If you had told me one year ago—right around the time I'd just accepted a new role as a senior health editor at HealthCentral—what was coming around the bend, I might not have believed you. A modern-day plague? Ripped straight from the film Contagion, quickly going viral around the globe and quarantining most of us to our homes for months on end? Set against the backdrop of raging political protests, conspiracist rabbit holes, and a historically chaotic U.S. presidential election? As I've reported, edited, and worked through it all, doing my best to produce and share fact-checked, scientifically backed, and peer-reviewed information, I confess I've been dismayed to realize just how many of us are satisfied with consuming and reposting unreliable quackery—even folks whom, by their educational credentials alone, should know better. As 2020 closes, the only thing I know with certainty is that I haven't a clue what 2021 will bring. A praying type might do well to make a single "ask" for the new year ahead: that truth and facts—for both do still exist, despite arguments to the contrary—prevail to guide us all going forward. Here's to a better, healthier, saner 2021.
Remedy Health Media, parent company to HealthCentral (where I serve as a senior health editor), surveyed 4,300 Americans about their worries and opinions on COVID-19. I wrote up the results—and it's safe to say this pandemic has us deeply unnerved. Read on.
When top editorial recruiter Chandra Turner (of Talent Fairy and Ed2010 fame) contacted me back in December, I never imagined I'd soon be covering a global pandemic in real time for HealthCentral. Here, she interviews me and two other new hires, my colleagues Carrie Kreiswirth and Sarah Ellis, about joining Remedy Health Media at this historic time.
When my friend and neighbor in Westchester fell ill with CV-19, I worried for her health and state of mind in the midst of a global pandemic and panic. When she recovered, I asked her to share her story. From first symptoms and testing to how she kept her family safe amid the rules of quarantine, she walks you through the experience. READ MORE.
MORE CONTAGIOUS, LONGER TRANSMISSION TIMES, 10X AS DEADLY, WITH ALREADY STRAINED HOSPITALS ... WHY CV-19's SOCIAL DISTANCING IS A MUST.
First, a must-read story I worked on with writer Mary Shomon at HealthCentral:
With credible estimates of anywhere between 2.4 and 21 million Americans likely requiring hospitalization (many in the ICU) sometime during this crisis before it's over, and people dying in steadily increasing numbers around the globe every single day, I want to share with you what I know.
I'm a health editor and writer. What is particularly dangerous right now is the amount of false information or half-truths floating around—with many people not knowing what to believe. My advice? Turn to SCIENCE. Not to some cable news pundit. Not to the president or your sister's best friend's cousin. Listen to the researchers and doctors who devote their lives to studying this stuff. However, before you share some random post from a fictitious Stanford doc about drinking more water or using nasal spray to ward off COVID-19, pause for a good 60 seconds. Ask yourself: Where did this info come from? Is it credibly sourced? Are peer-reviewed studies referenced and linked? If you're not sure, don't share it.
O Friday, March 13, I spent 45 minutes on a Zoom conference call with a leading infectious disease doc from UC-Berkeley—whom, btw, is self-quarantining—to work on an upcoming CV-19 story, which I'll post here when it goes live on Monday. A few takeaways from that call and all the research I've been consuming this week (links/studies posted below if you care to read them yourself, which I encourage you to do):
1. It appears that most people with CV-19 are contagious at day 2 after first infection, but show no symptoms until days 4 or 5, sometimes longer, which means you can transmit the virus before you even know you're sick. (For every person with CV-19, another 2.2 will be infected, compared to the flu's 1.2.) In a Chinese study of hospitalized CV-19 patients, the virus kept "shedding" for a median of 20 days after initial symptom onset. Some patients kept shedding until they died. One was shedding virus for 37 days. The shortest shedding period tracked was 8 days. In comparison, the flu sheds, or is contagious, for up to 5 days. Scientists believe CV-19 contagion is most intense during the earlier days of the infection—yet patients keep shedding virus so transmission may be possible for WEEKS. This is why social distancing is so imperative right now, even if you're not in a high-risk group.
