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Health Experts Admit Outdoor Mask Wearing Is Ridiculous

By Dr. Joseph Mercola | mercola.com

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • According to an expert on viral transmission mechanics, brief outdoor encounters present a “very low risk” for transmission of COVID-19. Viral particles quickly disperse in outdoor air, so the risk of inhaling aerosolized virus from passersby is negligible
  • Using mathematical models, Italian researchers have calculated the amount of time it would take for you to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus outdoors in Milan. If 10% of the population were infected, you would require 31.5 days of continuous outdoor exposure to inhaling a dose of virus sufficient to transmit infection
  • Other research has shown your odds of transmitting COVID-19 are 18.7 times greater indoors than in an open-air environment
  • Several investigations looking at SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in the air have come up empty. No detectable RNA was found in air samplings from various locations in Wuhan, China, Venice in northern Italy, or Lecce in southern Italy, during the pandemic
  • Germany’s first registry for side effects of mask-wearing on children has identified 24 physical, psychological, and behavioral health issues, including irritability (60%), headache (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), reduced happiness (49%), reluctance to go to school/kindergarten (44%), malaise (42%), impaired learning (38%) and drowsiness or fatigue (37%)

After a year of questionable advice on masking, ranging from head-scratching and mildly amusing to outright laughable — such as Spain mandating the use of face masks while swimming in the ocean — health experts who counter the prevailing narrative on universal masking are finally getting some airtime in the mainstream media.

In an April 22, 2021, article in The New York Times,1 Tara Parker-Pope cites several doctors and virologists who advise against universal mask-wearing outdoors.

Health Experts Weigh in on Outdoor Mask Wearing

Among them is Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech and an expert on viral transmission mechanics, who notes that brief outdoor encounters, such as walking past someone on a sidewalk or hiking trail, present a “very low risk” for transmission.

“Viral particles quickly disperse in outdoor air, and the risk of inhaling aerosolized virus from a jogger or passers-by is negligible,” Marr told Parker-Pope.2 “Even if a person coughs or sneezes outside as you walk by, the odds of you getting a large enough dose of virus to become infected remain low.”

Similarly, Dr. Muge Cevic, a clinical lecturer of infectious disease and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews School of Medicine in Scotland, is quoted saying:3

“I think it’s a bit too much to ask people to put the mask on when they go out for a walk or jogging or cycling. We’re in a different stage of the pandemic. I think outdoor masks should not have been mandated at all. It’s not where the infection and transmission occurs.”

Parker-Pope also quotes Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious diseases physician and medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center:4

“Let me go for my run, maskless … Given how conservative I have been on my opinions all year, this should tell you how low [the] risk is, in general, for outdoors transmission for contact over short periods …”

Vaccinated or Not, Masks Don’t Work

Of course, almost all of the doctors quoted in The New York Times article make the claim that vaccination lowers your risk of COVID-19, thus you can be more lenient when around other vaccinated individuals. I’ve written many articles explaining why this narrative is nonsensical and just flat out wrong.

In a nutshell, it makes no sense because all COVID-19 “vaccines” are designed to do is reduce your symptoms if or when you get infected. They are not designed to prevent infection, they do not give you immunity against SARS-CoV-2, and they do not prevent transmission, so you can still spread the virus to others if you get infected.

All of this means you present the same “risk” to others whether you’re vaccinated or not. And, to be clear, if you have no symptoms of respiratory infection, the health risk you pose to others is virtually nonexistent.5 You simply cannot spread an infection you do not have.

The minuscule bits of viral RNA that the PCR test can pick up if run through too many augmentation cycles — thereby rendering a false-positive result — are not infectious. You need a whole, and live, virus for that.

CDC Grants Special Permission to Fully Vaccinated

Despite science being rather clear on these points, at the end of April 2021, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its outdoor mask guidelines for vaccinated-only.

If you’ve gotten all of the required doses of the COVID-19 “vaccine,” you no longer need to wear a mask outdoors when in small groups or when exercising. Masks are still recommended when in crowded outdoor venues, though, such as sports stadiums. According to another New York Times article:6

“President Biden hailed it as a landmark moment in the pandemic, wearing a mask as he approached the lectern on a warm spring day on the White House grounds — and pointedly keeping it off as he walked back into the White House when he was done. ‘Go get the shot. It’s never been easier,’ Mr. Biden said. ‘And once you’re fully vaccinated, you can go without a mask when you’re outside and away from big crowds.'”

