Tag Archives: COVID-19

Critically Thinking About Covid-19 – Part IV

You may wish to read Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART I, Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART II and Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART III before diving into this essay.

By: Dr. Christopher DiCarlo (December 18 , 2020)

In this installment of commentary on the current Covid19 pandemic, we will consider our current status in regards to testing, restrictions, vaccination development, and public policies. As usual, in light of our epistemic model, it is always important to remember Rumsfeld’s Rule:

 “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

So at this point in the pandemic, we must ask ourselves: what do we know, and what do we know we don’t know about this particular virus? 

Controlling the Spread of the Disease:

It is important to understand that there are three ontological states of being when it comes to human infection: asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and symptomatic. We have known for quite some time that many spreaders of the disease have been asymptomatic i.e. those infected but who exhibit no symptoms. Because of various studies carried out by different countries around the world – including Iceland, the UK, and others, we are starting to see a clearer picture on the actual percentage of asymptomatic carriers of the virus.[2] Coming in somewhere between 75% and 86%, we are discovering that one of the central reasons such a virus can spread so quickly is not simply due to its high level of virulence i.e. ability to infect a host, but to the fact that so many people don’t even realize they have it, and therefore, don’t self-isolate.

Dr. C DiCarlo
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo

At this point in the pandemic, we are starting to see some variance in regards to viral mutations throughout the world. The UK has found that several new mutations have arisen, some of which have made the virus more communicable, others making the virus somewhat weaker:

The new strain of coronavirus spreading through Britain has a ‘striking’ amount of mutations, scientists have claimed. Members of the UK’s Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), who have been investigating the evolved strain, say they have uncovered 17 alterations, which they described as ‘a lot’. Many of the changes have occurred on the virus’s spike protein, which it uses to latch onto human cells and cause illness. Alterations to the spike are significant because most Covid vaccines in the works, including Pfizer/BioNTech’s approved jab, work by targeting this protein.[3]

These mutations have some people worried that the currently developed vaccines will not have any effect on these variants. “But scientists, including England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, have said there is ‘currently no evidence’ the mutation — which has been spotted in Wales, Scotland, Denmark and Australia — will have any impact on vaccines.”[4] So that is some good news as we face this second and far more devastating wave of infections. But we must also remember, that such a virus will continue to evolve and mutate even after massive vaccinations have been carried out:

…vaccines won’t put an end to the evolution of this coronavirus, as David A. Kennedy and Andrew F. Read of The Pennsylvania State University, specialists in viral resistance to vaccines, wrote in PLoS Biology recently. Instead, they could even drive new evolutionary change. There is always the chance, though small, the authors write, that the virus could evolve resistance to a vaccine, what researchers call “viral escape.” They urge monitoring of vaccine effects and viral response, just in case.[5]

A lot of people don’t realize this, but there will be scientists who will track the mutation rates of Covid-19 for months or even years after global inoculations have taken place. We can be fairly optimistic that with the various vaccines in circulation now, the likelihood for ineffectiveness over time remains fairly low:

There are some reasons to be optimistic that the coronavirus will not become resistant to vaccines. Several years ago, Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Read presented an analysis of the difference between resistance to drugs and vaccines. Neither bacteria nor viruses evolve resistance to vaccines as easily as they do to drugs, they wrote. Smallpox vaccine never lost its effectiveness, nor did the vaccines for measles or polio, despite years of use.[6]

So it looks as though we can rest assured that scientists will not have to continuously battle an ever-changing, shape-shifting, virus in the years to come.

And let’s remember, a global viral pandemic will always follow this exact pattern of reaction: Testing, Isolation, Anti-virals, and Vaccine (or TIAV)

To return to our acronym – TIAV, let’s where we’re at in terms of current information:

Testing: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the possible”

In regards to testing, there have been some developments since my last paper in September but quite frankly, I’m disappointed in the overall failure of testing placement by our local, provincial, and federal governments. Where are the ‘at-home self-tests’ for Covid-19? They exist, but they have not been approved for wide distribution and use. In my last paper, I had discovered that Precision Biomonitoring received approval for their PCR rapid testing units on July 7th. But neither the Provincial nor Federal Governments purchased any such devices. Instead, major Canadian and US companies purchased them which allowed mining, fishing, logging, and even the movie industries to continue with little interruptions. Had our governments purchased such units and hired the right people to put them in key places such as airports, retirement homes, supply chains, private businesses, etc., we could have minimized the effects of the inevitable second wave of infections. Be that as it may, we are still using the same, basic testing facilities that have been in place since March, 2020. The response times are still anywhere from 2-5 days which is helpful but still far too long to have any significant impact on controlling and tracing the spread of the virus.

What I referred to in earlier papers as the ‘Holy Grail’ of tests, may finally be a reality. The FDA just recently announced its Emergency Use Approval for the first fully at-home Covid-19 Test by Ellume.[7] Although not as accurate as the PCR tests, medical authorities believe they will go a long way in allowing people to safely test themselves from the comfort of their own home rather than having to wait in line ups and wait for days for results.

In terms of accuracy,

With all antigen tests, positive results are highly accurate and should be treated as a presumptive positive (meaning, you should act as though you have Covid until another test can verify it). However, there is a higher chance of false negatives, because antigen levels can drop lower than what the tests can detect, according to the FDA. In other words, a negative antigen test result doesn’t rule out a Covid-19 infection. Clinical trials found that Ellume’s home test correctly identified 96% of positive samples and 100% of negative samples in people with Covid symptoms. In people without symptoms, the test correctly identified 91% of positive samples and 96% of negative samples. That means this test works best with people who have Covid symptoms, because antigen tests return positive test results when a person is most infectious. So, while this test can save you a trip to a clinic and a long wait in line to get antigen tested, the results should be taken with a grain of salt. Getting a negative result from an antigen test doesn’t give you the green light to behave as though you’re uninfected. The most reliable way to tell if you have Covid or not is to get a PCR test, which is considered the gold standard.[8]

Whether or not Health Canada will approve this new test is not known at this time. They are currently considering numerous applications for such quick response at-home tests. What we do know is that they have refused approval for similar at-home antigen tests in the past:

Where are Canada’s rapid at-home coronavirus tests? Infectious disease experts have been asking themselves — and public health officials — this for months. “If every Canadian had that in their medicine cabinet, we might be able to test our way out of this,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto… …Furness is hopeful for a wider approval. He said at-home tests have the ability to not only assist busy public health agencies but also help keep businesses and schools afloat.[9] “We have to think of it like a screening tool, a magic thermometer,” he said. “It doesn’t provide you a diagnosis but it tells you something’s wrong.”[10]

Other medical experts are collectively shaking their heads at the poor policies in place for the approval and massive distribution of such at-home rapid-testing kits.

Many of these tests have gotten a “bad rap” because they’re considered less sensitive than lab-based tests, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, and director of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital…Jha believes there’s too much weight being put on this threshold. He believes an effective home testing strategy is a critical part of Canada’s response to the second wave of the virus.[11]

Based on this information, are we safe to infer that if we had such tests back during the summer, we could have drastically reduced the number of infections that led to the second wave?

“Making them available to nursing home staff, for example, would be worth it. Sure, there’d be some you miss, but you could substantially reduce the number of people who are showing up positive at a nursing home, asymptomatically,” he said. “We don’t have to let the perfect be the enemy of the possible.” [12]

It seems as though we have been waiting a long time for such tests. I never imagined that, during a global pandemic, several vaccinations would be discovered and widely distributed before a single, reliable, rapid-response at-home test could be produced.


At this point in time – mid to late December, 2020 – we find ourselves in Canada faced with a rapidly rising second wave of infections. Many restrictions have been placed across the country. We are seeing a rate of 2400 cases a day in Ontario. This is four times higher than during the first wave in March-April. For various reasons – people ignoring social restrictions, businesses staying open, lax enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, kids returning to school, pandemic fatigue, excitement for a vaccine, etc. – the rate of infections has steadily increased since the end of the summer. Governments are forced to impose tougher restrictions on ‘hot spots’ which, in turn, causes residents of that area to move into less restricted areas to shop, dine, etc., which eventually causes a greater spread of infections turning that area into a ‘hot spot’ and so on, and so on, ad nauseum.

