Nine Months with COVID-19: What We Know and Don’t Know about the Disease

As of October 1, 2020, the death toll due to COVID-19 has passed 1 million with over 34 million people infected worldwide. The United States and India had the highest reported cases. Since May and June, the number of cases continues to rise, with many Latin American countries seeing high rates of infection while some European countries are now seeing the second wave of disease.

Scientists and researchers around the world are racing to understand the virus and its impact on human health. Even as clinical trials of vaccines are underway, there are still many unknowns about the coronavirus and its effect on humans.


Origin of the Virus

The first known coronavirus infection was detected in Wuhan in December 2019. On December 31, 2019, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission issued an urgent notice to local medical facilities, warning that some shoppers at Huanan Seafood Market had exhibited pneumonia symptoms. The next day, the market was closed for thorough cleaning and disinfection.

Some experts, however, believe that by disinfecting the market, authorities effectively destroyed any clues that would lead scientists to the origin of the virus. Shi Zhengli, a scientist with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said at the Beijing Health Forum on September 18, 2020, about the coronavirus, “We know it is very important to find the origin of the virus. Unfortunately, we may never be able to get there.”

Such a gloomy outlook from Shi is unusual. Shi and her team had spent eight years searching for the source of the 2003 SARS outbreak and eventually found what is believed to be the origin of SARS in a bat cave in Yunnan Province of China.

It is generally believed that the coronavirus originated in China. Some think that the virus came from a lab in the Wuhan Institution of Virology; some believe that the virus came from bats in the wild and passed to humans through intermediate hosts.

The Chinese communist government, on the other hand, blames the United States for starting the virus. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman even accused the U.S. Military of bringing the virus to Wuhan during the Military World Games. The U.S. government has firmly denied all such claims.


The Spread of the Virus

During the early days of the outbreak, the Chinese government downplayed the danger of the virus and censored anyone who voiced different opinions. It wasn’t until January 20 that the Chinese government publicly admitted that the new coronavirus could spread between humans. Three days later, Wuhan was locked down. By that time, 5 million people had fled the city, carrying the virus all over China and to the rest of the world.

Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus has spread to nearly 200 countries and the number of cases of infection continues to climb. Scientists have learned a lot about the virus and the disease it causes.

Some of the early assumptions have proven to be naive. For example, it was initially thought that children did not develop symptoms as severe as adults’ symptoms. However, a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on August 7 showed that children do contract the disease. Although the pediatric hospitalisation rate is lower than adults, one in three hospitalised children were admitted to the ICU.

COVID-19 appears to infect young and healthy people just the same as the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. Many had hoped that, like the flu, the warm weather of the summer would subdue it. Although the spread slowed during April and May, largely due to strict lockdowns placed in many countries, the disease does not appear to be weakening anytime soon.


Complicated and Long-lasting Effects of the Virus

Doctors observed early-on that the coronavirus affects more than just the lungs. Patients could experience problems with their gut, brain, kidneys, pancreas, heart, and gallbladder. It can cause heart attacks, strokes, lack of blood flow to the intestines, inflamed toes, etc.

In a paper published by Italian researchers in September on Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, one-third of patients also experienced diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. In another paper published on BMJ of a study of 1,000 patients in a New York hospital, 78% of ICU patients developed acute kidney damage.

Researchers also found that 7~31% of patients experienced some sort of cardiac impairment from COVID-19. “Patients with severe COVID-19 have a high incidence of cardiac arrests and arrhythmias, scientists at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania recently found,” according to a June report from STAT.

In addition, some people still tested positive for a long time after they recovered from COVID-19, raising the question “Are they still contiguous?” Experts now believe that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which looks for fragments of the virus’ RNA in mucus swabbed from deep in the nasal passage, cannot distinguish between whole virus capable of infecting someone and viral debris shed after an infection.

“Someone that is PCR-positive, especially after they’ve recovered, especially if they’re weeks and weeks into their recovery, it’s not likely that they are still infectious,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s leading coronavirus expert. According to the CDC guideline, people can be considered recovered and non-infectious 10 days after their symptoms began, as long as they have been symptom-free for three days.