Researchers Set the Record Straight

Breaking with The New York Times’ typical propaganda, Parker-Pope actually goes on to cite research7 published in February 2021 in the Environmental Research journal:

“To understand just how low the risk of outdoor transmission is, researchers in Italy used mathematical models to calculate the amount of time it would take for a person to become infected outdoors in Milan.

They imagined a grim scenario in which 10% of the population was infected with the coronavirus. Their calculations showed that if a person avoided crowds, it would take, on average, 31.5 days of continuous outdoor exposure to inhale a dose of virus sufficient to transmit infection.

‘The results are that this risk is negligible in outdoor air if crowds and direct contact among people are avoided,’ said Daniele Contini, senior author of the study and an aerosol scientist at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate in Lecce, Italy.

Even as more-infectious virus variants circulate, the physics of viral transmission outdoors haven’t changed, and the risk of getting infected outdoors is still low, say virus experts.”

Another research8 has shown your odds of transmitting COVID-19 are 18.7 times greater indoors than in an open-air environment. Several investigations looking at SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in the air have also come up empty, including air samplings done in various locations in Wuhan,9,10 China, Venice in northern Italy, and Lecce in southern Italy.11

The Problems We Ignore When Mandating Masks

Aside from all the research demonstrating that mask-wearing is an ineffective and largely pointless strategy against respiratory viruses — which I’ve detailed in several articles, including “More Evidence Masks Don’t Work to Prevent COVID-19,” “Mindless Mask Mandates Likely Do More Harm Than Good” and “Landmark Study Finds Masks Are Ineffective” — there’s the issue of potential adverse effects.

This part of the equation has been roundly ignored since the very beginning, even though there are both environmental drawbacks to universal mask use and individual health hazards, including the following:12

Wearing a face mask increases breathing resistance, and since it makes both inhaling and exhaling more difficult, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions may be at risk of a medical emergency if wearing a face mask.

This includes those with shortness of breath, lung disease, panic attacks, breathing difficulties, chest pain on exertion, cardiovascular disease, fainting spells, claustrophobia, chronic bronchitis, heart problems, asthma, allergies, diabetes, seizures, high blood pressure and those with pacemakers. The impact of wearing a face mask during pregnancy is also wholly unknown.

Face masks can reduce oxygen intake, leading to potentially hazardous oxygen deficiency (hypoxia).
They also cause rapid accumulation of harmful carbon dioxide, which can have significant cognitive and physical impacts. Germany’s first registry13,14 recording the effects mask-wearing has on children, has identified 24 physical, psychological, and behavioral health issues associated with wearing masks. Recorded symptoms include:

“… irritability (60%), headache (53%), difficulty concentrating (50%), less happiness (49%), reluctance to go to school/kindergarten (44%), malaise (42%), impaired learning (38%) and drowsiness or fatigue (37%).”

Of the 25,930 children included in the registry, 29.7% reported feeling short of breath, 26.4% being dizzy and 17.9% were unwilling to move or play. Hundreds more experienced “accelerated respiration, tightness in chest, weakness and short-term impairment of consciousness.”

Wearing a face mask increases your body temperature and physical stress, which could result in an elevated temperature reading that is not related to infection.
All face masks can cause bacterial and fungal infections in the user as warm, moist air accumulates inside the mask. This is the perfect breeding ground for pathogens. This is why disposable medical masks were designed for short-duration, specific-task use only, after which they are supposed to be discarded.

Medical doctors have warned that bacterial pneumonia, facial rashes, fungal infections on the face,15 “mask mouth” (symptoms of which include bad breath, tooth decay, and gum inflammation) and candida mouth infections16 are all on the rise.

A study17,18 published in the February 2021 issue of the journal Cancer Discovery also found that the presence of microbes in your lungs can worsen lung cancer pathogenesis and can contribute to advanced-stage lung cancer. The same types of bacteria, primarily Veillonella, Prevotella, and Streptococcus bacteria, can also be cultivated through prolonged mask-wearing.19

With extended use, medical masks will begin to break down and release chemicals that are then inhaled. Tiny microfibers are also released, which can cause health problems when inhaled. This hazard was highlighted in a performance study20 being published in the June 2021 issue of the Journal of Hazardous Materials.