It is discouraging to see how some absolutely ridiculous policies were put in place regarding isolation with Covid-19. From the Ontario Provincial Ministry of Health’s        website, the following protocol can be found on the ‘COVID-19 Screening tool for          students and children in school and child care’ (Version 3: October 5, 2020):                “Household members without symptoms may go to school/child care/work.”[13] Think about this for a second. What’s wrong with this statement? Quite a bit, actually. First of all, it commits the fallacy of ‘begging the question’ by assuming that only those people showing signs of the virus are a threat and need to stay home. However, as we all have known for a very long time, it is those who are asymptomatic who are the greatest spreaders of the virus. In fact, the latest research indicates that those who are asymptomatic far outnumber those who are not by a ratio of up to 3 to 1.[14] Because of this policy, thousands upon thousands of unsuspecting and asymptomatic people – especially elementary school-aged children – will attend school to spread the disease to other unsuspecting children who show no signs of the illness but who will quite likely pass it on to their unsuspecting older siblings, parents, and grandparents. In effect, this policy allows for an extremely effective way of transmitting the virus throughout a given population. Such a policy has allowed very young children to become central vectors in transmitting the disease. It is a self-defeating, ill-conceived policy, and it needs to stop – immediately! I have been trying to relay this to the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, and the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, for months; but to no avail. 

Any and all such policies which assume – falsely – that checking for Covid symptoms amounts to preventing the spread of the virus, are flawed. So any person who is asymptomatic can leave a household entirely infected with Covid-19 and return to work, or attend school, or go to a daycare. A more comprehensive policy might have included something akin to the following protocol: Whenever any person within a household is positively diagnosed with Covid-19, ALL members of that household should remain isolated. When – AND ONLY WHEN – every person in that household produces a negative test result from a PCR testing site, should they end their isolation. By allowing all non-symptomatic members of an infected household to move throughout the community governments have initiated a policy which has rapidly increased the rate of spread of infection.

What we might want to consider at this point is: Who created this part of the policy for isolation regarding Covid-19? Was it a single person? A committee? How were medical professionals consulted on such a development? Citizens have a right to know; because this small technicality may be largely responsible for the rapid transmission of the virus throughout Ontario.

There are other problems involving isolation – or perhaps, more accurately – non-isolation. ‘Anti-maskers’ are people who believe that wearing a mask while in public places, is unnecessary. They sometimes hold large anti-lockdown freedom marches. Not unlike Trump rallies, such events are both highly politicized and often become super spreader gatherings. Wearing a mask is no longer seen as a public duty i.e. “We’re all in this together”. Instead, wearing a mask is viewed as a symbol of political oppression i.e. “No way, is ‘the man’ or ‘Big Government’ going to tell me what to do!” There are many factions of society – from Mennonite communities, to New Age devotees, to far-right conservatives – who show up for such marches.

It is science which has led the way throughout this entire pandemic.

There is a general feeling of anti-science in the air. And that is unfortunate; for it is science which has led the way throughout this entire pandemic.[15] From our decades-long predictions and warnings, to pleading for attention that this pandemic was inevitable, to the understanding of its cause, to its genetic identification, vaccination development, etc., science has been at the forefront leading and advising us of the most responsible actions to take. In world-record-breaking time, several vaccinations have been produced to put an end to the virus so the world can return to some form of normalcy. To see such people flout the value of scientific evidence because of their oddly-kept and deeply skewed views of liberty and freedom has such ironic flavour as to go entirely unnoticed beneath their watch. Anti-maskers are wrong. Period. Wear a mask; it’s among the very least you can and hence, should do – for your community, your country, your world. Science proves that masks work; therefore, you listen to science and wear a mask – irrespective of any and all political ideologies.[16]


The biggest news to date with antivirals is that the Latest COVID-19 guidelines have come out against two leading antivirals: bamlanivimab and remdesivir. In a recent paper, it was found that:

…there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of bamlanivimab for the treatment of outpatients with mild to moderate COVID-19. The drug should not be considered the standard of care, and hospitalized patients should not receive bamlanivimab outside of a clinical trial, according to the treatment panel. It recommended that clinicians discuss trial participation with patients and prioritize use of the drug in patients with the highest risk of COVID-19 disease progression.[17]

Dexamethasone and convalescent plasma treatments continue to be used successfully in ICU’s throughout the world.


There has been considerable development of vaccination therapies since Part III of this series. As of mid-December, 2020 the world is now receiving vaccinations from two major companies: Pfizer and Moderna. Both are mRNA vaccines which is a very new form of technology which was developed in accordance to discoveries made by 2020 Nobel Prize Laureates Drs. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna. 

That method, formally known as CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing but often called simply CRISPR, allows scientists to precisely cut any strand of DNA they wish. In the 8 years since its creation, CRISPR has been a boon for biologists, who have published thousands of studies showing that the tool can alter DNA in organisms across the tree of life, including butterflies, mushrooms, tomatoes, and even humans.[18]

This same technology has allowed scientists to rapidly develop vaccines against Covid-19. Known as mRNA (or messenger ribonucleic acid):

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions for our cells to make a harmless piece of what is called the “spike protein.” The spike protein is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are given in the upper arm muscle. Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection. The benefit of mRNA vaccines, like all vaccines, is those vaccinated gain this protection without ever having to risk the serious consequences of getting sick with COVID-19.[19]

Currently, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being shipped to enormous freezers which must keep them at very cold temperatures: Pfizer at -75o C and Moderna at – 20o C.[20] This will obviously complicate logistics. But many countries have already established guidelines and supply chain management strategies in an effort to optimize deliveries of the vaccine.

Triage: Who Gets the Vaccine First?

Since this is our first pandemic, determining the triage or order of preference for a medical intervention is a political, legal, and moral determination. In regards to which countries first receive the vaccine, Canada is involved with a coalition known as COVAX:

COVAX is a global initiative led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and international vaccine alliance organization Gavi, that aims to bring governments and vaccine manufacturers together to ensure all countries have access to the COVID-19 vaccine once they become available.[21]

So far, there are approximately 184 countries participating in the COVAX program. But this does not limit wealthier nations (like Canada) from reaching out directly to pharmaceutical companies in procuring vaccines:

Higher-income countries are not limited to resorting to COVAX just because they’ve signed on. Several, like Canada and the European Union, have been dealing directly with pharmaceutical companies to secure vaccine doses. To date, Canada has procured nearly 414 million vaccine doses — more than 10 doses per-person for its population of 37.9 million while the European Union, which is home to almost 448 million people, is also on track to obtain 1.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses. In a statement to Global News, the office of the Prime Minister said that Canada had announced $440 million into COVAX — the second largest contribution any country has made so far.[22]

So, as a country, Canada seems well-positioned in receiving various vaccines as they become approved for world-wide distribution. In regards to who, exactly, will be receiving the vaccines as they arrive, we notice that a system of priorities has been put in place. On the Government of Canada’s website, we find the following guidelines:

The objective of this advisory committee statement is to provide preliminary guidance for public health program level decision-making to plan for the efficient, effective, and equitable allocation of a novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine once it is authorized for use in Canada when limited initial vaccine supply will necessitate the prioritization of immunization in some populations earlier than others. These recommendations aim to achieve Canada’s pandemic response goal: “To minimize serious illness and overall deaths while minimizing societal disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Due to anticipated constraints in supply, these National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendations apply to provincial/territorial publicly-funded immunization programs only and not for individuals wishing to prevent COVID-19 with vaccines not included in such programs.[23]

There are specific key populations that have been identified as priority status. Such key populations include at high risk of severe illness and/or death from COVID-19 includes:

Advanced age, those most likely to transmit COVID-19 to those at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 and workers essential to maintaining the COVID-19 response, Healthcare workers, personal care workers, and caregivers providing care in long-term care facilities, or other congregate care facilities for seniors, other workers most essential in managing the COVID-19 response or providing frontline care for COVID-19 patients, household contacts of those at high-risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, those contributing to the maintenance of other essential services for the functioning of society, those whose living or working conditions put them at elevated risk of infection and where infection could have disproportionate consequences, including Indigenous communities.[24]

The following graph summarizes the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (or NACI) interim recommendations on key populations for early COVID-19 immunization for public health program level decision-making:

Good News…bad news.

