Ask Carol – Coronavirus edition – Part 1

Happy Monday, Friends. I had several great questions from last week’s post. In fact – too many to cover all at once – if I want to do them any justice at all. So, for today, we’ll cover the first three questions.

Join me on Wednesday for a little coronavirus conspiracy theory debunking fun!

  1. JdM asked: “How many waves of the virus do you think there will be? Are we thinking that in a year we might be almost over the infection stages?”

This is a great question. I don’t have a crystal ball, but the infectious disease doctors I have talked to seem to think there likely be another wave in the fall. And based upon even recent historical data with other viruses I will agree.

This year’s flu season had two waves, according to data from the Centers for Disease control. Unusually, this was caused by two different types of influenza strains peaking at different times.  Cases of Influenza B/Victoria viruses peaked sometime in late December, while incidences of Influenza A (comprised mainly of A(H1N1) with A(H3N2) as a minor strain) peaked in February/March.

The 2009 swine flu had two very distinct waves.  See for example the chart below for the United Kingdom with peaks in July and November.

The guardian has an excellent Q&A with several experts found here.  But yes, after the coronavirus peaks and wanes in each area, we may see one (or more) additional waves of infection once restrictions lift.

Will we get through this? Absolutely. I believe this pandemic will  come to an end.  How?  It depends on a number of factors, but two possibilities are by either practicing strict quarantine and contact tracking procedures (kind of like South Korea) – or when we reach herd immunity. Herd (or community) immunity is when a sufficiently large  percentage of the population has immunity to a specific disease – through either vaccination or by having had the disease previously. If enough people are resistant to the illness, this resistance acts like a protective wall of sorts – stopping spread of the disease in the community because it has nowhere to go.

However, before I get angry comments – I am not at all advocating that we discontinue social distancing and let this virus just run (a very quick) course through our communities. The current infection and mortality rates for COVID-19 (coronavirus) suggest that that approach would take too heavy of a toll on our most vulnerable citizens. For example, as of today in Maryland, where I live, approximately 8200 persons have tested positive for COVID-19, with a hospitalization rate of approximately 22% and a death rate of around 2.6%.  Any deaths are a tragedy, but right now there are generally enough hospital beds and supplies to take care of those who need it most.  However, higher rates of new infections could possibly overwhelm the system of care that we have.

The peak number of new cases is expected to occur in mid-April in the United States, so yes, I believe we will get through this wave this spring/summer. Time will tell if there are additional waves.

  1. Larry asked: “Is there an animal reservoir for COVID-19? I have heard that bats can be infected but I don’t have much information.”

There are a number of infectious diseases that can live and multiply in animal hosts, thus building a disease reservoir (pool) that can re-infect people in the future. One example that comes to mind is malaria – which can pass from mosquitoes to human hosts.

Coronaviruses in general are known to infect different species, including dogs, chickens, cattle, pigs, cats, pangolins, and bats.

Experts in China tracked the origin of the novel 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) to samples taken from a seafood market in Wuhan, which indicated that the virus stems from wild animals on sale at the market.

Compellingly, in a recent scientific article published in Nature, genetic analysis of COVID-19 shows that it is 96% identical to a bat corona virus, which indicates that this current pandemic likely started with a coronavirus-infected horseshoe bat.

However, more research must be done to determine if there is an animal host (reservoir) for COVID-19.

  1. LA asked:Certain products are out of stock at grocery stores. It would be interesting to learn how these products are developed and where they come from, and maybe how we can get them or make them ourselves! For example, how is yeast typically made, and how can we make it at home? How do companies make toilet paper? Why are these products out of stock while other products are not?

Let’s start with good news – according to an article in CNBC, toilet paper will come back into stock soon and there are no expected shortages of food staples like milk eggs, bread and meat. You may not always be able to find your favorite imported fruit or cheese – but we will get through this – one hack or substitute at a time.

Now for the manufacturing/science part:

Yeast is a single celled organism that can reproduce itself – all it needs, like any other living thing, is food (carbohydrates), water, some warmth and time. Manufacturers keep cultures of carefully maintained seed yeast in their laboratories – testing often to make sure it’s the right kind (strain). The process by which yeast feeds and reproduces is called fermentation and as the yeast multiplies, the byproducts are alcohol and carbon dioxide (the gas that makes bread rise) – which is very useful in brewing beer, wine making and baking!

