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Travel Health Journal

COVID-19: Essential Reading

The COVID-19 pandemic has been dominating the news cycle for months now. To help you sift through the noise, we’ve collected articles and resources so you can stay up-to-date on the latest developments, current gaps in research, and what we can learn from the different global responses to this new disease.

The basics of COVID-19: What you need to know

For information on COVID-19 – including how it spreads, symptoms and what to do if you feel ill – refer to your local health authority and government. These sources will also have information on what prevention measures are currently taking place in your community. Make sure you and your family are following official guidance regarding physical distancing, travel, and gatherings.

For additional information on COVID-19, check out the following:

Coronavirus: Fears and Facts (audio), Science VS: This podcast features interviews with epidemiologists and other scientific experts to discuss the latest COVID-19 news and misinformation. Another good podcast is Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction from CNN, which includes short podcasts from CNN’s chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and research, Our World in Data: Updated daily, this resource compiles the latest COVID-19 data, includes interactive charts, and makes key concepts (such as the growth rate and case fatality rate) easy to understand. It also highlights the existing gaps in data and how this influences our understanding of COVID-19.

Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it, World Health Organization (WHO): This short piece from the WHO provides helpful clarity between the different names that you’ve likely seen associated with the new coronavirus such as COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, and coronavirus.

The global response: Why it varies and what we can learn

At this point in the pandemic, most countries around the world are responding to outbreaks of COVID-19. But not all responses have been the same. With different public health actions taking place between and within countries, the impact of COVID-19 appears different depending on where you look. Here are some articles explaining why numbers vary around the world, and what we can learn from diverse responses:

The stark differences in countries’ coronavirus death rates, explained, Vox: This article looks at how the case fatality rate (CFR) – the proportion of people who contract COVID-19 and die from the illness – differs around the world. One of the most significant factors has been vastly different approaches to COVID-19 testing. This article compares CFR rates in several countries and why, for example, Italy has experienced the highest fatality rate so far.

They’ve contained the coronavirus. Here’s how., The New York Times: The COVID-19 outbreak in China has significantly slowed down, indicating that the country’s implementation of unprecedented control measures have worked. But neighbouring Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong took different approaches and appear to be effectively controlling the virus’ spread for now.

Sweden’s government has tried a risky coronavirus strategy. It could backfire., Vox: Instead of implementing a nation-wide lockdown as many other countries have, Sweden is still operating somewhat normally. Swedish authorities are encouraging physical distancing – which many Swedes have adopted voluntarily – and some restrictions have been implemented to prevent the virus’ spread. The strategy is intended to be a more sustainable approach that allows people to build immunity to COVID-19 but as confirmed cases and deaths climb, many are questioning the validity and success of this approach.

The hammer and the dance, Medium: The main argument for lockdowns and physical distancing has been that these measures buy necessary time for healthcare systems to respond and for the development of a vaccine, treatments, and medications. Many countries are now in the midst of growing outbreaks and it’s clear that initial hesitation and inaction is impacting their ability to react effectively. This article weighs the effectiveness of mitigation (few restrictions, build immunity) against suppression (heavy physical distancing from the outset) to demonstrate that the latter buys us the time we need and saves lives.

The Global Coronavirus Crisis Is Poised to Get Much, Much Worse, The New York Times: With the exception of Iran, most of the countries currently battling large COVID-19 outbreaks are some of the world’s richest. The virus will inevitably make its way into countries with ongoing conflicts, large numbers of refugees, limited healthcare infrastructure and equipment, and cities where physical distancing is not feasible, and the results will be devastating. As this opinion piece notes, “For much of the rest of the world, the nightmare is yet to start.”

Research and uncertainties: Outstanding questions and potential answers

COVID-19 is a new disease and the public health response to it has been one of constant learning and adaptation. Health experts and scientists around the world have responded quickly and the scientific literature is expanding daily, but there is still a lot to learn. The following articles explore some outstanding questions:

Face masks cannot stop healthy people getting Covid-19, says WHO, The Guardian: Compared to Asian countries, which largely adopted the casual use of masks after the SARS outbreak in 2003, countries in Europe and North America have been reluctant to encourage their use. However, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently revised its position on masks and is now recommending their use in public spaces. The effectiveness of masks for preventing the spread of disease is still uncertain. However, when it comes to COVID-19, we do know that masks cannot prevent the wearer from being infected but they can be used as an additional step to protect others.

What We Need to Understand About Asymptomatic Carriers if We’re Going to Beat Coronavirus, ProPublica: One of the most difficult aspects of controlling COVID-19 has been understanding how it spreads. The virus causes mild symptoms in the majority of people infected, which makes it hard to track. But there is also mounting evidence that infected people can transmit the virus before they develop any symptoms (known as pre-symptomatic spread). This article explores what we know so far about how COVID-19 spreads, the potential extent of asymptomatic transmission, and when individuals are most contagious.

Can You Be Re-Infected After Recovering From Coronavirus? Here’s What We Know About COVID-19 Immunity, TIME: Whether or not people gain immunity to COVID-19 – and how long that immunity might last – has been one of the most burning questions among health experts. The answer has massive implications for how we respond in the coming months and years. This article explores available data to explain what we know so far about whether patients can be re-infected with COVID-19.

Rapid Expert Consultation on SARS-CoV-2 Survival in Relation to Temperature and Humidity and Potential for Seasonality for the COVID-19 Pandemic, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: One common question has been: Will warmer temperatures slow the spread of the virus? This report details current understanding and ongoing investigations into how warmer temperatures and humidity will impact the COVID-19 pandemic. At present there is still limited information available, but preliminary data from laboratory studies indicate that heat and humidity may reduce the survival rate of the virus. However, it remains unclear how these factors will affect the virus outside the lab in the real world.

What you can do

Physical distancing is essential for flattening the epidemic curve and preventing COVID-19 from continuing to spread in our communities. However, the economic and social effects of sustaining physical distancing for weeks and months are significant and will hit people who are already vulnerable (older adults, low-income wage earners, persons with disabilities, and those with pre-existing health conditions) the hardest.

Here are articles on what you can do right now to stay safe, support those most vulnerable in your community, and maintain mental wellness:

What you can do about coronavirus right now, The New York Times: This article includes helpful advice from doctors and public health experts on steps you can take in your daily life to combat the spread of COVID-19 in your community. Remember: small changes can have a big impact.

Mental Health and the COVID-19 pandemic, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): This resource from CAMH provides guidance on how to cope with stress and anxiety during the pandemic, and helpful tips on staying mentally well during isolation. It also includes advice on supporting others and how you can avoid stigmatizing thoughts and language.

Image by NIAID-RML

Article by Claire Westmacott