So the good news is: the end to the pandemic is in sight. The bad news is that by the time vaccinations get into the arms of enough Canadians to reach actual herd immunity (70+%), many will become sick and many more will continue to die. We have learned, recently, that such a tactic of deliberately allowing millions to become infected with the virus to quicken the likelihood of herd immunity was carried out by the Trump Administration:

A top Trump appointee repeatedly urged top health officials to adopt a “herd immunity” approach to Covid-19 and allow millions of Americans to be infected by the virus, according to internal emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee and shared with POLITICO. “There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials.[25]

At first sight, one might think this might be an effective way to try to battle a virus. However, upon further consideration, it becomes quickly apparent that far more people will fall ill and die as a result. For example, if just 1% of those infected with Covid-19 die, and 300 million Americans contract it in an effort to hasten herd immunity, then that means around 3 million people in the US, alone, will die. Trump’s appointee furthers his illogical suggestion by saying:

“Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…” Alexander added. “[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected” in order to get “natural immunity…natural exposure,” Alexander wrote on July 24 to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Caputo and eight other senior officials.[26]

Here’s where things get interesting and perhaps, a little frightening. If, and I say: IF, Paul Alexander was aware of the projected death rate, and he continued to push for his bizarre idea of bringing about herd immunity, THEN it follows that he was willing to sacrifice a great many lives in order to speed up the movement of the virus through the US population – and the number of lives sacrificed would be well into the millions. What’s more, the suggestion of such an idea makes a great deal of sense now that we recall how states like Florida and Texas simply ignored CDC and WHO guidelines for dealing with the virus and let all businesses stay open and resume as usual. And perhaps this is why Trump was downplaying the use of masks and holding such enormous rallies:

Alexander also argued that colleges should stay open to allow Covid-19 infections to spread, lamenting in a July 27 email to Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield that “we essentially took off the battlefield the most potent weapon we had…younger healthy people, children, teens, young people who we needed to fastly [sic] infect themselves, spread it around, develop immunity, and help stop the spread.”[27]

There is no definitive evidence that Alexander’s suggestions were fashioned into any type of formal policy: “In a statement, a Health and Human Services spokesperson said that Alexander’s demands for herd immunity “absolutely did not” shape department strategy.”[28] Be that as it may, to what extent did such an idea lie in the backs of the minds of those who neglected to act quickly and decisively against the spread of such a deadly virus? Especially when another main chief medical advisor to President Trump, Dr. Scott Atlas, was a major advocate in promoting herd immunity:

During a Fox News appearance on Aug. 3 discussing college reopenings, Atlas echoed an argument often made by Trump that children “have no risk for serious illness” and “they’re not significant spreaders,” adding, “There should never be and there is no goal to stop college students from getting an infection they have no problem with.”[29]

Practically all public health care professionals have argued the opposite and have now recognized the crucial role people who are asymptomatic play in transmitting and spreading the disease:

While researchers are still studying the effects of the virus on children, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics in July found children carry as much or more of the infection in their noses and throats compared to adults, while a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contact tracing study found young people between ages 10 and 19 years old are more likely to spread the coronavirus in households, where other family members may be more susceptible to severe symptoms.[30]

Donald Trump has surrounded himself with ‘yes men’ for his entire Presidency. For those who dare to question, they have been shown the door and ridiculed on Twitter. To know just how bad Dr. Atlas’s advice has been, we need look no further than an endorsement from the President himself:

“Scott is a very famous man who’s also very highly respected,” Trump said on Monday. “He’s working with us and will be working with us on the coronavirus,” Trump said in August. “And he has many great ideas. And he thinks what we’ve done is really good, and now we’ll take it to a new level.”[31]

Notice how Trump refers to Atlas’s apparent ‘fame’ first? Trump has always cared more about vacuous and value-starved credentials like ‘fame’ and ‘ratings’ as sign-posts for excellence in his concept of professionalism rather than virtues like honesty, integrity, earned professional merit, and dependability. For anyone to think that the Trump Presidency’s task force on Covid-19 (led by Vice President Mike Pence) was “really good”, demonstrates a blind obedience to a political power and indicates a person who has surrendered the values of science as being impartial and objective.

Before joining Trump’s Covid-19 ‘Task Force’, Atlas held a position as senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank. Atlas himself is not an infectious disease expert but a board-certified diagnostic neuroradiologist and has served as a professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center from 1998 to 2012. His highly-politicized medical advice regarding the pandemic has been met with swift and fierce rebuke from his colleagues at Stanford. In a scathing letter, dozens of Stanford University Medical School’s top faculty denounced their former colleague for promoting what they called “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science”:

“Many of his opinions and statements run counter to established science and, by doing so, undermine public-health authorities and the credible science that guides effective public health policy,” according to the letter, signed by Dr. Philip A. Pizzo, former dean of Stanford School of Medicine; Dr. Upi Singh, chief of Stanford’s Division of Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Bonnie Maldonado, professor of epidemiology and population health, and 105 others.[32]

When scientific knowledge loses its objectivity and professionals decide to weaponize such misleading information, people suffer, and people die. And this is exactly what we have been seeing because of extremely poor leadership on the part of Mr. Trump, and unforgiveable behaviour on the part of Dr. Atlas. In my estimation, ‘Dr.’ Atlas should have his medical degree suspended or stripped for spreading such medical misinformation. We shall see if any professional repercussions ensue in the following months.

The importance of why world leaders must be well-informed and guided by professional advisers who provide the most current and accurate scientific information cannot be overstated. To ignore this, is to do so at the peril of many innocent people.

We did not meet the second wave with the same amount of dedication as we did with the first wave. And unfortunately, this is showing in the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths throughout the world. Hopefully, we will be able to flatten the curve on this wave as quickly as possible so we are all in a much better position to reach peak immunization when the vaccine becomes available to us.

NOTE: I am not going to waste any time discussing the anti-vaccination position. The bottom line is this: Anti-vaxxers are wrong. If the Covid-19 vaccination poses no real health threat to you, it automatically becomes your prima facie minimal duty – to yourself, to others, to your country, and to the world, to get it.

Dealing with Anxiety by Battling Misinformation

Emotionally, the pandemic has taken its toll on us. It is difficult to say at this point, how long after the world returns to normal will we need to deal with issues of anxiety and PTSD. As many are facing pandemic fatigue and are simply tired of having their lives affected by such a pathogen, we must remain vigilant in following rigorous protocols of physical distancing, mask-wearing, handwashing, testing, tracking and tracing, and patience in waiting for our turn to get the vaccine. We can best deal with anxiety when we start with solid, reliable, and responsibly-attained information. If anyone reading this series of papers has any questions regarding the scientific soundness of available information, there are plenty of websites available to help:





If you are unable to find answers to your questions regarding reliable information about Covid-19, feel free to reach out to me, personally and I will do my best to comply. I can be reached at: cdicarlo@criticalthinkingsolutions.ca.


We will get through this. And we will all be the better for it. For it is in such times of crises that we discover the value and the virtue of the human condition. Here’s hoping that my next paper will report incredible progress against this virus not only in Canada, but throughout the rest of the world. And may it also be the last paper I will need to write about Covid-19.

[1] https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/60/3/712/453685

[2] See: https://www.dovepress.com/three-quarters-of-people-with-sars-cov-2-infection-are-asymptomatic-an-peer-reviewed-article-CLEP

[3] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9058923/New-Covid-strain-17-mutations-scientist-say.html?ito=push-notification&ci=60538&si=17097303

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/science/covid-vaccine-virus-resistance.html

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/16/fda-approves-ellume-home-covid-test-how-it-works-and-antigen-accuracy.html

[8] Ibid.

[9] https://globalnews.ca/news/7469571/coronavirus-canada-rapid-at-home-tests/

[10] https://globalnews.ca/news/7469571/coronavirus-canada-rapid-at-home-tests/

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] https://covid-19.ontario.ca/covid19-cms-assets/2020-10/Printable%20school%20and%20child%20care%20screening_v3_en.pdf

[14] See: Peterson, I., and Phillips, A. (2020). Three-Quarters of People with SARS-CoV-2 Infection are Asymptomatic: Analysis of English Household Survey Data. Clinical Epidemiology. https://www.dovepress.com/three-quarters-of-people-with-sars-cov-2-infection-are-asymptomatic-an-peer-reviewed-article-CLEP

[15] See: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/01/science-covid-19-manhattan-project/617262/

[16] Obviously, this excludes health-based and all other relevant reasons for not being able to wear a mask.

[17] https://acpinternist.org/weekly/archives/2020/11/24/1.htm

[18] https://cen.acs.org/biological-chemistry/gene-editing/CRISPR-genome-editing-2020-Nobel/98/i39#:~:text=The%202020%20Nobel%20Prize%20in,strand%20of%20DNA%20they%20wish.