Small samples of seed yeast are placed in small flasks with nutritive broth and incubated at around 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. As it grows, it is transferred to larger and larger vats (up to 40,000 gallons in size) where it is fed purified molasses and lots of fresh air until it multiplies and multiplies…and multiplies to a concentration known as steady state (meaning it has consumed the available food and resources). The yeast is collected by passing the yeast culture through large centrifugal pumps called “separators”. This process is similar to spinning clothes dry in a washing machine. The result is an off-white liquid called “cream yeast”. The yeast can then be dried or pressed into yeast cakes. It is more stable dried.

So really – all you need to grow yeast at home is a little patience.

1.   If you have 1 packet of active dried yeast, you can use it to make an easy, quick seed yeast / sourdough starter like the one found here. All you need is 1 packet of yeast, 2 cups of warm water and 1 cup flour (for food). Basically – you’re just recreating the commercial manufacturer’s process on a small scale and you can keep growing the yeast continuously – as long as you keep dividing and feeding it. Hungry yeast doesn’t do very well.

2.  If you don’t have commercial yeast, never fear – there are about a million recipes for sourdough starter. I like this easy, very detailed guide found at:

But basically – you start with equal parts of flour and water that you let it sit in a nice, warm place for a few days (like a cupboard or the top of your refrigerator). Wild yeast particles from the air will happily munch on the good food (i.e. flour) that you feed it and multiply. You’ll know it’s working as small bubbles form in your flour/water mixture. There should be a pleasant, wine-like odor from your wild yeast culture. If funny colors (like pink and orange) or bad smells develop, you should definitely toss your experiment and try again.

As it grows, you just have to remember to feed it with fresh water and flour – daily at first, but with the proper care, your starter could last years and years.

Toilet paper, like all paper is produced by taking cellulose fibers from either trees (typically fast-growing evergreens), or other plants like bamboo, jute and hemp, and forming it into something called wood pulp (think wood paste). The pulp is mixed with water and soaked and boiled before being run through rollers to remove the excess water, flatten the pulp, and then dry it into sheets of paper.

It takes time, but this eHow article explains how you can make toilet paper at home in great depth. You will need:  About a half pound of paper (like non-glossy newspaper or scrap copier paper), a tub, water, a large pot, some grass or leaves (for extra fiber) and baby oil.

  • First, you soak the scrap paper in water until most of the ink is gone.
  • Then, you place the paper in a large pot with a couple of handfuls of grass (I would wash it first), cover with water simmer for 1 hour. Then, you boil for 30 minutes, adding water to prevent the mixture from drying out – you should have a nice, pulpy mess by the end of this process.
  • Then you remove as much water as you can, without letting it completely dry and add about 4 Tablespoons of baby oil (or mineral oil) to keep your paper from hardening or becoming brittle.
  • Spread a towel on a flat surface (I recommend using one that isn’t too fluffy and doesn’t have a significant nap for the smoothest paper). Then ladle the pulp over the towel, rolling the mixture flat with a rolling pin.
  • Place another towel on top of the paper mixture and place a heavy board and other objects to squeeze as much water as you can out of the mixture.
  • After about 30-60 minutes, you can flip the whole thing over and remove the bottom towel (which is now on top). Let dry out in the sun and with a little luck, you have a sheet of paper that you can cut into strips.

Don’t have a lot of newspaper lying around? See this article, which shows you how to make reusable cloth toilet paper out of old T-shirts or flannel, for instance:

Just be sure to use each cloth only once and to follow the instructions on the website for washing them before reuse. I don’t recommend washing these cloths with a bunch of your other laundry, but hey, your mother or grandmother (or great-grandmother) washed a lot of cloth diapers this way, and everyone was fine 😊.

I hope everyone stays well – and don’t forget to join me on Wednesday for a discussion of several popular coronavirus myths, hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

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  1. Jean De Muzio

    Thanks, Carol for all the informative stuff in your last blog. I’m curious as to why the virus is more active in the colder months and more dormant in the warmer months. Could you explain this? Thanks!

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