Mask mandates also represent another erosion of freedom and normalizes the false notion that people are sick unless proven healthy, and that it’s acceptable to be forced to cover your face just to go about your daily life, even when you’re outdoors.

The public narrative is building prejudice against people who refuse to wear masks or get an experimental vaccine, such that some are now fearful of people who aren’t masked or those who choose not to get vaccinated. With societal norms rapidly changing, and an increasingly authoritative environment emerging, it raises the question of whether or not the public will continue to blindly obey, no matter the consequences.

The Only Type of Mask That Is Safe and Effective

To provide any benefit whatsoever, users must be fitted with the right type and size of a respirator and must undergo fit testing by a trained professional. However, N95 respirators, even when fitted properly, will not protect against viral exposures but can adequately protect against larger particles.

Surgical masks, which do not seal to your face, do not filter out anything. They are designed to prevent bacteria from the mouth, nose, and face from entering the patient during surgical procedures, and researchers have warned that contaminated surgical masks actually pose an infection risk.21 After just two hours, a significant increase in bacterial load on the mask was observed.

Nonmedical cloth masks are not only ineffective but also particularly dangerous as they’re not engineered for effective purging of exhaled carbon dioxide, making them wholly unsuitable for use.

The only type of mask that is actually safe and effective to wear is the gas mask kind of respirator you’d use to protect yourself against painting fumes, organic vapors, smoke, and dust. These respirators are built to filter the air you breathe in, and to get rid of the carbon dioxide and humidity from the air you breathe out, thereby ensuring there’s no dangerous buildup of carbon dioxide or reduction in oxygen inside the mask.

Where Are the Data Supporting Mask Mandates?

While there are a lot of data and science showing that masks are ineffective against viral transmission and that mandates do nothing to protect public health, government spokespeople simply continue spouting the propaganda narrative that mask-wearing saves lives. “Listen to the experts; follow the science,” they say. Yet they have yet to produce a single credible piece of scientific support for universal mask-wearing.

Where are the data showing that masks work? Where are the data showing it lowers infection and hospitalization rates? Where is the evidence that mask mandates have had any positive influence at all on the COVID-19 pandemic during these past 14 months? We ought to have a mountain of data to support it by now.

I suspect the reason we don’t have massive studies filled with global data showing that mask mandates were a breakthrough success is that they either had no impact or made matters worse. Case in point: “Texas, Mississippi See Lowest COVID Cases in Almost a Year 1 Month After Lifting Mask Mandate,” Newsweek reported in an April 6, 2021, article.22

Yes, ironically, despite fears that lifting mask mandates would result in hospitals overflowing with COVID-19 cases, the opposite actually happened. Both Texas and Mississippi are now, four weeks later, reporting their lowest case and COVID-related mortality numbers since May 2020.

North Dakota Aims to Secure Freedom From Mask Mandates

A special ray of hope shines in North Dakota, where the House of Representatives has approved a bill (H.B.1323) that would actually ban schools, businesses, and local governments from making face masks a requirement for service. The bill, which passed 50 to 44 at the end of February 2021, is now being reviewed by the Senate.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Hoverson, characterized the state’s mask mandate, imposed in November 2020, as “diabolical silliness.”23 He told the Prairie Public Press he’d received “a lot of emails” from constituents opposed to masking mandates, adding:24

“They do not want North Dakota to get sucked into what is becoming obvious. The mask is a part of a larger apparatus of a movement of unelected, wealthy bureaucrats, who are robbing our freedoms and perpetuating lies.” 

Yes. That about sums it up.




The Manmade Biowarfare Threat Continues

By Dr. Joseph Mercola | mercola.com

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • The NIH and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, have funded gain-of-function research on coronaviruses. Several such grants were given to EcoHealth Alliance, which in turn subcontracted some of that research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)
  • A loophole in the review process set up to ensure the safety of gain-of-function research allows funding institutions to bypass review. Fauci and the NIAID are accused of shirking the review process for some of the research performed at the WIV
  • Two lengthy reports have been published detailing Fauci’s questionable research activities and attempts to mislead the public on a number of issues, including the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, the effectiveness of masks, and the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 being a lab creation
  • Many were aware that gain-of-function research on coronaviruses and other dangerous pathogens was taking place at the WIV, and that the lab had known safety lapses, yet nothing appears to have been done to shore up security and prevent an outbreak
  • While government officials would like you to believe that SARS-CoV-2 is one of the most serious threats to life on earth, the reality is that the gain-of-function research they fund is a far greater threat. Even if the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the result of this kind of research, history tells us there will be another leak. It’s only a matter of time, which is why we must ban all gain-of-function research, worldwide

We first reported on this issue with my interview with Francis Boyle over a year ago, which received well over one million views. Of course, our coverage was disparaged as fake news and removed from YouTube, but now one year later it appears the facts are confirming our speculations.

