BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
What else could I possibly write about this week but the contagion that has engulfed all mankind – intentional use of this arguably sexist word to evoke ancient dread of contagion that has periodically visited our species.
The COVID-19 (technically 2019-nCov) virus has spread worldwide. It is so named (very cute and cuddly), since evidently the WHO (World Health Organization) has decided that such disease-inflicting microbes will no longer be named after places to avoid stigmatizing those loci. So it’s neither “Wuhan virus” nor “Chinese virus” as the idiot-in-chief occupying the U.S. White House referred to it.
So what’s a virus? It really isn’t even life, it’s just some genetic material, usually wrapped in a protective coat of protein (*Webster’s definition below). It has to invade a living thing, a cell, to reproduce. In the process of doing so, it can make its host sick. It is VERY small. COVID-19, at about 120 nanometers, is 417 times smaller than what the human eye can see, which is roughly the width of the thinnest human hair (50,000 nanometers). A nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter (roughly 3 ¼ feet). COVID-19 is part of a family of viruses shaped like crowns, hence the name of the category “corona” viruses.
These nasties are all around us. Some are harmless. Some are annoying – think the common cold. Some are deadly – think Ebola. Some are even being used in cutting edge medical technologies to help people. Our current headlining viral companion is a mixed bag, from showing the barest of symptoms to causing death. When it’s deadly, victims are mostly people over 60/65. But it seems to leave kids largely unaffected. I saw a New York Times report that said about 40% of the bad cases were among those aged 25-54, but that’s also roughly the percentage of the overall population of that age bracket.
All the numbers in this paragraph will probably be outdated by the time you read them, sorry, but things are moving very fast. The Republic of Armenia has 110 infections. Artsakh was pending confirmation of having a few cases the last I saw. Other places with high Armenian population concentrations are also of concern. Lebanon had 52 cases and one death. The worry I have for that country is that its extremely fragile economy may disable a proper response by authorities, inescapably also harming our compatriots there. A piece in Foreign Policy “Cash-Strapped Lebanon Isn’t Ready for the Coronavirus” by Betsy Joles lays it out. I suspect the same sort of concern exists with Iran which had 18000 cases and 1200-ish deaths. Plus, it borders the two Armenian republics, though that frontier was closed a month ago. Obviously, all of us live somewhere, and nowhere is the pandemic, by definition, absent. This is all to break us out of the mental trap we sometimes fall into as Armenians, thinking that we are somehow insulated from all that goes on around us in our various Diasporan homes.
There is some good news. It seems the number of new cases in China, where this pandemic emerged, has started to decline. Of course the timing, i.e. how long after the first case the decline started, is at least partially due to the draconian measures implemented by Chinese authorities. Such steps would probably be almost impossible to implement in most parts of the world. There seem to be at least two vaccines that have been developed, one in Germany and one in Massachusetts. The latter is the work of Noubar Afeyan’s company, so that’s a point of Armenian pride. But don’t get too excited since this is not a cure, but a preventive measure, and even if it turns out to be effective, we won’t know until 12-18 months from now. Also on the Armenian front, both Armenian republics seem to be responding appropriately. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any reports specifically about Javakhk.
Other good news on the Armenian front, though non-medical, is the postponement of the hastily and wrongly called election in the RoA. If you’ll remember, this was the current regime’s effort to bring the judiciary under its control.
Meanwhile, be wise, cautious, and prepared as advised by the technically, scientifically, competent authorities. Doing so does not require hysteria as manifested in the ridiculous buying/hoarding of toilet paper and similar products. Sure, it’s good to have a supply of consumables, including calorically and nutritionally dense foods. But, over-the-top purchasing is what can create shortages and problems that would otherwise not happen. In all this, the one over-bought item that is most ridiculous is bottled water. In an overwhelming portion of the U.S. and the Armenian Highland, not to mention the rest of the developed world (where most Armenians find themselves), potable water is readily available from the tap. The last two decades of propaganda by profiteers have scared people into an absurd fear of that abundant and cheap source of the greatest drink on Earth!
Finally, be aware that this kind of epidemic can recede and come back, so we will have to be very patient and cautious for several months.
* “any of a large group of submicroscopic infectious agents that are usually regarded as nonliving extremely complex molecules, that typically contain a protein coat surrounding an RNA or DNA core of genetic material but no semipermeable membrane, that are capable of growth and multiplication only in living cells, and that cause various important diseases in humans, animals, and plants”