Ilya Sterin's Newsletter #5

28 Nov 2020    5 mins read.

Coronavirus (the silver lining)

It’s hard to escape the bad news these days, but I’d love to add a glimmer of hope. If you’ve read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s search for meaning, you know that even in the worst of times, hope allows resilient people to find meaning. Let’s focus on the positives.

Two days ago, researchers released results from a in vivo trial, which shows the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to treat a malaria. Not only are the results promising, but this medication has been used for decades to treat malaria and thus has an established safety record and needs no approvals. It can be used immediately. Here is the report by the authors of the study and an accompanying explanation by my friend, who specializes in cell and molecular biology.

If I would have told you a month ago, “Hey, in a few weeks, you’ll be working from home for a while, spending more time with your family, calling and checking in on your loved ones on a daily basis, and generally slowing things down,” you’d be really excited. Well here we are, living it, but the fact that it’s not a free choice makes this more stressful.

Once this is all said and done, we’ll extract some of the positive things out of this situation. We’ll become more humble and appreciate the things that we typically take for granted. We’ll be emotionally closer to our family, friends, and our fellow human beings. We’ll live more in the present.

How this potentially ends

Take the following with a grain of salt. This is my point of view at 5pm on 3/20/2020. Obviously these opinions are based on consuming information from experts in the field. One thing is certain, being that this is a new virus, there are lots of unknowns. We’re discovering and learning things daily. As Peter Attia says, slowing the progress doesn’t eliminate the virus; it buys us more time to learn more about it and how to manage it.

Here are the all the scenarios I came across of how this can potential get better and end. My thought is that it won’t be a single one of these, but rather a combination of all.

  1. Lockdown

    At this point, the closings, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders aren’t about stopping the virus. Rather, they are attempts at slowing its progress. Exponential growth is hard for most people to comprehend. Most of us think linearly. It’s hard to grasp how 50 cases with a growth rate of 20% and no mitigation strategies can become 50 million in just over two months. But that’s math.

    We need to slow the growth to buy us time to learn more and decrease the stress on an already overwhelmed medical system. Statistically, if you’re in decent health and are not over 70, your chances of needing ICU care or dying are small, but small on the national scale, is still a large quantity of people needing ICU care all at once.

  2. Herd immunity

    Most viral outbreaks end through herd immunity. This is where enough people have had the virus, survived, and developed immunity. As the amount of people with immunity grows, it gets harder and harder for the virus to reproduce and it eventually fizzles out. This is also partly how vaccines prevent pandemics. Enough vaccinated people have immunity, which makes it harder for a virus to find a vulnerable host to reproduce. People still get sick, but the spread is tamed.

    Good article here: What is herd immunity and can it stop the coronavirus?.

  3. Treatments

    As I mentioned in my opening, there are numerous coronavirus treatments being tested right now (i.e. Hydroxychloroquine). These treatments are therapeutic rather than prophylactic (i.e. vaccines). If found to be effective in the next few weeks, these can help reduce the strain on our medical system, decrease the number of fatalities, shorten the duration of the virus, and allow us to develop herd immunity without the catastrophic effects.

  4. Vaccine

    A few vaccines have already entered clinical trials, but due to regulations and safety concerns, the process is typically long. I can’t imagine a vaccine on the market any time before the end of this year. Vaccines will not help us prevent/deal with the current outbreak, but will aid in preventing such an outbreak in the future.

    If another positive thing comes of this ordeal, it’s the renewed attention on vaccines and pendemics. We’ve known about these dangers for decades, but it’s easy to stop looking for the black swan, if you’ve only heard of them through folklore. Now we’re living through one.

  5. Virus mutation

    Instead of explaining this one in depth, I’d rather point to an article. In short, viruses mutate, and in most cases, random mutations are actually detrimental to its reproduction (good for us, bad for the virus). There is a good chance that this virus mutates, becomes less effective in reproducing, and dies out.

    We shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates during disease outbreaks

What I’m reading

I’m re-reading Man’s search for meaning. The first half of the book is a story of human perseverance through a concentration camp and finding hope and meaning during trying times. The book had a profound influence on me when I read it 10 years ago, and now is the time to re-familiarize myself with the lessons.

Quote I’m pondering

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor E. Frankl