[19] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html

See also: https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.243

[20] There are also the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines which are expected to receive approval for widespread distribution soon.

[21] https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/your-guide-to-covax-the-whos-coronavirus-global-vaccine-plan/ar-BB1bwZZK?ocid=iehp&li=AAggNb9

[22] https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/your-guide-to-covax-the-whos-coronavirus-global-vaccine-plan/ar-BB1bwZZK?ocid=iehp&li=AAggNb9

[23] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/national-advisory-committee-on-immunization-naci/guidance-key-populations-early-covid-19-immunization.html

[24] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/immunization/national-advisory-committee-on-immunization-naci/guidance-key-populations-early-covid-19-immunization.html

[25] https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/newspolitics/we-want-them-infected-trump-appointee-demanded-herd-immunity-strategy-emails-reveal/ar-BB1bZ5h3?ocid=iehp&li=AAggNb9

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattperez/2020/08/12/who-is-dr-scott-atlas-trumps-new-covid-health-adviser-seen-as-counter-to-fauci-and-birx/?sh=6336011720a4

[30] Ibid.

[31] https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/16/politics/atlas-stanford-coronavirus-michigan/index.html

[32] https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/09/12/stanford-doctors-take-aim-at-former-colleague-scott-atlas-trumps-new-adviser-on-the-covid-19-pandemic/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.baystatehealth.org/covid19

Critically Thinking About Covid-19 – Part III

You may wish to read Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART I and Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART II before diving into this essay.

By: Dr. Christopher DiCarlo (September 30, 2020)

Almost three months have now passed since my second commentary on the Covid –19 pandemic. Since then, much has developed in terms of testing, restrictions, vaccination development, and public policies. As usual, in light of our epistemic model for knowing where we’re now at, it is always important to remember Rumsfeld’s Rule:

 “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

So we must ask ourselves again: at this point in time, what do we know, and what do we know we don’t know about this particular virus? 

Controlling the Spread of the Disease:

As we have known since early in the pandemic, what makes the spread of this virus particularly difficult to contain is that a significantly large percentage of those infected with it, show no symptoms. This characteristic – the fact that carriers can be asymptomatic – is the single greatest reason we are all living under the conditions we now find ourselves. 

Dr. C DiCarlo
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo

To keep things in perspective, let’s remember from previous papers that a global viral pandemic will always follow this exact pattern of reaction: Testing, Isolation, Anti-virals, and Vaccine (or TIAV)

To return to our acronym – TIAV, let’s now look at each element in light of current information:


There have been so many developments in testing since my last paper that it’s very difficult to keep up. So I will only focus on what appear to be among the most promising of tests. Currently, the Holy Grail of Covid-19 testing – a quick and accurate home saliva test – is not yet widely available. However, there have been quite a few advancements over the last few months. For example, in case some of you may be wondering how the NBA basketball, and the NHL hockey playoffs were possible, you can thank Yale University’s School of Public Health for a new test called: SalivaDirect.

“The SalivaDirect test for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 is yet another testing innovation game changer that will reduce the demand for scarce testing resources,” said Assistant Secretary for Health and COVID-19 Testing Coordinator Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D. “Our current national expansion of COVID-19 testing is only possible because of FDA’s technical expertise and reduction of regulatory barriers, coupled with the private sector’s ability to innovate and their high motivation to answer complex challenges posed by this pandemic.”[2]

Players in both leagues have been kept in ‘bubbles’ and are tested on a regular basis. It’s an accurate and fairly quick test which is less invasive than nasal swab tests:

“Providing this type of flexibility for processing saliva samples to test for COVID-19 infection is groundbreaking in terms of efficiency and avoiding shortages of crucial test components like reagents,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Today’s authorization is another example of the FDA working with test developers to bring the most innovative technology to market in an effort to ensure access to testing for all people in America. The FDA encourages test developers to work with the agency to create innovative, effective products to help address the COVID-19 pandemic and to increase capacity and efficiency in testing.”[3]

However, here in Canada, the approval for this type of testing has been put on hold. Health Canada initially declined to approve at-home testing and have received considerable criticism from public health experts:

Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said that at-home testing could be a powerful way of preventing viral spread. If everyone in Canada were able test themselves every day, he said, then “you’d have no pandemic.” “I think it’s a travesty that Health Canada would stand in the way of home testing with saliva/paper tests,” he said in an e-mail. Health Canada, which regulates what medical and diagnostic tests are available on the market, won’t be approving at-home tests for COVID-19 because of concerns about their accuracy when used by the public. “While Health Canada recognizes that home self-testing could make it possible for a greater number of people to be tested … we have concerns about the risks of home self-testing,” said Eric Morrissette, spokesman for Health Canada.[4]

Such rapid testing was addressed on September 23rd in the Throne Speech in which Justin Trudeau promised to do more in terms of testing but did not indicate when, exactly, the approval might be given: 

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said her department isn’t satisfied that the testing systems submitted for approval yield accurate enough results. In Wednesday’s throne speech, the government said it is “pursuing every technology and every option for faster tests for Canadians.” Once they are approved, the government promises to deploy them quickly, and is creating a “testing assistance response team” in the meantime to help with the insatiable growth in demand.[5]

The recent long line-ups at Covid-19 testing sites has prompted demand for a better way in which to rapidly diagnose the virus. On a personal note, I must say that I am a bit surprised with the length of time it has taken to develop, access, and apply such new technologies in diagnostics.

“People lining up to be tested is a problem,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa. Deonandan said he understands why governments are reluctant to wave through tests that aren’t delivering the highest quality of results, but he said there are ways to use them without risking safety. “They can be surveillance tools,” he said. “This is what I call the failure of imagination on the part of people that are OK’ing this.” He said the lower-quality tests tend to deliver more false positives than false negatives, which means people with COVID-19 wouldn’t be getting missed. Rather the tests can help quickly ferret out people with possible COVID-19, who can then be sent for clinical diagnosis using the more accurate molecular test to confirm it.[6]

This raises an extremely important point: You don’t need 100% accuracy in testing in order for it to help. Deonandan likened such lower-quality Covid tests to cancer tests like mammograms where if there is a concern and need for further analysis, a person can be sent for more accurate testing to confirm or rule out cancer.

Perhaps due to professional and public pressure, Health Canada had a change of heart on such tests:

Health Canada is willing to consider approving home COVID-19 tests to screen for the virus, a spokesman for the minister of health told Reuters, in a win for public health experts and doctors who have argued that frequent and inexpensive testing could beat back the pandemic. The health ministry had previously said it was concerned that people might misuse home tests or misinterpret the results. “In response to the evolution of the pandemic, Health Canada is now considering applications for home testing devices for screening purposes,” said Cole Davidson, spokesman for the minister of health said in a statement.[7]

It is unfortunate that Canadian agencies, politicians, and medical professionals could not have come to a quicker decision regarding such testing devices.

Ethical Dilemma 1

What are we to do when health experts disagree over the value and benefits of new technologies for the public? Why was Health Canada so reluctant to consider such rapid tests for Covid-19? Why did it require a public outcry from medical professionals and public health experts to change their minds? Such delays have essentially cost considerable money, time, and energy, not to mention actual lives lost due to such delays in effective decision-making. Perhaps Health Canada should adopt a curriculum of Critical Thinking into their methodologies?

If ever there were a phrase to watch for during a pandemic, it’s ‘game-changer’. You will see this phrase come up repeatedly over the next several months regarding new technologies.

Recently, developments have been made in attaining and utilizing patient information which some view as a game-changer. In Orillia, Ontario, new techniques are being used to chronicle patient information which can be used at the time of care and for follow up tracing.

The COVID-19 assessment centre in Orillia is using technology to help speed things up as the lineups for testing grow significantly. The new device resembles an old, chunky cellphone, but it works to cut the amount of time health care staff spend registering patients. The device quickly scans a patient’s health card and driver’s license, saving staff from having to handwrite the information and then transfer it into a computer. Orillia Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital’s assessment centre is the first hospital-based centre in Ontario to implement the new technology. The COVID testing centre processed its most ever tests in a single day at 300 last week, and with the new technology, staff believe they can bump that up to 500 per day.[8]

Staff say that if the pilot project proves to be successful, it could be used at other COVID assessment centres facing long line-ups across the province.