In the April 4, 2021, Sky News report above, award-winning investigations writer Sharri Markson summarizes the findings1,2,3,4 of the World Health Organization’s investigative team, tasked with identifying the origin of SARS-CoV-2.

She blasts the report as a “PR exercise for China,” calling the team’s conclusion that one of the most likely origin theories was that the virus entered Wuhan in or on frozen food from overseas, “embarrassing.” As noted by Markson, even the director-general of the WHO ended up backpedaling in an effort to salvage the organization’s credibility.5

As reported by The Washington Post, March 30, 2021,6 the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and 13 other world leaders have now joined the U.S. government in expressing “frustration with the level of access China granted an international mission to Wuhan.”

According to Ghebreyesus, the team “did not conduct an ‘extensive enough’ assessment of the possibility the virus was introduced to humans through a laboratory incident,” which will therefore necessitate additional studies with “more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

NIH Has ‘Systematically Thwarted’ Oversight Efforts

I’ve previously detailed how the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), led by Dr. Anthony Fauci, have funded gain-of-function research on coronaviruses. Several such grants were given to EcoHealth Alliance, which in turn subcontracted some of that research to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).

EcoHealth Alliance is led by Dr. Peter Daszak, who is also on the WHO’s investigative team, and who has plenty of reasons to hide the truth, were the virus in fact from the WIV. In 2014, a federal moratorium was placed on gain-of-function research, which focuses on making pathogens more virulent and lethal, due to public safety concerns.

After the moratorium was lifted in 2017, a special review board, the Potential Pandemic Pathogens Control, and Oversight, or P3CO Review Framework, was created within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to evaluate “whether grants that involve enhancing dangerous pathogens, such as coronaviruses, are worth the risks and that proper safeguards are in place,” Daily Caller reports.7

According to Rutgers University professor Richard Ebright, an NIH grant for research involving the modification of bat coronaviruses at the WIV was sneaked through because the NIAID failed to flag it for review.8 In other words, the WIV received federal funding from the NIAID without the research first receiving a green light from the HHS review board. According to the Daily Caller:9

“The review framework split oversight responsibilities between two groups — the funding agency … and the P3CO Review Committee … The committee is responsible for recommending whether a research grant involving gain-of-function needs to include any additional risk mitigation measures … But the committee is kept in the dark on any grant until the funding agency flags one for its review …

Ebright said the offices of the director for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — the subagency that funded EcoHealth — and the NIH have ‘systematically thwarted — indeed systematically nullified — the HHS P3CO Framework by declining to flag and forward proposals for review’ …

Had EcoHealth’s grant been subjected to P3CO review, an HHS panel would have independently evaluated the grant and, if necessary, recommended additional biocontainment measures to prevent potential lab leaks — or even recommended that the grant be denied entirely.”

Is the NIAID Telling the Truth?

An NIAID spokesperson told the Daily Caller that the grant in question had not been forwarded for review because it did not involve “the enhancement of the pathogenicity or transmissibility of the viruses studied.” The problem is that the P3CO Framework does not require the HHS review committee to double-check the determination of the funding agency, in this case, the NIAID.

According to Ebright, this is a loophole that can easily be misused. In this case, he strongly disagrees with the NIAID’s statement that the research didn’t involve gain-of-function research. The Daily Caller writes:10

“Ebright told the DCNF that NIAID was wrong to determine that the EcoHealth grant did not involve enhancing the transmissibility of Chinese bat-based coronaviruses.

He said the project’s abstract11 for the 2019 fiscal year, which referenced ‘in vitro and in vivo infection experiments’ on coronaviruses, ‘unequivocally’ required risk-benefit review under the HHS P3CO Framework. Other scientists have said EcoHealth’s NIH-funded work in China involved gain-of-function research on bat-based coronaviruses.

