Sign in

Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Coronavirus

In Elemental. More on Medium.

There will be no dramatic end to the pandemic, but we can at least look for these four signs that it’s under control

Photo: San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

After a dark, lonely winter — when cases of Covid-19 ravaged the globe, surpassing 2 million deaths in mid-January, and with new variants cropping up — we seem to have begun emerging from the absolute worst. Spring’s fate is up in the air, but the ramped-up vaccine program under the new administration is sending hopeful signals. Seeing more and more friends and family posting vaccine selfies on social media amid climbing vaccination rates makes the end of the pandemic feel a little more tangible, in some ways.

But when we say “the end,” what exactly do we mean?

It’s challenging…


(L) Central Meadville, MS; (R) Mark Thornton, Franklin County emergency management director, at the courthouse in Meadville, Mississippi, on March 19, 2021. Photos: Annie Flanagan for Elemental

How rural areas could affect our Covid-19 immunity

Along a winding roadway festooned with lanky longleaf pines, a sign welcomes you to Meadville, Mississippi, population 519.

“Oh, we’re bigger than that,” says Cynthia Ann Wilkinson, a Mississippi State Extension agent, to the journalist who mentioned the sign in passing. Her co-worker and office associate, Suzanne Brown, intrigued and in disbelief, Googles the recent Census data. “It’s actually 604,” she says.

Meadville is the government seat of Franklin County, a 567-square-mile patch of rural America — one square mile for every 14 people. There are only two traffic lights here but more than two dozen churches. …


The pandemic isn’t over, even if we’re over it

A person walks by a sign that reads, “Dining room now open” outside a restaurant in Times Square.
A person walks by a sign that reads, “Dining room now open” outside a restaurant in Times Square.
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

I’m writing weekly for Medium about my experiences as an emergency medicine doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read my previous posts on vaccine inequities, the return to “normal” life, and more, here.

A month ago I wrote that the next phase of the pandemic hinged on vaccines, variants, and how well we followed the public health measures necessary to keep Covid-19 in check. Since then it’s become increasingly clear this summer will be amazing (even if a little weird). What’s less clear is how this spring will shake out with respect to Covid in the U.S.

So let’s…


An invisible virus exposes critical blind spots in science and society. But will we learn?

Photo: MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty Images

Plaguing the world for more than a year, the coronavirus has forced reckonings in everything from scientific understanding to heart-wrenching inequities in health care and the economy. Given the human tendency to ignore history, here, for the record, are seven vital lessons we can take from the Covid-19 pandemic, which could start benefiting us now and for generations to come.

1. Virus science just underwent a paradigm shift

Sanitizing groceries and drowning our homes with bleach was wrongheaded, in hindsight. That early advice reflected an outdated view of how the coronavirus, influenza, and other respiratory viruses spread, some of it based on experiments done in the 1930s.

Combining…


Our excitement with getting back to normal can’t cover up how strange the journey back there will be

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

I’m writing weekly for Medium about my experiences as an emergency medicine doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read my previous posts on vaccine inequities, the variants, and more, here.

The summer is starting to look spectacular. The White House recently announced the U.S. will have enough vaccines by the end of May to inoculate every American adult. By the Fourth of July, we should be able to start celebrating our independence from Covid-19.

It’s about time. We’ve all had our fill of Zoom meetings, classes, and weddings. …


They may seem like a golden ticket, but it’s more complicated than that

Photo: Chalffy/Getty Images

I’m writing weekly for Medium about my experiences as an emergency medicine doctor during the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read my previous posts on vaccine inequities, the variants, and more, here.

Getting vaccinated against Covid-19 two months ago was a huge relief. As an emergency medicine doctor, it came with the comfort that caring for Covid-19 patients would carry less risk. It also came with a white card proving I’d been vaccinated. I felt certain this small card would be my pass to Big Things. To date, I haven’t yet had to prove my vaccination status. That will soon change.


Plus, the most important way to prevent more variants from emerging

Image: Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Although the word “mutation” often conjures frightening associations, such as three-headed fish or The Andromeda Strain, in reality, mutations are simply changes that arise in DNA or RNA. Reproduction is one opportunity for these changes to emerge, creating the starting material for evolution, including in viruses. In this way, as researcher Nathan D. Grubaugh and colleagues wrote back in March 2020, mutations are just “a humdrum aspect of life for an RNA virus.”

But recent reporting about mutated variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has understandably caused some anxiety. …


Masks, distancing, and remote meetings can protect overall health, but they are rough on the voice

Photo: The Good Brigade/Getty Images

If you’ve found yourself doing a lot of yelling during the pandemic, you’re not alone. The new reality of social distancing, wearing masks, and communicating through video platforms has forced many of us to change how we use our voices — and it’s not looking good for our vocal health. Complaints about hoarseness and a rough throat are on the rise, and laryngologists have noted growing numbers of patients seeking care for voice-related issues.

The greater vocal effort required during this pandemic, both from mask-wearing and video calls, explains why many people experience vocal strain, says Lee Michael Akst, MD…


Pandemic Reflections

I’ve made mistakes. We all have.

Photo: Emma Figuero/EyeEm/Getty Images

I’m a bit of a know-it-all. It comes with the territory of the job — I literally find out interesting things and then explain them to other people for a living. Depending on your view, I’m either the most fun at parties or the least fun at parties. At one event a few years ago, a good friend made the rule that if anyone had a fact-based question, they had to ask me first because I invariably (thought I) had the answer. It was the best night of my life.

With Covid-19, all of that came crashing down. I knew…


Pandemic Reflections

How the pandemic made time a treasure of the privileged while it was stolen from everyone else

Photo: Jocelyn Michel/Getty Images

The day we began sheltering in place, a year ago on March 13, we celebrated a family birthday. It was the first of five we would share in the coming year, in the same place, in what felt like the same eternal moment, because we’d lost all sense of time. With all of us working and learning at home, without our usual cues that the day had come and gone — a departure for work or school, an arrival back from the trenches — one day was much like any other.

In the first few weeks of shelter in place…

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store