And speaking of a ‘game-changer’, a new machine has recently been developed in Canada which can detect Covid-19 in the air:

This could be a game-changer. A new Canadian technology to detect COVID-19 in the air was just launched. The company behind it claims it could help stop outbreaks before they even happen. The company is Kontrol Energy Corporation and their new machine is called BioCloud. They say it’s an “unobtrusive wall-mounted technology which detects the presence of COVID-19 in the air.” According to a news release about the launch, “immediate applications in schools, hospitals, long term care facilities and mass transit vehicles including planes, trains and buses represent a game changer in the fight against COVID-19.” It’s been a long time coming. Kontrol’s CEO Paul Ghezzi said their “team has been working day and night since the onset of the pandemic to bring this exciting technology to market.” They explain that the product has undergone extensive testing and they even partnered with top experts like Western University’s Dr. David Heinrichs, who is a microbiology and immunology professor.[9]

It would appear that now that the world has seen its share of epidemics and pandemics, the time is right to develop and utilize this type of technology. But it won’t be easy. And it definitely won’t be cheap:

The device would continuously sample air quality and if it picks up the new coronavirus floating around, it sends a notification to the facility management, who can then take proper measures to prevent an outbreak. Now it’s a matter of getting the technology out there. Kontrol says they hope to have them in Canadian schools by November…They are also preparing to make up to 20,000 of these things a month but it won’t be cheap. Every BioCloud unit is expected to cost US$12,000, that’s about CA$15,800 each.

The future is going to look quite a bit different once such detection devices are put in place. But we must be careful if we are to assume that we can know and control the exact location and virulence of every pathogen we might encounter.

Ethical Dilemma 2

What public health experts need to be considering right now is to what extent is our obsession with cleanliness and avoidance of infection from Covid-19 going to affect our communal immune systems once a vaccination is ready and the world population has been inoculated. In other words, while we are currently bathing in hand sanitizer and other forms of personal hygiene, we must ask ourselves: What are we doing to our collective microbial ecosystems? What effects will our obsession with over-sanitizing have on the mutation rates of other microbes – especially bacteria?

We need to get smart about pathogens. We should not become germaphobes; on the contrary – we need to become ‘germ-aware’. And that means we need to know how to co-exist with pathogens and parasites. We are constantly in an arms race against these tiny organisms. So we better learn as much as we can about what kills them, what does not, and what creates environments perfect for nasty mutations to thrive which will then seek out human hosts in order to replicate.

Another encouraging story regarding testing comes again from my hometown of Guelph, Ontario, where a company has just received approval from Health Canada to distribute a portable Covid-19 testing device that can produce results in about 30 minutes.

Health Canada has granted approval for the Hyris bCUBE to be used as a medical device for COVID-19 human testing… The Hyris bCUBE is a portable DNA-testing laboratory in a box, offering Point of Care (POC) testing wherever people are—anytime, anywhere. Controlled by any device with an internet connection, including a smartphone, the scientifically validated bCUBE analyzes test samples through a cloud-based platform that delivers accurate results in minutes… Considered the “gold standard” according to the CDC and WHO’s effective testing guidelines, the bCUBE deploys PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology that has demonstrated a 95%+ accuracy rate in clinical trials… Songbird Life Science is the exclusive Canadian distributor of the Hyris bCUBE. Along with several DNA/RNA-identification technologies that Songbird can deploy to suit a space or community’s specific requirements, the bCUBE is a key component to Songbird’s risk-management consultancy services.[10]

I recently had the opportunity to speak to one of the Co-Founders and Science Advisors at Songbird, Mike Soligo and Dr. Steven Newmaster. The Songbird company is doing some pretty interesting work in detection and diagnostics of various pathogens – including Covid-19. Their company is able to evaluate an entire facility – a school, hospital, factory, store, office, etc., and test the complete environments of each – including surfaces, ventilations systems, water, etc. They can even train people to become pseudo-technicians who can operate the Hyris bCUBE themselves. There are two standard tests for such a device in diagnosing up to 6 human infections: There is a short test – about 26 minutes – which can determine negativity of infection. And there is a longer test – about 90 minutes – which can confirm positivity of infection. Both Soligo and Newmaster said such units were excellent for isolated indigenous communities, private businesses, airports, etc. The very name of the company – Songbird – has been chosen because it represents a sentinel for a problem in the environment. This is the second company to have a diagnostic test approved from Health Canada and interestingly enough, both are from Guelph.

What is Still Needed: Rapid and Relatively Accurate Response Testing

As I have been mentioning for decades, the Holy Grail of testing for any pathogen such as Covid-19 would be a fast and relatively accurate home test that anyone could use. Right now, this doesn’t exist. But there are some companies working on making this a reality. For example, researchers are currently adapting CRISPR, synthetic biology, and other creative approaches to detect SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acids outside of the lab or doctors’ offices, in the hopes of making diagnostics more affordable and accessible.[11]

On May 20, Mammoth Biosciences established a partnership with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare to further develop DETECTR into a handheld, disposable device that would be appropriate for home use and be about as expensive as an at-home pregnancy test. “The way point-of-need and at-home diagnostics will work is if they’re truly all-in-one,” says Trevor Martin, Mammoth Biosciences’ CEO. “It needs to be as easy to use as a pregnancy test, and we’re also very much believers that it needs to give you results that are as trusted and accurate as something you would get in the lab.”[12]

One of the unanticipated benefits of the development of such testing units now is that they may prove to be beneficial at a future time if or when we are faced with the potential to battle another pandemic or viral or bacterial outbreak.

As for competition, “I don’t think that the testing for coronavirus is going to be a winner-take-all situation,” [University of Albany biomedical engineer Ken] Halvorsen says. “There really need to be lots of different options. And it may turn out that there are many different testing types that all work in different situations,” he adds. “This may not be a short-term problem. We may be testing for years.”[13]

So is there any hope in the coming months for the ‘Holy Grail’ of Covid tests? Perhaps. There is a new test called Abbott’s BinaxNOW Covid-19 Ag Card which is claimed to be fast, reliable, portable, and affordable.

Abbott (NYSE: ABT) announced today that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 Ag Card rapid test for detection of COVID-19 infection. Abbott will sell this test for $5. It is highly portable (about the size of a credit card), affordable and provides results in 15 minutes. BinaxNOW uses proven Abbott lateral flow technology, making it a reliable and familiar format for frequent mass testing through their healthcare provider. With no equipment required, the device will be an important tool to manage risk by quickly identifying infectious people so they don’t spread the disease to others. Abbott will also launch a complementary mobile app for iPhone and Android devices named NAVICA™. This first-of-its-kind app, available at no charge, will allow people who test negative to display a temporary digital health pass that is renewed each time a person is tested through their healthcare provider together with the date of the test result. Organizations will be able to view and verify the information on a mobile device to facilitate entry into facilities along with hand-washing, social distancing, enhanced cleaning and mask-wearing.[14]

For the record, Admiral Brett Giroir, Coronavirus Task Force Member for the Trump Administration, ordered 150 million of the BinaxNOW tests for use in the US.

And just a few hours ago, a press release announced that: 

Health Canada regulators today approved the ID NOW rapid COVID-19 testing device for use in this country — a move that could result in millions more tests for communities across the country grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases. The Abbott Laboratories-backed molecular devices can be administered by trained professionals at like places like pharmacies, without the need for a laboratory to determine if someone is infected with the virus.[15]

A lab technician dips a sample into the Abbott Laboratories ID Now testing machine at the Detroit Health Center in Detroit. Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories says its test delivers results within minutes.The federal Ministry of Health just announced that it will be purchasing 7.9 million ID NOW tests from Abbott Laboratories for distribution in Canada.

These are point-of-care devices can produce COVID results in 15 minutes. Point-of-care means the testing can be done and analyzed at the same place. In other words, the tests do not need to be sent away to a laboratory for analysis. Instead, within just 15 minutes, people can find out their results. Although it’s not the ‘Holy Grail’ of fast and accurate home tests, it is pretty close. And it will help considerably in knowing who is infected and who is asymptomatic, so that we can more accurately trace and control the spread of the virus.

There is a bit of an issue, here, though. This is the third point-of-care device that has been approved by Health Canada; and it is an American company. As you may recall in Part II of this series, I reported that Precision Biomonitoring was the first such device approved by Health Canada months ago. And it was produced right here in good ‘ol Canada. Why did the Feds wait almost three extra months to purchase and utilize these types of devices when a Canadian company had already received approval? As we noted earlier, during the Throne Speech on September 23, 2020, the Liberal government said it is “pursuing every technology and every option for faster tests for Canadians.” But were they? All evidence points to the contrary.

