Culture

Coronavirus: 7 insightful Twitter threads reveal expert opinion on Covid-19

Here's what experts make of the current situation.

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The coronavirus pandemic has swept the world, and social media is helping experts spread their most important insights.

As the World Health Organization issues advice on shaking hands and politicians roll out measures to reduce the spread, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are spreading information faster than ever before. While some viral posts contain questionable or outright false claims, these platforms also have the ability to break barriers down between the general public and academia.

Want to know why social distancing is such a good idea? Or whether you need to go to the hospital? Or how the economic slowdown has changed air pollution? Here's seven of the best threads to get you up to speed – including one on how to spot misinformation.

Lin's Twitter thread.Twitter

7. Michelle Lin on the basic questions

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Who they are: Michelle Lin is an assistant professor in emergency medicine at New York's Mount Sinai hospital. Her research has focused on value in providing care.

What you need to know: Lin's 17-post thread highlights the importance of isolating yourself for 14 days if you have symptoms, changing your behavior, and avoiding contact with people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions. The thread also offers key advice and clears up some commonly-asked questions. For example, testing is not required for all and will prioritize the sickest and most at-risk. These practices are aimed at "flattening the curve" of cases and ensuring the healthcare system can cope.

Key quote: "Inconvenience is better than serious illness."

Balloux's Twitter thread.Twitter

6. Francois Balloux on the bigger picture

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Who they are: Francois Balloux is a professor in computational systems biology at University College London. His research has focused on reconstructing disease outbreaks for both human and wildlife pathogens.

What you need to know: Balloux's 12-post assessment of the big picture does more to highlight what we don't know. It's unclear how much transmission changes with seasons, and it's unclear whether infection leads to long-lasting immunity. Balloux does suggest, however, that the most plausible scenario is a drop in cases by the spring, followed by a much bigger second wave in the winter. There are no easy answers from a policy perspective, and Balloux claims that there is no choice between protecting the economy and managing health as the two are closely linked anyway.

Key quote: "I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is the most serious global public health threat humanity faced since the 1918/19 influenza pandemic."

Max Roser's thread.Twitter

5. Max Roser on why to take it seriously

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Who they are: Max Roser is the director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Global Development at the University of Oxford, which looks at how living conditions are changing around the world. His research looks at wide global problems including disease and inequality.

What you need to know: Roser's nine-post thread looks at why he takes it seriously as an issue. He notes that confirmed cases outside of China have doubled every four days, leaving the elderly and poorer people exposed. Containment is vital to keeping numbers to an acceptable level. It's critical to wash hands thoroughly, avoid touching the face, understanding the symptoms and working from home.

Key quote: "We've been successful in making progress against terrible problems. The way forward is to take problems seriously, study them, and do what is right."

Burke's Twitter thread.Twitter

4. Marshall Burke on the environmental changes

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Who they are: Marshall Burke is an assistant professor in Stanford University's Department of Earth System Science. He recently gave a congressional testimony on the bigger economic impacts of climate change.

What you need to know: Burke argues that China's reduction in air pollution due to the coronavirus outbreak may have saved 20 times the number of people that the virus itself claimed. He does stress, however, that it's "impossible to know now," but the theory could become testable further down the road. The takeaway message? Air pollution is really bad for health.

Key quote: "The way our economies operate absent pandemics has massive hidden health costs, and it takes a pandemic to help see that."

3. Scott Gottlieb on the United States' strategy

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Who they are: Scott Gottlieb was the 23rd commissioner of the United States' Food and Drugs Administration, serving from May 2017 to April 2019. He's now a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

What you need to know: Gottlieb argues that the country faces two broad choices: a South Korea approach or an Italy approach. The moment has passed for the former and the country needs to avoid the latter. He calls for "aggressive screening" to get people diagnosed, which would make it easier to isolate the disease. He calls for greater action from businesses, beyond large-scale events like NBA games, and explains that social separation does work. He also calls for surge capacity in hospitals. All of this is a race against the clock.

Key quote: "We’ll get through this. It’ll end. We have two hard months ahead of us."

2. Sandy Douglas on social distancing

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Who they are: Sandy Douglas is a vaccine researcher at the University of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Medicine, currently researching a rabies vaccine.

What you need to know: Douglas explains that infection is not inevitable. If you reduce your contact with others from 1,000 interactions per day to 500, for example, it could halve the risk of infection. Infection is not inevitable because technology to help control it is under development, herd immunity could help reduce the numbers as people grow immune and reduce the rate of transmission, and no flu ever infects everyone in the first wave.

Key quote: "You can help protect yourself, your family and others by taking moderate steps, without becoming a total recluse for six months."

1. Carl Bergstrom on misinformation

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Who they are: Carl Bergstrom is a professor at the University of Washington's Department of Biology. His new book Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World, written in collaboration with Jevin West, is due for publication in August 2020.

What you need to know: Bergstrom's thread highlights how coronavirus disinformation can spread easily. It takes the example of an anonymous physician, speaking to a reporter, that painted a picture of dire conditions in Seattle hospitals. The account was disputed by other professionals working in the area. The main lesson is to exercise skepticism, particularly when the most alarming accounts are coming from anonymous sources.

Key quote: "If the scariest, most dramatic version of events is coming from unnamed second-hand sources, and named verifiable sources are giving more tempered reports—be skeptical of the alarmist account."

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