Remember the story of Don Quixote fighting windmills, believing them to be evil giants? That’s me. A kid version. My (imaginary) giants are the viruses Influenza and SARS-CoV-2. And when I started this journey in March, just like a child, I believed I could, maybe, beat these giants. Even tough I had no background in virology, whatsoever.
Why?… Honestly?… I was scared…
Like many, I was scared. I was terrified. I couldn’t admit it to myself at the time. Heck, I didn’t even really realize it. But now, looking back I can admit it. If I’m brutally honest with myself, I was most afraid for my mom. She fits all the risk criteria’s. And to this day I think, subconsciously, I’m still trying to protect my mom. Like Don Quixote wanting to protect La Mancha. That’s the truth.
So the first thing I did, in March, was get her a 3M™ Full Facepiece Reusable Respirator 6800. I got my dad one too. We spoke about protocols. When to wear them, how to wear them, how to clean them, etc… I even bought enough mask filters to last them 3 years. While I write this, I realize how silly this must seem to many of you. But I was really scared back then. And frankly I still am concerned. For a variety of reasons, not just my mom.
In March I has just finished designing and prototyping a Childminder Platform. A sort of ‘Airbnb’ Marketplace for Parents, Childcare and Afterschool Care organizations. An acquaintance of mine, a fellow researcher of sorts, sent me a Research Paper by Professor Shaman. The paper was called: “Absolute humidity modulates influenza survival, transmission, and seasonality“. That’s where my adventures in La Mancha started.
I have written extensively about my 5 month journey. You can read the recap here. But I’d like to point out some things I experienced along the way so you understand better why, during my journey, I thought I was getting confirmations of being on the right track.
Childminder Clustering Concept
For example, on March 18th I reached out to Professor Shaman, with a ‘far fetched’ concept of using childminders to help curtail the spread by having them do COVID-19 testing. The theory was clustering 6 sets of parents to each childminder, testing daily, could provide for an intelligent lock-down. Simply put, one childminder/parent/child sick in the cluster? Than all the childminder/parents/kids get a stay at home order for two weeks. I had all the school en childcare data, of all the locations, including the amount of children per location, for The Netherlands already setup in the prototype. He responded within 15 minutes! Not only that, he introduced me to Professor Dr. J (Jacco) Wallinga, Head of modelling of the RIVM (Dutch CDC).
How I started to see ‘the giants’
Wallinga responded within a few minutes and wrote back that coincidentally he had just spoken with Professor Shaman that day. In my mind that could’ve only meant that they both believed that SARS-CoV-2 was influenced by Specific Humidity (q). In hindsight, I admit this to be my first “confirmation bias“. I made a cardinal mistake of assuming that he too must already have understood the significance of Humidity and that this was the reason he was in contact with Professor Shaman. Let me be honest, I’m the kind of person that looks up to people with titles and publications. So when I read Professor Dr. J (Jacco) Wallinga‘s dissertation – 2016 – in which he professed that Humidity affects the transmission of Influenza and linked it to a research paper he helped author, I felt like his Sancho Panza. Little did I know I was Don Quixote in this story.
And so the Humid journey began
And so I set out to prove Shaman’s paper, using Dutch Weather-, Influenza- and COVID-19 data. And together with scientists from two universities modelled for both Influenza and SARS-CoV-2. We were able to confirm that Specific Humidity (q) plays a vital part in the spreading of both Enveloped Viruses; Influenza and SARS-CoV-2. That was my second Confirmation Bias: Two universities agreed and we found 21 peer-reviewed research papers that concluded essentially the same.
Throw in a little bit of sunlight
What I have not written about earlier, until today, was that I did start noticing different behavior from our partners. Whereas in March and April we were getting a lot of positive feedback and virtually unrestricted access, now we weren’t any more. Quite the opposite. We also noticed the online debate and atmosphere starting to turn. To be safe, we decided to attack our own study. So we went through all the data again. We looked at every other possible weather variabel. Wind, Windspeed, Wind-direction, Windgusts, Smog, Solar hours, etc…. Anything. This is how we found another very interesting weather variable; Solar Radiation (Q).
Humidity and Sunlight got married
As if by fate, one proponent – that fellow researcher I mentioned – of the Humidity theory was getting hammered online. Attackers were, correctly, pointing out a possible flaw in the Humidity theory. South America Influenza Infection Rates increase during the rainy season, when Humidity is high. So the attackers assumed that high levels of Humidity could not have a mitigating effect. Because we had found Solar Radiation (Q) we started diving into the South America Data. We discovered a pattern in South America: Increased Influenza cases during periods where there was less sunlight. For example: one research paper suggested that Influenza Infection Cases increased during the yearly burning of sugar-cane fields. A noticeable increase in smog is registered during those periods. Thereby reducing Solar Radiation (Q), explaining the increase in cases. To be clear, Q has – similar to Humidity – multiple effects. As written in this 2005 research paper, UV radiation from the sun is the primary germicide in the environment. But Q, as pointed out in this research paper, also has an effect on the production of Vitamine D. We hypothesized that the combination of Humidity (q) and Solar Radiation (Q) married both the Influenza patterns in South America and Europe. That was confirmation bias three. Because we believed to have found the missing link that married the infection patterns in South America with Europe.