Why did the Feds wait almost three extra months to purchase and utilize these types of devices from the US when a Canadian company had already received approval months before?

I just recently spoke to Mario Thomas, CEO of Precision Biomonitoring who informed me that sales of these units have been very good. However, all sales have been to private companies – from mining, to construction and fisheries, and even to movie studios. “Private companies have stepped up and the demand is so high, we cannot keep up,” said Thomas, when asked about productivity and sales. However, when I asked him about government interest, he said neither the federal nor the provincial governments were interested in purchasing and utilizing these devices. Let’s think about that. If such devices were purchased and utilized en masse at airports, long term care and retirement homes, supply chains, and every other potential hot spots throughout the country, we could have controlled and monitored the spread of the virus as efficiently as other model countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Viet Nam, etc. But they didn’t. And now the second wave is back. These devices could have been in place since early July, and just now we are seeing the government act nearly three months later. Why? As soon as the Precision Biomonitoring units were approved by Health Canada, my consulting firm begged the provincial and federal governments to purchase such units and have them put in place prior to the 2nd wave; but they did nothing. I find this lack of action and lack of support for accurate, reliable, and Canadian-made products ethically disgraceful and morally shameful. Not only have the provincial and federal governments failed to support Canadian contributions in the fight of the pandemic, they have postponed our collective abilities to intelligently control the spread of this virus. And that has invariably caused suffering and death. I am willing to maintain that there may be other reasons of which I am unaware for the delay in attaining such test devices and for the purchase of the US-made Abbott devices. But as it stands, I am unable to fathom the reason for such delays.

We can never forget that, until there is a vaccine which can be distributed widely and quickly, testing is our best defense against this, or any future pathogen. Knowing greater details about infection rates will allow for greater human mobility which will be good for economies and human interaction worldwide. And in regards to testing overall, our governments – at both the provincial and federal levels – have failed us.


Although isolation restrictions had eased in various places around the world, more restrictions are being imposed as we enter into the start of a second wave in Ontario, in Canada, and in many other countries throughout the world. The numbers of infections in Ontario have risen considerably over the last few weeks. The demographics of new infections indicate a strong skewing towards young adults between the ages of 20 and 40. On September 24th, a leaked document from the Ontario Government revealed a plan to avoid another COVID-19 lockdown:

The 21-page draft, provided by a government source this week, acknowledges the recent upsurge in new COVID-19 cases, and lays out three possible scenarios of what the second wave could look like: small, moderate or large. Whichever scenario plays out, the plan favours responding with targeted restrictions, rather than widespread closures or a lockdown. “If there is a resurgence of COVID-19, either locally or province-wide, targeted action may be taken to adjust or tighten public health measures,” says the document. “The return to an earlier stage of provincial reopening, or even regional approaches to tightening would be avoided in favour of organization-specific or localized changes.”[16]

Given the events of past pandemics such as the 1918 Spanish flu, many scientists anticipated a rise in cases after the summer months. What is very, very important at this stage, is for governments (at all levels) to balance the economy with the benefits for public health. And this is no easy feat.

What is very, very important at this stage, is for governments (at all levels) to balance the economy with the benefits for public health.


There have been some significant improvements in the treatment of patients in ICU’s suffering from severe effects of SARS-CoV-2. I had mentioned the steroid dexamethasone in the last paper. Studies are indicating considerable efficacy in treating severely ill Covid patients:

Dexamethasone and other corticosteroid drugs are effective treatments for seriously ill COVID-19 patients, according to a meta-analysis of seven randomized controlled trials including a total of more than 1,700 participants. The analysis, conducted by a team at the World Health Organization (WHO) and published yesterday (September 2) in JAMA, concluded that the drugs reduced the risk of dying within 28 days compared with standard care or placebo. The organization has issued new guidelines recommending use of the drugs in the treatment of patients with severe or critical COVID-19.[17]

Although results of using steroids such as dexamethasone have proven largely positive, we must also realize that it may not be the right treatment for all patients varying in degree of severity:

The WHO has cautioned that the findings do not mean that steroids should be given to all COVID-19 patients, and the organization currently recommends doctors not to prescribe the drugs to people with mild disease. One study included in the meta-analysis found that corticosteroids might even increase mortality in non-severe patients.[18]

So these antivirals do not come in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. And there is still so much to learn in regards to combating the virus once it takes serious hold on an individual’s health.

Another form of antiviral that is being tested involves an antibody-based drug which has been hailed as reducing hospitalizations. But what are antibodies? And how can they be used to make a drug to battle Covid-19?

Convalescent plasma treatments, which work by giving a patient a myriad of antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients, have received emergency use authorization from the US government, but their benefits are uncertain. Lilly’s LY-CoV555 is monoclonal and provides a singular, targeted antibody treatment that can be scaled up and provide consistent dosing. The medicine binds to the spike protein on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, preventing it from infecting cells.[19]

In regards to the effectiveness of such a treatment, Eli Lilly reports a 72 percent reduction in hospitalization risk among patients who received its monoclonal antibody compared to those who received a placebo.[20] It’s still in the early stages of drug therapies, but this approach seems quite hopeful.

“This is a good start,” Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who was not involved with the study, tells STAT. “A lot is pinned not only on Lilly but on the whole family of these [monoclonal antibodies], because even though they’re expensive and they’re not going to make a gajillion doses, they could make a big difference in the whole landscape of the pandemic.”[21]

Now as hopeful as this study was, here’s where science gets messy. Another antibody study, out of India, found little efficacy in their results.

Despite the lack of survival benefit shown in the ICMR study, some positives gleaned from the trial include improved symptoms and oxygenation and faster viral clearance in patients in the intervention arm compared with the control arm…“I see the cup being half full in terms of the viral load data and the improved oxygenation and so forth,” Joyner says. The half empty part, he adds, is that most of the plasma had low titers of antibodies and was given relatively late during the course of the disease—a median of eight days after onset of symptoms. “Those are the two main limitations of the study.”[22]

So even though, overall, there was not a strong indication of efficacy of the treatment, this may be due to the low dosage of antibodies that was given to patients who were late during the course of the disease (rather than earlier in its contraction). What we do see when we look closely at this study is that such low dosages late in the course of the disease still produced improved symptoms and oxygenation and faster viral clearance in patients in the intervention arm compared with the control arm. And that is significant.

In the weeks and months to come, we will keep a close eye on convalescent plasma treatments and recall that was this type of treatment that helped defeat the Spanish flu virus in 1918. This anti-viral therapeutic approach has been around for over a century.


There has been considerable development of vaccination therapies since Part II of this series. As of September 30, 2020 researchers are testing 43 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 91 preclinical vaccines are under active investigation in animals. For an update on the development of these vaccines, please click here. But what are vaccines and how do they work?

We saw in Part II of this series that vaccines must go through a series of phases and trials before they are ready to inoculate the public. But there are several different ways in which vaccines can be made and developed. There are genetic vaccines which deliver some of the coronavirus’ own genes into our cells to prompt an immune response. This is the type of vaccine Moderna is currently developing and believes will be ready for distribution in early 2021. Then there are viral vector vaccines. These contain viruses bio-engineered to carry coronavirus genes. Some viral vector vaccines enter cells and cause them to make viral proteins. Other viral vectors slowly replicate, carrying coronavirus proteins on their surface.[23] This is the type of vaccine Johnson & Johnson is currently developing. And then there are protein-based vaccines. These also contain coronavirus proteins but do not contain any genetic material. Some vaccines may contain whole proteins while others only contain fragments of them. Inactivated or Attenuated Coronavirus Vaccines are created from weakened coronaviruses or coronaviruses that have been killed with chemicals. Sinovac Biotech in China is in Phase 3 of development with this vaccine. And finally, there may already be vaccines in use for other diseases that may also protect against Covid-19. There are numerous universities and biotech companies working with repurposed vaccines:

The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine was developed in the early 1900s as a protection against tuberculosis. The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia is conducting a Phase 3 trial called the BRACE to see if the vaccine partly protects against the coronavirus.[24]

In regards to where we’re at right now, in late September, 2020, with vaccine development, in an excellent article by Carl Zimmer and Katie Thomas, they state that there are two major players in the race for the Covid-19 vaccine.

