Thursday, March 26, 2020

How To Even When No One Else Can

I am going to let my real life dribble into the blog temporarily. It has been brought to my attention that as a microbiologist I actually do have valuable thoughts on the current pandemic. A little about me and my education. I got my PhD in microbiology working with infectious diseases. For the past almost 11 years now I have been working on vaccine development projects with an emphasis on immunological responses to the vaccines and how that correlates to protection. Because I am a super nerd and love disease I have done a lot of nerdy reading about epidemiology and outbreaks. Additionally, I have worked in high containment laboratories (think requires respiratory protection and diseases that are difficult to treat/don't have vaccines) so I also know quite a bit about bio containment and bio security. With that being said here are my thought on some things that have been circulating.


No seriously, this is the absolute best way to protect yourself. The virus can only cause infection if it comes into contact with mucosal surfaces. Most people touch their faces a lot and they typically use their hands, so if your hands are clean you won't be infecting yourself.

Viruses are super cool and weird because they aren't actually living. They are little pods of lipid with DNA or RNA inside them. If you destroy the lipid membrane on the outside the virus can't infect cells. Detergent (aka soap) is really good at breaking down lipids (think fats). Therefore if you have really nice robust foaming of the soap the virus doesn't stand a chance.

Which leads to the next point, it is all about contact time. Think of it like burning if you briefly touch a hot object your burn typically isn't bad, but if you hold on to that object for 20 seconds the burn is a lot worse. The longer the soap has in contact with your skin the more damage it does to the microbes on it. So make sure you get the backs and the nooks and crannies (under nails too, don't be rocking the rancher tips) for at least 20 seconds.

2) Social Distancing and the barn

It is a hot topic, should barns close, why, why not, but what will I do without my pony???

There is a lot that goes into this. But really the simple answer is the US just took over the most cases in the world and we are not showing any signs of having this under control. In order to get this under control we need to take a good hard long look at our behaviors.

I am currently going into work for critical projects (which means I am there for ~8 hours per week). My work has increased cleaning and staggered our schedules so there are no more than two people working per lab space (more than enough space for appropriate social distancing) and during the time I have been there I have maybe spent ~5 minutes total with someone in the same room as me. We are under strict instructions to not come in if we are even sort of feeling like we might be getting sick. I live by myself and beyond my once a week grocery run (done at odd hours) I have been home or work no where else. I canceled my jumping lesson for the last two weeks because I felt like it was a risk. I saw Karma on Sunday for the last time and dropped off two months worth of board because I knew it was coming. My state was put under a shelter in place order on Monday and until that lifts I am not seeing my horse again.

If your horse is at a place where you don't feel comfortable with the care when you can't be there perhaps you need to take a step back and consider do I want to board my horse here. This isn't just about you, it is about doing your part to help protect everyone around you. In Italy funerals are banned. People are being hospitalized alone, dying alone, being buried alone. That is what is coming for the US if we don't slow the spread. So think about your actions and consider is this truly necessary.

It is a hard decision, but I know Karma will be ok. And while I am going a little crazy without the gym and the horse I also know it is the right decision to make to protect not only myself but the people around me.

Raccoon is lacking soap don't skip the soap

3) Should you be freaking out?

No, panicking is the worst thing you can do (even if it is a favorite of mine). Limit your public exposure/practice social distancing, wash your hands, and don't touch your face. Don't believe me read this article. The key points are in Hong Kong and Singapore healthcare workers were able to minimize exposures by using the following protocols. Wearing regular surgical masks for all patient interactions (these won't actually protect you from aerosolized virus, but they do prevent face touching and large droplets) gloves plus proper hand washing, along with disinfecting all surfaces in-between patients. These are the people interacting with a large number on infections. But the virus didn't sicken large numbers of healthcare workers. So again WASH YOUR HANDS AND DON'T TOUCH THE FACE.

