Reliable Sources of Information

Where can I find the most reliable, up-to-date numbers on confirmed cases?

There are several resources out there that compile the information from multiple sources. When evaluating any information, please remember to critically assess:

  1. The source itself and their goals
  2. How the data and findings are described
  3. What has been reported, and what has not; and
  4. The quality of the information

Globally –> World Health Organization (WHO)

Globally –> Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics/Imperial College (J-IDEA): https://www.imperial.ac.uk/jameel-institute/

United States –> 

  1. Coronavirus.gov – Combined White House/Dept of Health & Human Services/CDC resource, this is your starting point for information & resources at the federal
  2. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

NOTE: The CDC is providing accurate numbers for the country as a whole, but if you want more up-to-date information on a daily basis, please check the department of health or public health websites for your particular state or county. If you click the CDC link above, and then click a state, it will bring you to that department of health’s website.

Washington State –> Washington State Department of Health

NOTE: The state of Washington’s department of health website also has data broken down by county.

King County –> Public Health – Seattle & King County

Why do some numbers vary between sources (NY Times, Politico, nCov2019.live, etc)?

It depends on two main things – when you’re looking, what you’re looking at, and where the numbers are coming from. Some sources update only once a day, others multiple times a day. Some pull from multiple inputs, or count confirmed cases in addition to information gained from reporting and interviews with credible sources. Some may have more than one laboratory in a given area that may be reporting with different frequencies during a given day. Your best best is to stick with the public health authority at the level your question is directed to, but consulting multiple sources like the ones listed above can give you the big picture view of this pandemic.

John’s Hopkins has a live tracker that provides interesting insights.


Have general questions? Comments?

Email asktheoptimisticscientist@gmail.com or comment below!

The Novel Coronavirus – Key Terms

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sars-cov-2-1.jpg
The novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is the virus responsible for the COVID-19 illness.

What is the novel coronavirus?

Okay, first things first, let’s start with a few key terms to clarify any mixed messages you may be receiving.

Coronavirus: The name given to a family of viruses that cause disease of varying severity in mammals and birds. Viruses from this family can be responsible for the common cold, but other members of this family have caused two large-scale pandemics in the past two decades, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Viruses are classified into families based on their structure and genetics, so it’s kind of like coronaviruses are the Mariners.

SARS-CoV-2 (sudden acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 or the novel coronavirus): This is the specific name of the novel viral organism. If we continue our example from above, this would be a specific baseball player (Ichiro, Ken Griffey Jr, etc). It’s novel, or new, because this a virus that our immune systems have never seen before.

COVID-19: This is short for coronavirus disease 2019 and the name of the disease/illness caused by the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China in 2019.

Epidemic: A sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease above what is typically expected in a given area.

Pandemic: An epidemic that has widespread human infection in multiple countries across the globe.

Signs: Objective measurement to characterize an illness during a physical exam by a healthcare provider (e.g. temperature, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation).

Symptoms: Subjective evidence of an illness or abnormal process occurring in the body and reported by the patient (e.g. fatigue, nausea, anosmia, ageusia, myalgia).

Incubation Period: The time from when someone is infected to when symptoms develop. Based on existing evidence-based research, the incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses (e.g. MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV) ranges from 2–14 days. 50% of people will become ill 5 days after infection.

Infectious Period: The time when an infected person, who may not be showing symptoms, can transmit the virus to others. While it varies from person to person, it is typically ~ 7 days.

Molecular test — RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction): This is a molecular diagnostic test that identifies the presence of virus in the body through collection of nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal, or other respiratory specimens by swabbing. The turn-around time for results varies greatly depending on the laboratory doing the test, but the current range is somewhere between 1 and 5 days.

Antibody Test — Serology: Blood test with a turn-around time of typically same day, but sometimes can take a couple of days. Serology is especially important because it may detect previous infections in people who had few or no symptoms.

Antigen test — Rapid: Rapid diagnostic test with a turn-around time of less than one hour. Antigen tests look for specific proteins on the surface of the virus and can diagnose an active infection.


Have general questions? Comments?

Email asktheoptimisticscientist@gmail.com or comment below!

The Optimistic Scientist

“Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know—and what we don’t know—about whatever we’re trying to learn.”
William Zinsser, Writing to Learn: How to Write–And Think–Clearly about Any Subject at All

Thanks for joining me!

The Optimistic Scientist was born out of a desire to apply my favorite aspects of being a bench scientist – pursuing new information to be applied to today’s therapies with an OCD level of attention to detail – to my thirst for creativity, writing, and education. I needed a place where I could respond to today’s headlines and comment on the technical design of an experiment and its claims, in a way that current media is sorely lacking.

I’ve always cast a wide net when it comes to what areas of science interest me. My passion isn’t limited to a single scope, although the combination of skills and techniques I’ve acquired over the years in research has somewhat eloquently led me to cancer immunotherapy. At the end of the day, I just really like learning. I love reading articles and finding textbooks on topics I know nothing about, and I like following those rabbit holes of “Why?” , “How?” and “What if?” from something I’ve read online or see on television. If you ask my friends, I’m frequently responding to our lives with, “That’s not how that works” when a sci-fi movie tries to haphazardly toss in a fancy gene name to explain some mystical phenomenon. My best friend will say I am impossible to watch medical dramas with. (If I see one more doctor wheel their patient to the MRI suite and then run the MRI, I’m going to throw something at the TV). I like to learn more (have I mentioned I like learning?) about what I don’t know, and I’m not a fan of seeing science or medicine misrepresented in films, television or news sources.

Beyond what you see in films or television, social media has drastically changed the way we communicate and receive news. We’re bombarded with information that requires us to determine its validity. I want to help non-scientists navigate new findings and help encourage people to look at every outrageous headline with a healthy dose of skepticism. Too much skepticism though isn’t great either, so that’s where the optimism comes in. We need to be critical about what information we trust and who we’re trusting to teach us what we don’t know. Everyone benefits when we remain open-minded and skeptical by not blindly sharing every new “article” published that claims the exact opposite health benefits of what you were told last month. However, we can lose sight of the good in the world if we let ourselves drown in all the crap that’s out there. Climate change is real folks, but I’m optimistic we’ll figure something out. Our current political landscape is a nightmare, but I remain optimistic that it won’t be like this forever.

So I invite you to walk with me, ask me all the science questions you’ve ever had but never found answers to, send me an article you want explained, whatever and I’ll do my best to critique and clarify what’s presented. We can all learn a bit more together about the world around us.

Friendly reminder in the form of a comic – alternative facts are not welcome. This is a place for science not anecdotal evidence presented as law. I welcome your input about what to investigate and I welcome intelligent discourse, but just like all those yard signs, hate has no home here. So please keep that in mind before you hit enter.

six nine opinions

So! With that in mind, what is something you’ve seen in the news that you want some answers about? Shoot me an email at asktheoptimisticscientist@gmail.com!

Making lemonade out of lemons since the late 1980’s,

The Optimistic Scientist