Robert Hoff: Our response to COVID-19 is misdirected

(Susan Walsh | AP file photo) President Donald Trump prepares to sign four executive orders during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020.

Again, our country separates itself from most of the rest of the world in regards to the COVID-19 disease, much like it did with AIDS. With AIDS, and under another mentally deficient president, our government response was misdirected.

Ronald Reagan and his administration wanted AIDS to be a “Gay Plague” in order for them to dismiss it as affecting only a small group of immoral individuals. Whereas Donald Trump and his enablers believe COVID-19 to be only a “Kung Flu,” here only temporarily, allowing them to make China the villain and not the disease itself.

Both administrations believed these diseases to be but a glitch and, at the most, a small hindrance to their future self-seeking and egotistical agendas. Doctors and scientists have exhaustively tried, in both cases, to convince the presidents of the dangers and deaths that could follow their skepticisms, but to no avail.

In both cases, Reagan and Trump proved to be more science deniers than believers. History has and will continue to prove people of their disposition to be distractors and dividers and eventual failures when compared to great leaders confronting immense challenges.

At this time, it’s most important, not to discuss the misgivings of certain individuals, even if they pose a hindrance, but to have an open and objective discussion on the facts and science needed to overcome the immediate afflictions confronting us. Which is this particular pandemic, the virus COVID-19 and how to confront it if not completely stop it.

First, a virus is not a thinking being. It’s a beast of a different nature. According to Scientific American, a virus “is a cluster of genetic material that integrates itself into a cell” in this case human, “and takes over some of the cell’s molecular machinery, using it to assemble an army of viral copies.” The characteristics of which include hiding with their host, in this case us, invading “through explosive reproductive rates.”

When most people think of a virus causing a pandemic, they reference the H1N1 influenza outbreak of 1918-19, and that is a scary thought. Referenced again in Scientific American, “over two years and three waves, the pandemic infected 500 million and killed between 50 million and 100 million.”

COVID-19, our current pandemic, is not influenza but a coronavirus, which has more to do with the appearance of the virus, the outer shell specifically, than its characteristics.

One big difference, which is not lost in the numerous countries and epidemiologists working on antiviral medications, “compared to flu viruses, coronaviruses don’t have as many ways to interact with host cells. ... If that interaction goes away, [the virus] can’t replicate anymore.”

As comedian Bill Murray said in a movie, “We have that going for us.”

Fortunately, that is not our only advantage. It is also believed that COVID-19 does not appear to mutate as quickly as influenza. This could suggest that a vaccine might offer protection for a longer period.

It should also be noted about coronaviruses that the three most recent have been separated by approximately 10 years. In 2002, we had SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed more than 770 people worldwide. In 2012, there was MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which took more than 800 lives and still lingers on throughout the globe.

Now, in 2020, we have COVID-19 which again is progressively deadlier than the earlier two, specifically in the act of transmission. In the earlier coronaviruses, infected individuals did not transmit until 24 hours to 36 hours after displaying symptoms, which allowed time to isolate patients before further transmission.

People today with COVID-19 can transmit the virus before showing symptoms, possibly days earlier. This probably means nothing to non-believers of evolution, but consider the facts.

Science has decoded the genome of these viruses, without decoding, there is no way of producing vaccines. The longer the genome code, the more sophisticated the replication process becomes, the more difficult it becomes to produce vaccines.

Genome length is measured in bases (building blocks, in layman’s terms) COVID-19 has the longest so far, 29,900 bases. Compare that to rhinoviruses, common colds, which have 8,000 bases. Influenza has 13,500 bases, HIV has approximately 9,000 bases and Ebola has some 19,000 bases.

Evolution is a fact, just as this virus.

Robert Hoff

Robert Hoff, Taylorsville, is a longtime subscriber to The Salt Lake Tribune and Scientific American.

Return to Story