You Have to Know How A Virus Moves to Beat COVID-19
Scientists are racing to understand the turbulent way the disease spreads
To really understand how the disease COVID-19 spreads, you have to see the world the way a virus moves through it. It’s just a fleck of protein and genes, a little bit of code in a package with no to-do list beyond hijacking the biology of living things to make copies of itself and spread them to other living things. What happens to those other living things in the process—maybe they get sick, maybe they die—isn’t the virus’s problem. Viruses don’t have problems.
If that virus is our problem, though, scientists will want to get in the way of that cycle. Absent a vaccine, understanding that mysterious, turbulent spread is going to be the key to the next phase of the pandemic.
On the long list of changes to society and the way cities will look in a COVID-haunted world, shifting public outdoor space like streets and parking lots away from cars to other uses may be one of the most striking. Multiple cities are instituting “slow streets” or “open streets” programs, to give people more space to be outside while staying 6 feet apart. Some are going to allow restaurants and other businesses to take over sidewalk and street space for outdoor service, to help them make up the margins lost due to restrictions on indoor occupancy. All of that relies on the idea that disease doesn’t spread as easily outside as it does in enclosed spaces, a relatively uncontroversial notion in epidemiology. But the question of why could turn into the most important countermeasure public health experts can deploy—and it depends on the invisible, infinitesimal particles that come out of people’s mouths with every breath and utterance.
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