However, evidence is showing that life is far from “back to normal” after those infected have supposedly recovered. In an article published on Atlantic, author Ed Yong told of a woman who was sick with COVID-19 in March and still experiences extreme fatigue, bulging veins, excessive bruising, an erratic heartbeat, short-term memory loss, gynecological problems, sensitivity to light and sound, and brain fog after five months.

The article also said, “In an Italian study, 87 percent of hospitalised patients still had symptoms after two months; a British study found similar trends. A German study that included many patients who recovered at home found that 78 percent had heart abnormalities after two or three months.”

Not surprisingly, a CDC report published on July 24 said that COVID-19 “can result in prolonged illness even among persons with milder outpatient illness, including young adults.” Because most research has focused on the initial stages of infection, very little study has been done regarding the long-term effects of infection or the possibility of reinfection.


Questions on Immunity and Vaccines

Researchers in Hong Kong first reported a confirmed case of reinfection of COVID-19 on August 24, raising questions about the durability of immunity. There have since been reports of reinfection from Belgium, Netherlands, and the United States.

It is still unclear how long immunity might last after infection and recovery. Some experts believe people will generally become susceptible again after some time. “What we know from other coronaviruses is that although you do make an immune response – otherwise you wouldn’t recover – the protection doesn’t seem to be life-long but only lasts maybe one year or two,” said Van Kerkhove from the WHO. Without an effective vaccine and broad application, experts believe more reinfection is likely to happen.

Vaccine research for COVID-19 has been fast-tracked with several clinical trials taking place already. However, experts warn that developing an effective vaccine is not easy. For example, flu vaccines have been available for decades, but the disease still claims about 50,000 lives each year in the United States alone. With the coronavirus infected population being as large as it is, even a moderately effective vaccine could not prevent all deaths.

Another factor is antibody-dependent enhancement, in which a low number of antibodies could aid the entry of the virus into cells, making it more deadly. In an article titled “Coronavirus vaccine developers wary of errant antibodies” published on Nature, the author cautioned, “Vaccines generating antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 may bind to the virus without neutralising it. Should this happen, the non-neutralising antibodies could enhance viral entry into cells and viral replication and end up worsening infection instead of offering protection.”

As a recent Minghui article pointed out, “Recent discoveries, however, indicate that from its genetic mutations to its route of spread, and from its symptoms to its damage to the immune system, coronavirus is anything but a normal disease and poses a significant challenge to vaccine research.”


Beyond Modern Science

Traditional Chinese culture believes that the mind and body are connected. When a person’s moral standards are high, his body is naturally resilient. When Yellow Emperor asked the court physician Qi Bo how to prevent plagues, Qi Bo replied, “When a person has righteous qi (energy) residing inside, no viciousness is able to invade.” And to obtain or maintain the righteous qi, one must conduct oneself with a high moral standard.

In modern science, the relationship between mind and body is also widely recognised. According to a random survey by the Harvard Osher Institute in 2004, 19% of adults in the U.S. had used at least one mind-body therapy in the previous year. “Meditation, imagery, and yoga were the most commonly used techniques,” the report concluded.

One such system that improves mind and body is Falun Dafa. Also known as Falun Gong, it is a practice based on five exercises and the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance.

As early as 1998, a survey of over 10,000 Falun Dafa practitioners in Heilongjiang Province showed that 95% of the participants reported noticeable improvement in their health after they started practicing Falun Dafa.

Over the past 21 years, however, tens of millions of Falun Dafa practitioners in China have been severely persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. This has led not only to countless tragedies for the practitioners and their families but also to moral degeneration in China.

As people have learned what Falun Dafa is, many have chosen to support innocent practitioners in their belief despite the persecution. By following their conscience, they have been blessed. According to a report published on the Minghui website, there are people in China who have recovered from the coronavirus by reciting, “Falun Dafa is good, Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance is good.”