COVID-19 Becoming More Infectious, Study Says

Buried in today’s political news was a new COVID-19 study from Texas that found that the virus is becoming more contagious, and possibly increasingly able to circumvent control measures such as masks, hand-washing, and social distancing.

It’s really depressing news, though not really unexpected. What the researchers found was that 99.9 percent of recent cases in Houston appear to come from a previously uncommon strain of the virus—one that produces greater numbers of virus particles in their noses, mouths, and lungs.  That means that when they breath, talk, shout, cough or sneeze, they expel more virus particles, increasing the chance that someone nearby will receive an infectious dose.

The paper is posted on MedRxiv, an online site where scientists can post preliminary results while awaiting official publication. And while that means it isn’t peer reviewed, this doesn’t appear to be the type of research that can be easily messed up—especially if we don’t really care whether it’s 99.9 percent of new cases or 99 percent, or even 90 percent.

News reports are saying that the virus has “found” a way to circumvent our controls. That’s anthropomorphic nonsense. What’s happened is microbial evolution 101.

We’ve long known that one of the easiest way to create antibiotic resistant bacteria is to hit the bacteria with halfhearted control measures (partial doses of antibiotics). It’s not that the bacteria somehow get smarter. Rather, we kill of those that are susceptible to the partial measures, leaving the field to those that are more resistant. Pretty soon they are the only ones left, and presto, the bacteria have evolved resistance.

It’s probably the same here.

Our control measures have never been consistently applied. They are at best halfhearted and erratic. In most states, half the population doesn’t wear masks when they are supposed to, a problem exacerbated by the lack of consistent top-down governmental leadership.  

That inconsistency, however, means that this finding may not be quite as bad “bad news” as it initially sounds. It does not say that masks and social distancing are no longer effective. It says that halfhearted mask-wearing and inconsistent social distancing may be increasingly ineffective. I.e., super-spreader events may become more common, meaning that the best protection remains what it currently is: keep away from such events, and don’t associate closely with people who consistently risk them.

Not that this will completely work. Viruses evolve. Rapidly. This will be a continuing war. The good news is that viruses tend to evolve not only to become more contagious, but also less virulent. I posted more about that in a post called “How to Make COVID 19 Evolve to Become Less Virulent,” if you want to reread it.

In the interim, feel free to share this post. And mask-up, try to do as many meetings as you can outdoors, keep your distance, and keep yourself and your loved ones as safe as you can.

Returning to Running After Smoke

Like all of us, I’ve been obsessively watching the air quality index, more or less willing it to improve…as if that’s possible. And like many of us, I’ve learned a lot about air quality levels we never before dreamed of. I used to think 175 was bad. Now I am a connoisseur of the difference between 530, and 430. I can feel it in my eyes, throat, lungs, and heart.

For 8 days, going on 9, I have done zero exercise, even though I have an N-95 mask that I bought back in January to combat smoke. I take out the trash (wearing the mask) when absolutely necessary. I occasionally collect my mail. And that is pretty much all I do. In 8 days climbing my stairs as few times as possible is my main form of exercise.

Hopefully, many of you were equally cautious.

Which raises the question: when this abates, as it eventually will (and may be doing as you read this) how fast can you return to normal training?

The answer should be reassuring. Soon. But take a few days to ramp up.

The basic rule of injury or illness layoffs is this. Three to five days off is nothing. You might feel sluggish the first day back, but take it easy and you’ll be back to normal the next day…or at worst the day after that. For longer layoffs, say a week to 10 days (which is what we’re talking about here), allow one day for full recovery for every day of layoff. If you’re flat on your back with flu, it might be longer (two days for every day off), and if you are cross-training extensively (hard to do in this kind of smoke unless you have a really good home gym…and great air filters) it might be less.

So my main advice is this. Figure you’re going to be sluggish at first. Don’t immediately jump into speed workouts. Start with a few cautious easy runs (once the air quality allows) to get your running legs back. Then segue into strides. Follow that with a little cautious tempo.

Physiologically, this layoff has been too short for you to lose much, especially because you weren’t actually hurt or ill. But it will probably take a few days to feel normal.

If you are doing the Stumptown virtual series (which starts next week) postpone the first race until the end of the week. You won’t be 100 percent at that point, but you probably won’t be a total slug, either. And remember, everyone is in the same boat.

Mentally, view this as a rest break. Unplanned, yes, but rest can be good. Bernard Lagat always took five full weeks off in the fall, after the Fifth Avenue Mile, at the end of September. That’s a lot more than 8-9 days. And by the Wannamaker Mile, indoors in February, he was so well recovered from his break (a total layoff) that for years, he was the King of the Boards.

In other words, don’t sweat it. In the big picture, this is a mere hiccup.

But don’t push it too hard, either. Let the recovery come to you, rather than you trying to force it.

It will come, and after nearly a week and a half of sitting indoors trying not to breathe orange air, simply getting outside and (eventually) seeing a patch of blue sky will be a reminder that what’s really important isn’t so much how fast we recover, but just that we can still (again) get out and do it.

Quick high-veggie hot dish

With all the political news raging this week, I figured it was time to do something different. Here’s a quick recipe of my mother’s, adapted to my tastes. It makes a very good potluck dish (it always gets raves), a side dish for dinner, or a great lunch. (I used it on my diet.)

Basic ingredients:

  • 1 can corn (or fresh corn, but that takes longer)
  • mushrooms (1 small can or fresh; fresh is better)
  • half a large onion
  • 1 ounce mozzarella cheese
  • Small sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange)
  • Jalapeño
  • Roasted cashews
  • Salt (if desired)
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder (minimal)
  • Parsley flakes
  • Paprika
  • Cumin

Drain canned veggies and put them plus chopped fresh veggies in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add spices to taste. Place sliced cheese and cashews on top. Heat on high until cheese melts and everything else is sufficiently hot. (If preferred, you can give the chopped onion a head start, but I generally find that unnecessary.)

Serves 4 as side dish; or one as lunch. (Total calories about 450, depending on how many cashews you use.) For heartier version, use more cheese.