‘It is hard to overemphasize that the central logic of this grant was to test the pandemic potential of SARS-related bat coronaviruses by making ones with pandemic potential, either through genetic engineering or passaging, or both,’ Drs. Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson wrote12 in June [2020].”

Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is now saying Fauci really needs to answer why his agency bypassed oversight for research done at the WIV and intends to call Fauci in to testify. He’s pessimistic, however, about an open hearing actually taking place, as House Democrats are unlikely to support it. Perry told the Daily Caller:13

When it comes to oversight of U.S. tax dollars headed to the Chinese Communist Party, Dr. Fauci seems like he’s literally whistling past the graveyard … We seem so cavalier about this approval paradigm for this funding, and the definitions seemingly allow you to drive a truck through them regarding what is gain-of-function research and what isn’t.

It seems to me this was done by design to allow this kind of research to be done in these kinds of places without any kind of scrutiny. And this is the result of that.”

Fauci’s ‘Criminal Violations’ Deserve Review

Fauci has more than one or two questions to answer, though, considering at least two lengthy reports have been issued detailing Fauci’s questionable research activities and attempts to mislead the public on a number of issues, including the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, the effectiveness of masks and the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 being a lab creation.

One report, “Dr. Fauci’s COVID-19 Treachery,”14 was written by Dr. Peter Breggin and published in October 2020. The other, a 205-page paper titled “The Fauci/COVID-19 Dossier,”15 was compiled by Dr. David E. Martin, in which he reviews “numerous criminal violations” by Fauci, the CDC, and others, “that may be associated with the COVID-19 terrorism.” Here’s just a small sampling of paragraphs from Martin’s paper:

“Using the power of NIAID during the alleged pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci actively suppressed proven medical countermeasures used by, and validated in scientific proceedings, that offered alternatives to the products funded by his conspiring entities for which he had provided direct funding and for whom he would receive tangible and intangible benefit …

NIAID’s Director, Dr. Anthony Fauci is listed as an inventor on 8 granted U.S. patents. None of them are reported in NIAID, NIH, or GAO reports of active licensing despite the fact that Dr. Fauci reportedly was compelled to get paid for his interleukin-2 ‘invention’ …

Through non-competitive grant awards to UNC Chapel Hill’s Ralph Baric, to selection of the Bio-Safety Level 4 laboratory locations, to the setting of prices for Remdesivir and mRNA therapies from Moderna and Pfizer, NIAID, CDC, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have been involved in allocating Federal funds to conspiring parties without independent review.

Around March 12, 2020, in an effort to enrich their own economic interests by way of securing additional funding from both Federal and Foundation actors, the CDC and NIAID’s Dr. Fauci elected to suspend testing and classify COVID-19 by capricious symptom presentation alone.

Forcing the public to rely on The COVID Tracking Project — funded by the Bloomberg, Zuckerberg and Gates Foundation and presented by a media outlet — not a public health agency — Dr. Fauci used fraudulent testing technology (RT-PCR) to conflate ‘COVID cases’ with positive PCR tests in the living while insisting that COVID deaths be counted by symptoms alone.

This perpetuated a market demand for his desired vaccine agenda which was recited by him and his conspiring parties around the world until the present. Not surprisingly, this was necessitated by the apparent fall in cases that constituted Dr. Fauci’s and others’ criteria for depriving citizens of their 1st Amendment rights …

While Moderna enjoys hundreds of millions of dollars of funding allegiance and advocacy from Anthony Fauci and his NIAID, since its inception, it has been engaged in illegal patent activity and demonstrated contempt for U.S. Patent law. To make matters worse, the U.S. Government has given it financial backing in the face of undisclosed infringement risks potentially contributing to the very infringement for which they are indemnified.”

Many Were Aware of Lab Leak Threat Yet Did Nothing

The harsh reality is that any number of people, both in the U.S. and China, were aware that gain-of-function research on coronaviruses and other dangerous pathogens was taking place at the WIV, and that the lab had known safety lapses. Yet nothing appears to have been done to shore up security and prevent an outbreak.

As reported by the National Review16 in July 2020, American State Department officials who visited the WIV in 2018 wrote two separate memos — one in January and one in April — detailing safety concerns. This included “a shortage of the highly-trained technicians and investigators required to safely operate a [Biosafety Level] 4 laboratory and lack of clarity in related Chinese government policies and guidelines.”

