On the menu today: Some really intriguing new research on why so many people are asymptomatic with the coronavirus, and a theory that masks are effective in part because they aren’t 100 percent effective; a pep talk for everyone in America who’s trying to get a handle on their anxiety, stress, and gloom right now; and strangely enough, it turns out that the presence of federal agents was not the cause of violence in Portland. Go figure!
Your Immune System and T-Cells Might Be Prepared to Fight Coronavirus Already
Last month in this newsletter, we took a look at the role of T-cells in the immune system and noted a particularly intriguing study that suggested a person’s past experiences with non–SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses might give their immune systems a leg up in fighting off an infection of this particular new virus.
The study in Cell concluded, “Importantly, we detected SARS-CoV-2-reactive CD4+ T cells in ∼40 percent–60 percent of unexposed individuals, suggesting cross-reactive T cell recognition between circulating ‘common cold’ coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2.”
In other words, 40 to 60 percent of people who hadn’t caught SARS-CoV-2 yet had T-cells that had been “in training” against regular non-SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses and that were likely to be effective in fighting off SARS-CoV-2. I noted, “Suddenly, asymptomatic cases make a bit more sense. Those folks are probably lucky enough to have immune systems that are top-tier and never let the SARS-CoV-2 virus get enough traction to generate symptoms. Remember, coughs, sneezes, runny noses, and other symptoms of sickness are ways the body is trying to expel the invader.” If your body is easily and effectively fighting off a virus, you never start coughing, sneezing, etc.
Late last month, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, spotlighted a different study going down a related avenue of research, and finding similar results:
SARS-CoV-2 belongs to a large family of coronaviruses, six of which were previously known to infect humans. Four of them are responsible for the common cold. The other two are more dangerous: SARS-CoV-1, the virus responsible for the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which ended in 2004; and MERS-CoV, the virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Finally, [Antonio Bertoletti at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and his team] looked for such T cells in blood samples from 37 healthy individuals with no history of either COVID-19 or SARS. To their surprise, more than half had T cells that recognize one or more of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins under study here. It’s still not clear if this acquired immunity stems from previous infection with coronaviruses that cause the common cold or perhaps from exposure to other as-yet unknown coronaviruses.
But there’s another key factor in whether your body can fight off an infection: viral load. In the Washington Post this weekend, Ariana Eunjung Cha spotlighted several avenues of research, and perhaps the most surprising one is the possibility that widespread use of masks increases the number of asymptomatic cases in a population:
The numbers on two cruise ships were especially striking. In the Diamond Princess, where masks weren’t used and the virus was likely to have roamed free, 47 percent of those tested were asymptomatic. But in the Antarctic-bound Argentine cruise ship, where an outbreak hit in mid-March and surgical masks were given to all passengers and N95 masks to the crew, 81 percent were asymptomatic.
Similarly high rates of asymptomatic infection were documented at a pediatric dialysis unit in Indiana, a seafood plant in Oregon and a hair salon in Missouri, all of which used masks. Gandhi was also intrigued by countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and the Czech Republic that had population-level masking.
“They got cases,” she noted, “but fewer deaths.”
If this theory pans out, it will mean that in a strange and ironic way, the mask critics had a valid point but completely misunderstood the implications: Masks did not provide 100 percent protection from the virus, and that’s what makes them an effective defense. They don’t protect a wearer from the virus entirely, they protect a wearer from dangerously higher “viral loads” — so the body gets exposed to a tiny amount of the virus, and the immune system encounters it, figures out how to fight it off, and eventually builds up an immunity.
You’re Soldiering On Okay, America
Are you old enough to remember, “For all you do, this Bud’s for you”?
