As of April 6, 2020, more than 1.3 million people worldwide have tested positive for COVID-19, with over 74,000 confirmed deaths so far. Those numbers are continuing to grow at an alarming rate, with over 70,000 new cases and 5,000 new deaths per day. However, there is a tremendous bright spot that remains undimmed: the power of our scientific knowledge to guide us through these difficult times.
We no longer live in an era where we have to rely on assumptions or superstitions to understand what’s occurring. We know what the novel coronavirus COVID-19 is. We know how it spreads through the human population. We know how to fight it, how to treat it, and how to minimize the death rate from it. It’s not only time to listen to what science tells us about it, but to understand the three ways a scientific world has enabled the best of humanity’s response to it.
1.) The modern frontiers. Within just weeks of the first reported case, scientists had not only identified the microscopic virus responsible for the disease, but had sequenced its DNA. Back when just a few hundred cases had been reported, scientists already understood how it was transmitted from person-to-person, and had quantified how contagious the disease actually was.
And when only the first few dozen people had died from it, scientists and medical professionals on the front lines were putting out reports that detailed the various stages of the disease, from asymptomatic and contagious to the various symptoms and the complications that arose in the most severe cases. By the time January was over, we already knew what the “best practices” would be, as a collective human society, to minimize the deaths and infections from COVID-19.
Even though those recommendations were not sufficiently heeded, our scientific and medical knowledge has continued to aid us in the fight against this ongoing global pandemic. Drug treatments for COVID-19 are already in the experimental phase, with many clinical trials ongoing and a number of vaccine candidates under development. Research into blood therapies, including plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, provides hope for a treatment and possibly a cure.
The medical establishment, the healthcare industry, and the resources of hundreds of thousands of professionals are using the full force of their knowledge and resources to combat this global pandemic. Although no one can predict which avenue will prove the most fruitful the earliest, we can all play our part by listening to and respecting the advice of those professionals who possess that sought-after expert knowledge.
We should all remain at home if our businesses are non-essential: aren’t providing food, shelter, or necessary medicine. When we do venture out, we should make sure that we are clean, that we do not come into close contact with any other individuals, that we travel only short distances from our homes, and that we do not touch our faces.
We should be washing with soap and water and/or using hand sanitizer if we touch any surfaces (door handles, bags, egg cartons, etc.) that have been touched by another person. And we should all be doing this, simultaneously, with 100% compliance. That is the most safe and effective way to reduce and slow the spread of COVID-19. But all of these quality recommendations, and all of this cutting-edge research, is only possible because of the science that came before.
2.) The curiosity-driven foundations. There is value, intrinsically, to knowing something about any aspect of the natural world. We cannot know when a particular piece of knowledge will bear fruit in the realm of scientific or medical applications, but the more comprehensively we’ve studied the world, the better off we’ll be when we’re looking for a solution to the next unanticipated problem.
With respect to COVID-19, we are already seeing the payoff of a wide swath of curiosity-driven research. Studies into the population dynamics of bats led to the understanding of disease transmission of many novel animal-to-human disease strains, including COVID-19. The Human Genome Project, begun as a purely scientific endeavor in 1990, led to the widespread DNA sequencing that enabled us to rapidly determine how COVID-19 is evolving with a view to long-term immunity against it.
- Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) – Science Magazine
- England coronavirus testing has not risen fast enough – science chief – The Guardian
- Coronavirus Tests Science’s Need for Speed Limits – The New York Times
- Trump Falsely Distorts New York Times COVID-19 Science Story – FactCheck.org
- This is the brightest supernova ever seen – Science Magazine
- Coronavirus Today: Science will save us – Los Angeles Times
- Italians stuck at home are measuring light pollution for ‘science on the balcony’ – TechCrunch
- ‘Oumuamua might be a shard of a broken planet – Science News
- College of Arts and Science converts thriving academic programs to departments – Vanderbilt University News