Last Friday, more than more than 720 readers of the WIRED Coronavirus newsletter received a live stream with editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson and senior correspondent Adam Rogers. Within an hour, Thompson and Rogers answered questions from readers on the current state of the Covid 19 pandemic, covering everything from tests to virology to the scientific reasons for wearing a mask. The conversation was processed and condensed.
Nicholas Thompson: There are now more than one million coronavirus cases worldwide, which means that there are actually many more. More than 50,000 deaths. In my hometown of New York, people die every two minutes. We are in the middle of a worldwide tragedy.
This is a story that WIRED reported on from the beginning. Our science counter started writing about what was happening in China in early January. We started triggering large alarms in February. We pretty much spent all of our editorial resources on it in early March. And one of the people who did the most intense, thorough and fantastic work is my colleague Adam Rogers, who is here with me today. He broke all sorts of stories. He wrote incredibly informative instructions. He was deeply immersed in many of the questions and was incredibly early in alerting everyone at WIRED and everyone who reads his work what was going to happen and what we had to do to mitigate both the risks to ourselves and ourselves to promote civic understanding of it,
Adam, I want you to explain where we have three different questions: where we test, where we get treatment, where we get vaccines.
Adam Rogers: Trade There are phases in a pandemic that are fairly well understood, whether they are carried out as people would hope or not. There is a containment phase, then a damage control phase and then a management phase.
One of the hallmarks of a containment phase is testing and trying to find out who is infected and whether or not they have symptoms. Who actually has the virus? In the early phases of the pandemic, when it started in China and in Asian countries, they were very good at testing. There have been stories of how South Korea tested hundreds of thousands of people, in some cases more than 1
In the past few days, the United States has reached a plateau with around 100,000 tests per person. The way these tests currently work is called RT-PCR. They are molecular tests. They look for the genetic material of the actual virus in spit or snot in the throat or far back in the nose – nasopharynx tests. At first some inaccuracies apparently delayed these tests. Then there were problems with the supply chain for the parts for them. There are many companies that manufacture them.
One of the problems with this is that the data for these tests is not very good. The federal government has not really contacted them. So what can everyone really know about how many tests are carried out and where it is incomplete?
Since it is a new virus, there were no therapeutic agents at all at first. For a while there was talk of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, these old antimalarials have also been used in immune disorders because they appear to have some effectiveness against the virus in vitro in petri dishes in a laboratory. People were very excited about it, even in Silicon Valley, on social media, and a researcher in France was pretty active trying to get the idea out there. True randomized control trials with these drugs have only just begun, although frontline doctors used them very early on as compassionate drugs. For example, when they saw the first patients in Montefiore, New York, they used hydroxychloroquine. There is also ongoing testing for a drug called Remdesivir that was actually developed for use against Ebola. A study is currently ongoing on this drug.
Frontline doctors can use what is called compassionate use: if someone is in a serious condition, you can use a drug that is approved for something else, but not necessarily for it. Therefore, doctors use antiviral, antiretroviral therapies such as those used for HIV. Nobody knows what works. These tests are still taking place. The idea is that someone is in such a serious condition that they may die. The possible side effects or the ineffectiveness of the drug are negligible compared to this result.
And then people moved around numbers like a year to 18 months with the vaccine. That is a guess. What you need to do to get a vaccine is to understand the immunology of the virus. It's a new virus, so people are still trying to find out. Then determine which pieces of virus that hang on the outside of the virus respond to a person's immune system. Then synthesize that, turn it into something that acts as a drug, and then start giving it to people.