This weekend, Peggy Noonan described America as “the coalition of the worried.” We’re all experiencing enormous amounts of uncertainty right now. A pandemic that we . . . think will be done by early next year with a vaccine? Maybe? Wondering how well our health-care system will hold up under this strain. . . . An economy that got hit harder and faster than ever before, but is climbing back out of a deep hole . . . so far? The end of an era for small businesses, retail, tourism and travel, probably movie theaters. . . . Violence and unrest in our cities? Public schools closed until further notice? Our stress levels are off the charts, and social media are feeding the habit of “doom scrolling” — diving deeper and deeper into bad news.
Traditionally, when human beings are thrown into a crisis, they endure it by coming closer together, in all kinds of rituals, large and small. But church services, funerals, concerts, movies, and theaters — they’ve all been either barred or curtailed.
We don’t exactly have an overflowing supply of appreciation, goodwill, reassurance, and affirmation right now.
Let’s start the week with reminder of all the Buds that are for you, America — although I should note you probably shouldn’t necessarily crack open a Bud this early in the morning. At some point, have that extra coffee or Danish, or pat yourself on the back, or just recognize what you’ve managed to endure since this whole pandemic started . . .
Are you in one piece? That’s job one. Take care of the caretaker. If you don’t have your health, you’re going to have a really tough time taking care of anyone else. Unplug when you can. Get that extra sleep if you’ve been missing it. If you’ve been putting off that checkup with your doctor, make the appointment — doctor’s offices really know what they’re doing to ensure your visit won’t put you at risk to exposure. A big chunk of the 2020 excess mortality rate is probably people who didn’t go to the doctor or hospital at the first signs of trouble.
Have you managed to keep your job or your business open? Take a bow. This is the Olympics of business challenges. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve got a good chance of making it to the other side of this recession. The world threw just about the biggest curveball imaginable at you, closing down most of society. It took creativity, ingenuity, determination, deep reserves of grit, and maybe a little luck to get this far.
Have your kids learned anything since school was canceled? Great. Some kids didn’t show up for online learning at all. Are they reading? Have they watched anything that might teach them a little something? You’re teaching them a lot about handling adversity just by getting up out of bed every morning and tackling everything that needs to be done.
Have you managed not to kill your spouse, or your kids, or your housemates or roommates since you’ve starting spending enormous amounts of time with them? Loving someone doesn’t mean you automatically get along with them all the time, 24/7, under the same roof. People need space, and they miss their old routines.
Have you gone out and gotten any fresh air? Gone for a walk? The great outdoors is generally still open. Outdoor air currents make exposure to the virus extremely unlikely. Stretch.
You’re stressed; have you “mentally exercised” at all? Read a book? Most libraries are now open in some form, often with precautions or safety measures. If you can’t physically escape what’s troubling you, mentally escape it.
Have you figured out how to cook anything? If you’ve managed to not burn down your house in the process, take another bow.
The pandemic can easily turn into a disappointing, frustrating, monotonous routine — months full of Wednesdays. Try something new in just about any aspect of your life. Eat something you’ve never eaten before. Walk someplace you’ve never walked before. Reach out to that old friend you haven’t talked to in forever. Your mind requires stimulus as much as the economy does.
We cannot control the world we live in; we can only control how we respond to the world we live in.
Hey, I’m Starting to Think the Federal Agents Weren’t the Problem in Portland
The Washington Post, July 31: “Calm returns to Portland as federal agents withdraw”
The Washington Post, August 9: “‘You can’t control people’s anger’: Portland protesters set fire to police union headquarters as tensions rise again”
ADDENDUM: Our Kevin Williamson homes in on an important point in New York attorney general Letitia James’s effort to dissolve the National Rifle Association: “If there is a fraud case or a tax case to be made against Wayne LaPierre or other NRA members, then New York State and the feds should indict them and present such a case as they have in accordance with the high evidentiary standards of a court of criminal justice. But that is not what is happening. LaPierre has been charged with no crime, and there is no indication at this moment that he is on the verge of being charged with a crime.”
If there is evidence of a crime, indict the perpetrators. If there is insufficient evidence to even try getting a conviction, there is insufficient evidence to dissolve the organization entirely.