On Thursday, the Tribune’s Alana Rocha sat down for a live interview with Jason McLellan, associate professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Texas at Austin and leading expert on the coronavirus, to answer the most pressing questions about the coronavirus outbreak and what it means for Texas. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
How is COVID-19 transmitted?
- According to McLellan, one of the “major [ways the virus is] being transmitted,” is through the air (specifically coughing, sneezing or exhaling droplets carrying the infection). So it’s important to try and maintain a distance of at least three feet to lower the chance of transmission.
- The other way the virus can be transmitted is from touching our eyes, noses and mouths after contact with a contaminated surface.
- While studies of the virus’ life cycle continue, it appears as though the virus can live on surfaces between a couple of hours and a couple of days.
Who is most at risk of becoming infected?
- McLellan said he hasn’t seen any data to suggest people with asthma are more susceptible to contracting the virus.
- Having a weakened immune system makes you more susceptible to all infections, including the coronavirus.
What happens if you become infected?
- After contracting the virus, McLellan said, symptoms can start to show within 5 days. “Then it just depends on the severity of the disease as to how long it lasts,” he said.
- While children and young adults seem to have a fairly “mild” disease, it can be much worse in people ages 70 and older and for people with underlying lung issues.
- About 80% of people who are infected resolve the infection without needing medical attention, while 20% will need to be hospitalized.
- Even if you are asymptomatic or have a mild case of COVID-19, you can still spread the infection to others.
How long will it take to create a vaccine?
- It’s currently projected to take 18 to 24 months, which according to McLellan, “is incredibly fast, based on all other historical vaccine development.”
- Vaccines historically take three phases of clinical trials to develop. The reason the process is generally so deliberate is because, “[efficacy and] safety [are] the primary concern,” McLellan says.
What measures can you take to prevent infection?
- McLellan recommends looking into the online resources provided by the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization (WHO).
- McLellan also recommends adopting general strategies — quality sleep, eating well — to help you maintain a healthy immune system.
- Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are good for “reducing infectivity” of the virus. The same goes for soap and bleach on surfaces.
- Unless you’re infected or caring for someone who is infected (a nurse, EMT, doctor, caretaker, etc.) you don’t need to wear a hospital mask.
- Taking antibiotics won’t prevent or treat any viral infection, including the coronavirus.
- Social distancing practices will allow us to decrease and spread out “the curve” and help our health care system cope.
McLellan has led a team of researchers in creating the first 3D atomic-scale map of the part of the coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells — a critical breakthrough toward developing a vaccine to combat the 2019 novel coronavirus. McLellan has previously studied at the National Institutes of Health's Vaccine Research Center, and along with his team at McLellan Lab has studied SARS and MERS for many years, viruses that are in the same family as the new coronavirus and have caused outbreaks in the past.
The conversation took place from 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m. on March 12 here and on our social media channels.
This event was the first of a virtual event series on coronavirus, join us in the coming weeks for live interviews with Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Peter Hotez on coronavirus in Texas, its impact and the search for a vaccine.
This series of virtual events is presented by Community Health Choice, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas and Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals. This individual event is presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.
Tribune events are supported through contributions from our founding investors and members. Though donors and corporate sponsors underwrite Texas Tribune events, they play no role in determining the content, panelists or line of questioning.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.