“These memos do not prove that SARS-CoV-2 pandemic was caused by a laboratory accident,” the National Review wrote,17 “But they do dispel one of the less-plausible arguments against the lab-accident theory: That the Chinese scientists working at WIV were simply too professional and diligent to ever have an accident that released a contagious virus.”

Ironically, this is precisely the argument presented by the WHO’s corrupted investigative team. The team leader, Danish food safety and zoonosis scientist Ben Embarek went on record saying that lab accidents are “extremely rare;” hence, it’s “very unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 could have escaped from the WIV or any other lab18 — so much so, the team dismissed the possibility entirely and said it would no longer consider it.

Meanwhile, in the real world, biosafety incidents involving dangerous pathogens occur twice a week, on average, in the U.S. alone,19,20 and virology labs accidentally released the original SARS virus on no less than four separate occasions.21,22

Gain-of-Function Research Is the Real Threat

While government health officials would like you to believe that SARS-CoV-2 is one of the most serious threats to life on earth, the reality is that the gain-of-function research they fund is a far greater threat. It’s quite possible that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of this kind of research, but even if it wasn’t, history tells us there will be another release, another leak, another accident. They happen far more frequently than people like to imagine.

Already, as detailed in “New Engineered Coronaviruses Are Under Development” and “Bioweapons Labs Get More NIH Funding for Deadly Research,” scientists are tinkering around with SARS-CoV-2, trying to see if they can make an even worse version. Meanwhile, the same establishment is drumming up panic in the streets, warning of new, more infectious, and dangerous variants. Never do they tell you that they’re also busy creating them.

This hypocrisy must end. I firmly believe we need to ban gain-of-function research across the world. We do not need it. As noted by Marc Lipsitch in his 2018 review, “Why Do Exceptionally Dangerous Gain-of-Function Experiments in Influenza?”:23

“While there are indisputably certain questions that can be answered only by gain-of-function experiments in highly pathogenic strains, these questions are narrow and unlikely to meaningfully advance public health goals such as vaccine production and pandemic prediction.

Alternative approaches to experimental influenza virology and characterization of existing strains are in general completely safe, higher throughput, more generalizable, and less costly than creation of PPP [potential pandemic pathogens] in the laboratory and can thereby better inform public health.

Indeed, virtually every finding of recent PPP experiments that has been cited for its public health value was predated by similar findings using safe methodologies.”

While the origin of SARS-CoV-2 remains to be conclusively proven, a paper24 published in Nature in 2015 discussed how a “lab-made coronavirus related to SARS” capable of infecting human cells had stirred up debate as to whether or not this kind of research is worth the risks:

“Although the extent of any risk is difficult to assess, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that ‘grows remarkably well’ in human cells. ‘If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,’ he says.

With 20/20 hindsight, we now have a much clearer idea of what the release of such a virus can do. We may chalk it up to luck that SARS-CoV-2 turned out to be orders of magnitude less lethal than initially suspected, although government containment measures have turned out to be devastating and deadly as well. If this kind of research is allowed to continue, the next time there’s a leak, we may not be as lucky.




Novel Coronavirus Circulated Undetected Months Before First COVID-19 Cases in Wuhan, China

By University of California – San Diego | Science Daily

Using molecular dating tools and epidemiological simulations, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues at the University of Arizona and Illumina, Inc., estimate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was likely circulating undetected for at most two months before the first human cases of COVID-19 were described in Wuhan, China in late-December 2019.

Writing in the March 18, 2021, online issue of Science, they also note that their simulations suggest that the mutating virus dies out naturally more than three-quarters of the time without causing an epidemic.

“Our study was designed to answer the question of how long could SARS-CoV-2 have circulated in China before it was discovered,” said senior author Joel O. Wertheim, Ph.D., associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“To answer this question, we combined three important pieces of information: a detailed understanding of how SARS-CoV-2 spread in Wuhan before the lockdown, the genetic diversity of the virus in China, and reports of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in China. By combining these disparate lines of evidence, we were able to put an upper limit of mid-October 2019 for when SARS-CoV-2 started circulating in Hubei province.”

Cases of COVID-19 were first reported in late-December 2019 in Wuhan, located in the Hubei province of central China. The virus quickly spread beyond Hubei. Chinese authorities cordoned off the region and implemented mitigation measures nationwide. By April 2020, local transmission of the virus was under control but, by then, COVID-19 was pandemic with more than 100 countries reporting cases.

SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic coronavirus, believed to have jumped from an unknown animal host to humans. Numerous efforts have been made to identify when the virus first began spreading among humans, based on investigations of early-diagnosed cases of COVID-19. The first cluster of cases — and the earliest sequenced SARS-CoV-2 genomes — were associated with the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, but study authors say the market cluster is unlikely to have marked the beginning of the pandemic because the earliest documented COVID-19 cases had no connection to the market.

Regional newspaper reports suggest COVID-19 diagnoses in Hubei date back to at least November 17, 2019, suggesting the virus was already actively circulating when Chinese authorities enacted public health measures.

In the new study, researchers used molecular clock evolutionary analyses to try to home in on when the first, or index, case of SARS-CoV-2 occurred. “Molecular clock” is a term for a technique that uses the mutation rate of genes to deduce when two or more life forms diverged — in this case, when the common ancestor of all variants of SARS-CoV-2 existed, estimated in this study to as early as mid-November 2019.

Molecular dating of the most recent common ancestor is often taken to be synonymous with the index case of an emerging disease. However, said co-author Michael Worobey, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona: “The index case can conceivably predate the common ancestor — the actual first case of this outbreak may have occurred days, weeks or even many months before the estimated common ancestor. Determining the length of that ‘phylogenetic fuse’ was at the heart of our investigation.”

Based on this work, the researchers estimate that the median number of persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 in China was less than one until November 4, 2019. Thirteen days later, it was four individuals, and just nine on December 1, 2019. The first hospitalizations in Wuhan with a condition later identified as COVID-19 occurred in mid-December.

Study authors used a variety of analytical tools to model how the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have behaved during the initial outbreak and early days of the pandemic when it was largely an unknown entity and the scope of the public health threat not yet fully realized.

These tools included epidemic simulations based on the virus’s known biology, such as its transmissibility and other factors. In just 29.7 percent of these simulations was the virus able to create self-sustaining epidemics. In the other 70.3 percent, the virus-infected relatively few persons before dying out. The average failed epidemic ended just eight days after the index case.

“Typically, scientists use the viral genetic diversity to get the timing of when a virus started to spread,” said Wertheim. “Our study added a crucial layer on top of this approach by modeling how long the virus could have circulated before giving rise to the observed genetic diversity.

“Our approach yielded some surprising results. We saw that over two-thirds of the epidemics we attempted to simulate went extinct. That means that if we could go back in time and repeat 2019 one hundred times, two out of three times, COVID-19 would have fizzled out on its own without igniting a pandemic. This finding supports the notion that humans are constantly being bombarded with zoonotic pathogens.”

Wertheim noted that even as SARS-CoV-2 was circulating in China in the fall of 2019, the researchers’ model suggests it was doing so at low levels until at least December of that year.

“Given that, it’s hard to reconcile these low levels of virus in China with claims of infections in Europe and the U.S. at the same time,” Wertheim said. “I am quite skeptical of claims of COVID-19 outside China at that time.”

The original strain of SARS-CoV-2 became epidemic, the authors write, because it was widely dispersed, which favors persistence and because it thrived in urban areas where transmission was easier. In simulated epidemics involving less dense rural communities, epidemics went extinct 94.5 to 99.6 percent of the time.

The virus has since mutated multiple times, with a number of variants becoming more transmissible.

“Pandemic surveillance wasn’t prepared for a virus-like SARS-CoV-2,” Wertheim said. “We were looking for the next SARS or MERS, something that killed people at a high rate, but in hindsight, we see how a highly transmissible virus with a modest mortality rate can also lay the world low.”

Co-authors include: Jonathan Pekar and Niema Moshiri, UC San Diego; and Konrad Scheffler, Illumina, Inc.

Funding for this research came, in part, from the National Institutes of Health (grants AI135992, AI136056, T15LM011271), the Google Cloud COVID-19 Research Credits Program, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the University of Arizona, and the National Science Foundation (grant 2028040).


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of California – San Diego. Originally written by Scott LaFee. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jonathan Pekar, Michael Worobey, Niema Moshiri, Konrad Scheffler, Joel O. Wertheim. Timing the SARS-CoV-2 index case in Hubei provinceScience, 2021; eabf8003 DOI: 10.1126/science.abf8003