4) Best biosafety practices (outside the home)

Minimize touching things. Just pretend that the world is a disgusting porta potty.
Stay away from people. I highly recommend going to the store looking like a hot mess it really helps keep people away (PS the hot mess part is a joke based on how awful I looked). Last week when I went to the store I hadn't slept well and my naturally pale skin was maybe one shade away from "is she dead?" I had forgotten to look in the mirror so my hair was randomly piled on top my head (curly hair plus messy bun that had been put up the night before). I was so pleased with how well people had been following the social distancing recommendations until I got home. I looked like I was sick and would have steered clear of me too.

The situation you have been in determines how worried you should be when you get home. Everyone should wipe down their phone and wash their hands when they get home. If you work retail or have to work closely with people I would go ahead strip toss clothes in the laundry and shower (minimize touching things at home, you are now the disgusting porta potty). Hopefully everyone cleans their house regularly but it doesn't hurt to give frequently touched surfaces (light switches, door handles, microwave handle/buttons, etc) wipes more often.

5) Outside practices

I highly recommend solo activities or activities with people you are living with. Meeting up with a friend for a hike makes it so hard to maintain social distance. You get to talking you forget. So if you are dying to company have them hike somewhere else and make it a phone date. It is just safer all around. But yes please continue to get exercise so we aren't all border collies trying to herd the cat in the house.

6) It just effects old people

No, old people are more likely to die. But there are many young healthy people who are having to be hospitalized for it. As someone who has had lasting lung damage from being young and dumb and exercising while sick, it sucks. Do everything you can to protect yourself and those around you because it causes serious lung damage. In fact the majority of Germany's cases are young healthy people that were skiing in Italy. Now they are hospitalized and on ventilators.

7) How to educate yourself?

The CDC and WHO are always good resources. John Hopkins has a map that is fun to play with. Use common sense and if you read something that sounds too good to be true google it and see if reliable sources pop up. There is an oxford study floating around about how most of the UK population has already been exposed, but it isn't peer reviewed and is based on some massive assumptions that just don't hold up. Feel free to ask me anything and I will happily nerd out.  My sister made the mistake of texting me "what are your thoughts?" She got a text that more than took up the screen in response.



  1. You get a bottle of soap and you get a bottle of soap, EVERYONE GETS A BOTTLE OF SOAP!

    In all seriousness though, thank you. I know you have a ton of knowledge in this area, and you've definitely helped ease my mind over fear of exposure. I'll continue to hide in my house like a hermit and WASH MY HANDS 👏👏👏

  2. THANK YOU for writing this! It's so good to hear someone actually educated in this stuff cut through the noise with some good recommendations. Please stay safe, I know your job is a lot different than most of ours!

  3. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your 👏Goddamn👏 hands!

  4. Thank you for solid, rational, non crazy thoughts and advice.

  5. Thank you for this. It’s spot on.

  6. Thank you for sharing! I do have two questions for you:

    1) Does the kind of soap matter other than that it foams well? I had read that antibacterial doesn't matter (this isn't a bacteria anyways, it's a virus) but is there something that does matter about your soap?

    2) Feelings on takeout? I'm tired of cooking, but afraid of bringing the virus into my home via takeout food/containers. Related to that I've tried to minimize my grocery runs and I only do pickup, but the problem becomes that some staples in my diet are hard to get so I can't go as long between trips as I'd like.

    1. I dislike antibacterial soap in general so I didn't even think about it. Any soap will work just fine. The detergent is the key and they all include it.

      Takeout is low risk in my opinion. Most places are taking precautions and while this disease does have a relatively low infectious dose a couple viral particles aren't enough to cause disease. You can wash your hands and wipe down the common surfaces if you want to be extra cautious.

    2. Thanks for the input! I hope to get to meet you in person once all of this craziness is over!

  7. I'm now going to make up a song about dissolving lipids while I wash my hands. This is excellent!

  8. Thank you for posting this. Stay safe and healthy!

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