In planning documents sent last week to public health agencies around the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described preparations for two coronavirus vaccines they refer to simply as Vaccine A and Vaccine B. The technical details of the vaccines, including the time between doses and their storage temperatures, match well with the two vaccines furthest along in clinical tests in the United States, made by Moderna and Pfizer.[25]

Both Moderna and Pfizer are developing the newer form of genetic vaccines:

Moderna and Pfizer are testing a new kind of vaccine that has never before been approved for use by people. It contains genetic molecules called messenger RNA. The messenger RNA is injected into muscle cells, which treat it like instructions for building a protein — a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. If all goes well, the proteins stimulate the immune system and result in long-lasting protection against the virus.[26]

Both companies are currently testing their candidates in Phase 3 trials. In both of their earlier human studies, neither vaccine produced serious side effects and provoked test subjects’ immune systems to create antibodies that can neutralize the Covid-19 virus. Although this is hopeful, both companies need to wait until Phase 3 trials have been completed; because only Phase 3 trials will determine whether or not such vaccines are safe to use widely throughout the world’s populations.

A Phase 3 trial collects data about the symptoms volunteers experience after their injection, and whether they become infected with the coronavirus. After “unblinding” the data, researchers compare the rates of infection and adverse side effects between people who receive the vaccine and those who receive the placebo. If significantly more people get Covid-19 on the placebo than the vaccine, that is evidence that the vaccine is effective. The F.D.A. has indicated that vaccine makers should aim for 50 percent protection in order to be considered effective.[27]

You might now be thinking, doesn’t a vaccine need to be 100% effective? Just as we saw that testing for Covid-19 does not have to be 100% all of the time to be effective, so too, with vaccines. As Dr. Francis Collins says: “50% is a long way from 0%. Most influenza vaccines are 50% and they save a lot of lives each year.”[28]

But when will these vaccines become available?

That is the most important question facing the world right now. But the answer is a little tricky and depends upon who you ask:

Pfizer recently said it was “on track” for seeking government review “as early as October 2020.” Moderna has said it expects to complete enrollment in its Phase 3 trial in September, but has not provided an estimate about when the vaccine might be ready for the public. Federal officials said in May that the first doses of a vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca, in partnership with the University of Oxford, could be delivered by October. But AstraZeneca, which recently began Phase 3 trials of the vaccine in the United States, is now saying it could supply the first doses of the vaccine in the United States by the end of 2020.[29]

But I thought Russia already discovered a vaccine and is already inoculating its citizens? Well, yes and no. Yes, Russia has “developed” a vaccine and yes, they are administering it. But there are some medical and ethical questions to consider with their vaccine.

To date, almost 40 scientists have signed an open letter, pointing out suspicious patterns in the data and a general lack of transparency because Russian scientists are withholding complete data.

The first data detailing Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine—nicknamed Sputnik—was published last week (September 4) in The Lancet. Almost immediately, other scientists began to call attention to unlikely patterns in the data, asking for raw numbers to verify the study’s conclusions. Enrico Bucci, a systems biologist and bioethicist at Temple University, published an open letter on his blog September 7 to draw The Lancet’s attention to suspected data manipulation. While he stresses that the letter is not an allegation, “the presentation of the data raises several concerns which require access to the original data to fully investigate…“It’s like you enter a room with nine people and you add their ages together and find that that number is exactly the same as the combined weight of those people,” Bucci tells Chemistry World. “It is strange. But we don’t have access to the data and we can’t really assess what is going on.””[30]

So, even if Russian scientists have developed a viable vaccine against Covid-19 – known as Sputnik V – they are being extremely elusive and opaque in demonstrating its efficacy with data. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

There is one very interesting development to note regarding the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine. On Tuesday, September 8th, nine major drug companies signed a pledge stating that they would “stand with science” and not develop a vaccine prematurely unless and until it had gone through rigorous testing for public safety and effectiveness.

The companies did not rule out seeking an emergency authorization of their vaccines, but promised that any potential coronavirus vaccine would be decided based on “large, high quality clinical trials” and that the companies would follow guidance from regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. “We believe this pledge will help ensure public confidence in the rigorous scientific and regulatory process by which Covid-19 vaccines are evaluated and may ultimately be approved,” the companies said.[31]

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, stated[32] that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) watches over vaccine trials. He stated that they are scientists – not politicians, and they literally watch over the testing of vaccines to see who receives it and who receives a placebo to see whether or not there is strong, statistically-convincing data which indicates either that the vaccine works, doesn’t work, or if there are other problems. Collins stated that members of this board are like gate-keepers who assure that nothing gets approval without strong scientific evidence. He also stated that the FDA also adheres to very strict guidelines with their own advisory committee – the Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC). And he also mentioned that CEO’s of large pharmaceutical companies would not submit potential vaccines to the FDA unless they had substantial reasons to believe in its efficacy. This assures that there are a lot of protective steps in place to assure that once a vaccine is ready for wide inoculations, it is both safe and effective.

On that note, we have recently learned that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has just purchased 20 million doses of Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine:

The government has signed multiple agreements for more than 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, from several potential vaccines, but until Friday had not signed a deal with AstraZeneca, a British firm who are manufacturing the Oxford vaccine. Canada is now invested in six major vaccine candidates and Trudeau said the government is prepared to do all it can to secure a working vaccine. “Canadians must have access to a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 as quickly as possible, no matter where it was developed,” he said.[33]

But Trudeau also said that we cannot just think about Canadians when it comes to vaccinations availability:

The prime minister also announced Canada would provide $440 million to the Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX). The COVAX program is designed to have wealthier countries finance vaccines for poorer ones by sharing the cost. COVAX is invested in nine vaccine candidates, including the Oxford one. Canada’s investment is split in two with $220 million to acquire 15 million doses for domestic use and $220 million dedicated to bringing vaccines to poorer countries.[34]

In order to mitigate risk, Trudeau’s cabinet has purchased vaccines from several different companies worldwide:

In addition to the Oxford/AstraZeneca deal, Canada has signed deals with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer, and Moderna. In total there are orders for more than 150 million doses spread across the six companies. Assuming the vaccine candidates pass clinical trials, [Procurement Minister Anita] Anand said all of the companies should make deliveries to Canada in early 2021.[35]

One of the things to keep in mind at this stage is that we are seeing record-breaking efforts in the development of a viable vaccine for Covid-19. Generally, we know such vaccines take anywhere from 5 to 10 years to develop. So if we were to see one ready for distribution by Halloween or Christmas, it really would be something akin to a medical miracle. But let’s face it – even when a vaccine becomes available, it’s going to take quite some time to produce billions of doses and distribute them worldwide. So in terms of living in a pre-pandemic world again, we should be looking at next spring or summer at the earliest.

Covid- 19 Fears: Returning to Work:

Even though we are now facing a second wave of infections, many businesses – including schools – have reopened and workers are somewhat trepidatious about returning to work. This apprehension may be the result of levels of uncertainty regarding our current state in battling this particular virus. And so, at its heart, lies an epistemic problem of battling levels of ignorance regarding the safety concerns of returning to work.

Let’s look at it this way: Consider two numbers: 0 and 1. And let 0 represent the value that it is impossible to contract the Covid-19 virus and let 1 represent the value that contracting the virus is certain. Between the numbers 0 and 1 lay the realms of probability.

For example, if one were to live isolated in a cabin in the woods far from any contact with humans and could survive without the need for outside human contact or intervention, then in all probability, this person’s likelihood of contracting Covid-19 approaches or even reaches a 0 chance of probability of occurring. On the other hand, if one were to attend a large gathering – say, an indoor event in which thousands of people are gathered and are not physically distancing or wearing masks, then the probability quickly begins to edge towards 1. As in the case of former Republican Presidential candidate, Herman Cain, this became a very unfortunate reality. Mr. Cain contracted the virus (he was in attendance at Trump’s Oklahoma rally on June 20, 2020) and unfortunately died as a result.

So people have been returning to work and are dealing with levels of uncertainty. They might be asking themselves questions like:

  • Who might have the virus and be asymptomatic?
  • Will I be able to physically distance?
  • What PPE will be available?
  • What if fellow workers start relaxing guidelines?
  • What happens to me or my family if I contract the virus?

