing power to the crowdsourced distributed computing platform ‘[email protected]’ which was created by Dr. Vijay Pande’s lab at Stanford University. [email protected] offers a piece of software that runs in the background of our personal computers and allows researchers to have extra computing resources for protein folding (the reason for its name) and other research, including Alzheimer’s and breast cancer research in the past, and looking to combat the coronavirus pandemic currently.
And on a final note, make sure to check the legitimacy of sources you utilize. Misinformation is widespread, especially on social media and WhatsApp specifically according to many investigations and studies (and a lot of personal experience). The CDC, WHO, and other official organizations are usually good sources and comparing multiple sources provides supported information.
But remember, social distancing merely means physical distancing! You can still connect with friends virtually, and do anything you can while still playing your part in combating the global pandemic. Value the time at home. And amidst all the science, remember to still have faith.
“If you hear of a plague in a land, then do not go into it. If it happens in land where you are, then do not go out of it.”
We are here to stay. Take precautions, but most importantly, have trust in Allah.