2. Speaking of the flu: This ain't no regular seasonal flu. CV-19 is 10x more deadly, although because it has spread so quickly, we don't have real numbers of how many people truly have it, and lack of testing has compounded that fact. But do the basic math: Based on CDC modeling, the latest estimate is that anywhere between 160 and 214 million Americans will contract the virus at some point—more than half of the U.S. population. 80% of them will be fine. 20% will require medical attention. Of that 20%, 15% will be hospitalized, 5% in the ICU. (Again, best- and worst-case scenarios are that between 2.4 and 21 million Americans OF ALL AGES will require hospitalization, many requiring respirators to recover.) Half of those in the ICU will die. We're talking potentially hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of critically ill people and many, many deaths—in the U.S. alone. Now consider that we have under 1 million hospital beds in this country, with 70% of them are already in use, just 100,000 available ventilators, and a documented shortage of healthcare workers (who also can get sick working on the frontlines).
3. Thank God our kids are not primary targets of this disease, but they are known super-spreaders of all germs. And a new study out of China suggests very young children (babies and preschoolers) may be more susceptible to serious illness (link below). They may very well bring home this potentially deadly virus to those we know and love. Mortality rates rise with age and with co-morbidities (underlying health issues) such as hypertension (affecting half of all American adults), diabetes (affecting up to 100 million U.S. adults), chronic pulmonary conditions (COPD, asthma), and anyone with a compromised or suppressed immune system (cancer survivors, those with autoimmune disorders). I don't know about you, but for me, this list includes both family members and cherished friends. I want to protect them all.
4. Bottom line? This is incredibly serious. We all need to pull back for the next month or two, and potentially longer, from our regular, daily activities and interactions as this thing plays out. So, yes, wash your hands A LOT. Clean and sanitize hand-touching hotspots (doorknobs, handles, your phones!) as often as you can. But most important and hardest to do? We need to refrain from hanging out together in groups—which is kind of what makes us human. Our very DNA wires us to be social creatures! But it's what needs to happen RIGHT NOW to get through this. It's going to be hard. It's going to be really weird. But remember, the more we break our own self-quarantines, the longer we drag this out. Instead of 8 weeks, it could be 8 months. We must "flatten the curve." So, please, do your part NOW. Let's do this together.
And, maybe—with any luck—we'll come out of the other side of this with shared empathy and renewed love for our neighbors who have gone through similar tough times, no matter what their personal beliefs or political persuasions are. Maybe we'll put this whole weird era behind us for good—together. I sure hope so.
Be well, my friends.
(And here are WHO guidelines for staying safe: https://www.who.int/…/novel-coronavirus-2…/advice-for-public)
Chinese study published in The Lancet:
Chinese study of CV-19 in children:
Estimates of Americans being hospitalized for CV-19 and U.S. Hospital Preparedness:
CV-19 Contagion Rates:
Hypertension in U.S.
Diabetes in U.S.
My first stories for HealthCentral are live! Helping young people cope with the emotional rollercoaster of pediatric MS can be challenging. I spoke with two top experts who share tips for parents--and provide guidance to help get their tweens and teens through adolescence as kids face doctor's visits, disease flares, and cognitive and balance issues (even as they seek independence). Also: Here's my Q&A with a pediatric MS nurse who directs a fun summer camp for kids with MS.
I have a few outstanding stories for WebMD that will appear over the next few months, even though I've recently joined HealthCentral.com as a senior editor. For the Jan./Feb. special issue on how artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming healthcare, I wrote about parenting in the AI Age ... see page 23–24 for expert advice on everything from homework help to safety concerns.
I’m pleased to announce that after being affiliated with WebMD Magazine as a founding editor and then a long-time freelance contributor, I’ve just accepted a senior health editor position at the soon-to-relaunch HealthCentral.com! The site is owned by Remedy Health, content provider for a dozen health-focused online brands. I’m excited to take on this new challenge. While parting ways with WebMD is definitely a tough goodbye after 15 total years of producing content for the both the magazine and website, I’m setting my sights on the future, and all I can do at HealthCentral. Here's to 2020!
Singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth pursued the bright lights of Broadway to great critical acclaim—only to discover those same bright and flashing lights triggered chronic and debilitating migraines. I sat down with the star in September at her West Village recording studio in New York City. She shared her journey to diagnosis and treatment that saved her health—and her career—for the December cover story of Brain and Life. READ MORE.
Excited to share my new cover story on best-selling author and innovator Malcolm Gladwell, who talked to me about his new book "Talking to Strangers." See pg. 34 in the special "Innovations" issue of WebMD Magazine, out now.