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

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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…


A call to broaden the mental health standard of care

Photo: Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

America is in the midst of a mental health crisis that will have lasting effects. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than one in three adults were experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, a number which has steadily increased since April of 2020. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, concerns about racial injustice, climate change, and state of the economy, among other stressors, are creating an unprecedented storm. People are hurting.

The need for mental health support is becoming even more critical, yet many still face significant barriers. As a clinical psychologist and executive at…


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. …


What’s more, they’re looking to eradicate infectious diseases entirely

Photo: Fiordaliso/Getty Images

“Unless we’re screened for coronaviruses and then shot out into space, leaving all other animals and nature behind, we’re going to have coronaviruses.” So says Benjamin Neuman, PhD, chief virologist at Texas A&M’s Global Health Research Complex. Neuman is no stranger to coronaviruses — he has been working with them for decades. His expertise even landed him a spot on the international committee that named SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. SARS-CoV-2 is the most recent member of the coronavirus family, which also includes the viruses that caused the SARS and MERS outbreaks.

The world’s changing climate and growing population…


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. …


Insights from former CDC director Tom Frieden

Photo: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

There’s reason to feel hopeful about the state of the pandemic in the United States.

Though variants are plenty scary and deserve careful attention (keep your upgraded masks on), so too do the drop in case rates and significant uptick in vaccination numbers deserve celebration. We’re getting there.

As former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden writes in his latest weekly update for the Coronavirus Blog, “If things continue to go as planned, by June anyone in the United States over the age of 16 who wants a vaccine should be able to get one.”

Though the virus shows no sign…

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