Don Quixote meets his heroes
During this phase of my research I stumbled upon the amazing work done by Professor Linsey Marr and Dr. Wan Yang. That paper not only confirmed the earlier (mostly) observational conclusions of many other renowned scholars such as professor Shaman and Lidia Morawska but thought me the intricacies of how Humidity plays a role in the spreading of respiratory viruses. Beforehand I merely thought – based on my knowledge of physics – that Humidity just played a role in the amount of Aerosols that are created. Boy was I wrong. For example, I learnt that Humidity affects the Mucosa (our bodies natural barrier) and how an extremely high Humidity is actually a good thing for viruses. And this is just one of the many examples of how Humidity plays a role. And that led me to Professor Akiko Iwasaki’s work. Her work on the Mucosal Immunity is amazing.
Eureka! Don get’s his ‘Giant-slaying’ sword
After this journey I concluded, and remain convinced, that Specific Humidity (q) and Solar Radiation (Q) play a defining role in the spreading and infectivity of both Influenza and SARS-CoV-2. Believe it or not, if you take these variables into account, together with a little bit of knowledge about physics, everything starts to make complete sense and even becomes predictable.
Strategy to slay ‘the giants’
And with childlike and naïeve enthusiasm I set out to protect everyone from these Giants (others might call them: ‘windmills’). I formulated a strategy. I had to convince people. They say: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating“. So, together with Rolando (my personal Sancho Panza), I set out to start making predictions. The assumption was that if our predictions came true, everyone would listen and start slaying giants together with us.
So we predicted (mentioning an error margin of 1 week):
- The start of the Second Wave would hit Australia on July 1st 2020.
- Coronavirus ‘Hotspots’ would appear in The Netherlands in the 3rd week September 2020
- The Second Wave would hit The Netherlands in week 44 (End of October) 2020.
- A Steep increase in infections and hospitalization would hit The Netherlands in week 47 (1/2 November) 2020.
- The Netherlands would go into Lock-down in week 48/49 and would remain in Lockdown till the end of March
Without exception every single one of these predictions has come true. I don’t write this to brag. I write this in the hopes of convincing others, so we can start slaying these giants together. And besides, I prefer you see ‘the giants’ and not ‘windmills’.
Don Quixote; A noble or tragic tale?
And so I set out to write the Dutch Government and other authorities. To my dismay, despite our predictions, we got the cold shoulder. Barely any response. So now I write on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. And I’m starting to wonder whether I’m not just another tragic tale. Don Quixote. A man fighting windmills, thinking they’re giants. Similar to the book, history will judge whether it was a noble tale or that of a sad, delusional, man. I just know I want to save my mom, like many of you. And I want to believe that we all have a little bit of Don Quixote inside of us.
Our swords (Humidity, Sunlight and Physics)
- Be healthy: Sleep well, supplement your Vitamine D and exercise;
- Always try to visualize yourself and everyone around you as a smoker. Realize that Smoke gives color to your breath. Imagine how much smoke comes out of your lungs. How would you feel if everyone was smoking in an elevator, car, office building? What would you do? You would do almost all the things on this list. For good reason!
- Socially distance. Another analogy: Imagine your ‘smoke breath’ as a collection of little “smoke grenades”. They only go so far;
- Sanitize. That put ‘the pin’ in the grenade and keeps it there;
- Humidify (between 50%-80%, at room temperature). Keeps it a smoke grenade instead of allowing it to become a smoke missile;
- Purify the Air. That’s your own “Air Defense” against smoke;
- If you can’t purify, ventilate. You should, ideally, ventilate so much that you could smoke without creating a stink;
- Wear a (Medical) Mask. It protects others mostly by reducing the smoke missiles. A mask captures an amount of smoke grenades and missiles. But please don’t assume, for a second, that a mask is fullproof. It’s not;
- If you MUST gather, do it during the day and outside (while keeping distance). Viruses thrive at night. It’s less humid and there is no sunlight. In terms of the smoke analogy; At night, its like your smoking two cigarettes’ at once.
- If you MUST gather inside, realize that body heat evaporates “smoke grenade droplets” and turns them into smoke missiles. More bodies, more smoke grenades and smoke missiles;
- And DO go outside. Go out on walks. It’s good for the mind and soul. Many experiments (with rats) show that if you isolate too much stress levels increase to unhealthy levels. Smokers, smoke outside for a reason. Fresh air.
- Limit your Social Media and watch the Social Dilemma. The only analogy I can think of, related to smoking, is that it’s damn addictive and not good for you if you do it too much. I read somewhere that up to 4 cigarettes a day is acceptable. I am not advising that. But how about a max of 4 tweets a day 😉
Thank you for indulging this Don Quixote.