When people are uncertain, they feel less empowered and less in control of their lives. We must understand that the search for security and control is hard-wired into us. Humans crave the feeling of stasis or equilibrium and work very hard to reach it e.g. working to save for retirement, living in countries with stable economies, etc. When faced with uncertainty, people don’t really know how close to 0 and 1 they actually are. And because we are all also hard-wired with a flight-or-fight response to danger or perceived threats, we will often act irrationally if we are either lacking in information or receiving potentially false information.

That brings us to our next concern.

Covid-19 and Conspiracy Theories:

The last aspect of Covid-19 we need to consider at this point is the level of misinformation and disinformation that has become available online and what its effects might be to the general public and especially, to those struggling with mental health issues.

A new study published today in the journal Social Science & Medicine found that conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 have been persistent from March to July and are associated with the reluctance to adopt preventive behaviours, such as mask-wearing and vaccination in the future.[36]

History is filled with examples of how quickly false information can spread and become adopted when large groups of people are faced with uncertainties. From the Black Death plague to the attacks of 9/11, people have been blaming governments, minorities, Big Science, and even aliens for the causes of such world calamities.

But we must be vigilant and patient during times of uncertainty. For science is a slow and methodical process; but it is unquestionably the best one we’ve got.

Researchers found the most common COVID-19-related conspiracies had to do with three main issues: the perceived threat of the pandemic, taking preventive actions (such as mask wearing) and the safety of vaccines…“Conspiracy theories are difficult to displace because they provide explanations for events that are not fully understood, such as the current pandemic, play on people’s distrust of government and other powerful actors, and involve accusations that cannot be easily fact-checked,” co-researcher Kathleen Hall Jamieson said in a statement. The study suggests that those who did not believe in the conspiracies were 1.5 times more likely to wear a face mask every day outside of the home when in contact with others compared to those who most strongly believed in the conspiracies.[37]

So how do we deal with such misinformation? We arm ourselves with the skill set of Critical Thinking. We check resources, we corroborate information, we carefully consider the known knowns and especially the known unknowns, and we use the scientific method. We should also be extremely wary of the trustworthiness of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where anyone, anywhere, and at any time can say whatever they like without any shred of evidence. “Researchers say that counteracting the effects of conspiracy beliefs will require persistent public health campaigns and straightforward messaging particularly on platforms where COVID-related conspiracies have flourished.”[38]

Finally, we must realize that living under pandemic conditions has increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression amongst the general population. The pandemic has exacerbated mental health conditions in many people, isolated others, and complicated lives in a variety of ways. And it certainly doesn’t help when we see news stories with headlines like: ‘UW chemistry professor calls COVID-19 ‘fake emergency’[39] Apparently, a chemistry professor by the name of Mike Palmer “stands alone” amongst his colleagues and administrators but had written in an outline for one of his courses:  “Because of the fake COVID emergency in-class exams cannot be made mandatory. I have therefore decided to cancel them entirely. Evaluation will accordingly be based entirely on assignments.”[40] Since he has not responded to any requests for an interview, we are left wondering why such a person, who holds such an esteemed position in science, would say such a thing. It would be interesting to hear his argument and know a little more about his biases. When left as it is, the public has no way of dealing with this information but only see that a person in a position of authority is stating counter information to that sent out by the rest of the scientific community.

And then there’s Dr. Stella Immanuel, a physician working in Texas, who has made some extremely bizarre claims regarding the Covid-19 virus and other ailments. In late July, Dr. Immanuel, who is also a Christian pastor, gave a speech on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, where she claimed that she had treated over 350 Covid – 19 patients with hydroxychloroquine and not had one death. Even though studies prove otherwise, she has insisted that taking hydroxychloroquine is not harmful because it is widely taken in her home country of Cameroon, where malaria is endemic.

“Dr.” Immanuel is also a pastor and the founder of Fire Power Ministries in Houston, an organization she uses to spread other conspiracies about the medical profession.

Five years ago, she alleged that alien DNA was being used in medical treatments, and that scientists were cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. Some of her other claims include blaming medical conditions on witches and demons – a common enough belief among some evangelical Christians – though she says they have sex with people in a dream world. “They turn into a woman and then they sleep with the man and collect his sperm… then they turn into the man and they sleep with a man and deposit the sperm and reproduce more of themselves,” she said during a sermon in 2013.[41]

Aside from these extremely bizarre beliefs, Dr. Immanuel believes that gay marriage results in adults marrying children and she also claims she can remove generational curses from placentas with a specific prayer. In a better world, Dr. Immanuel would have her medical licence revoked. To date, she is still practicing medicine.

There are other even more ludicrous theories circulating online, from the idea that the virus was created in a lab in China and has been released as a bioweapon, to the belief that wealthy elites like Bill Gates manufactured it so he could make money from vaccination production, to the concept that it’s no worse than the common flu, to the belief that we don’t need to wear masks, or that 5G technology has weakened our immune systems and allowed the virus to take hold throughout the world.

We know that the pandemic has generated considerable anxiety and unease throughout the world. Many of those already battling mental health issues prior to the pandemic found their conditions worsened due to fears of contracting the virus, employment and financial uncertainties, and exposure to conflicting information from the media – especially, conspiracy theories. There has never been a time in history when we have seen such a proliferation of conspiracy theories. But why? And why now? And why so many? And why are some either coming from or being endorsed by the current President of the United States as well as other world leaders? It is indeed ironic that, after spreading so much false information about the coronavirus, we have just learned that both President Trump and his wife have now contracted Covid-19.[42]

Unlike any other time in history, we are inundated with information from many sources of media. And we are racing to catch up to what is reliable, dependable, and true – all the while, feeling deep, emotional, attachments to our personal understanding of important issues. It has unfortunately become quite fashionable today to claim that what people feel about issues should be taken as seriously as the facts about those issues. Emotional attachment to specific viewpoints and the facts about the world are often two completely different things. It’s not as though a person’s feelings are not to be validated; they are. However, one’s feelings should only be validated up and until the point where they conflict with the facts.

But what if facts have no bearing in a conversation with a conspiracy theorist? Are we to rely then, purely on logic? We might think so; but seldom is the case that logic is at the forefront of a conspiracy theory. So, if conspiracy theorists don’t care much for logic and facts, what do they care for? Being heard; being unique; and gaining status in society because of their exclusive insights and access to information. So the first lesson in how to talk to a conspiracy theorist is to listen. Let them do the talking; because they will – but only if they have some feeling of trust in the dialogue. The next steps involve the development of a Socratic method of dialogue combined with the therapeutic counselling of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Trying to understand the underlying needs for such status, we can gradually come to better appreciate the context and biases under which a conspiracy theorist developed their views. With this understanding, we are in a much better position to begin to introduce, gradually, inconsistencies or contradictions in their beliefs. Over time, it is possible to have more meaningful dialogue with conspiracy theorists. And ultimately, this is what we want to be able to do more successfully – because they are our brothers and sisters, or parents, or kids, or neighbours, or anybody.

Recommendations – What Needs to be Done Now:

As we saw in Part II of this series, what the world needs right now is the development and distribution of hundreds of thousands of portable, fast, and accurate testing devices throughout the world – especially those locations and countries most affected. I am indeed saddened and disheartened to learn that our governments squandered the opportunity to ramp up quicker, more accurate point-of-care testing units at key locations throughout the country back in early July. So I am hopeful that the recently purchased US Abbott NOW Testing Units will be utilized widely throughout our own province and country, at hospitals, retirement homes, police, ambulance, and fire stations, all supply side and food distributors and processors, migrant workers, borders, airports, bus stations, etc.  


I am hopeful that a vaccine will be ready for distribution by late 2020 or early 2021. And I am hopeful that better testing becomes utilized more quickly than it has been. We need to move forward intelligently and with compassion for those who are suffering most during this pandemic. Let us hope then, that our leaders become a little more capable of using Critical Thinking and Ethical Reasoning skills when it comes to dealing with the next phases of this pandemic.   

[1] https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/60/3/712/453685

[2] https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-issues-emergency-use-authorization-yale-school-public-health

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-public-health-experts-criticize-health-canadas-decision-not-to/

[5] https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/feds-promise-help-for-surging-covid-19-test-demand-but-won-t-ok-rapid-test-tech-yet-1.5117158

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://ca.reuters.com/article/idCAKBN25S58C

[8] https://barrie.ctvnews.ca/orillia-s-covid-19-testing-centre-introduces-game-changing-new-technology-1.5109078

[9] https://www.narcity.com/news/ca/on/toronto/canadian-technology-detects-covid19-in-the-air-could-be-in-schools-by-november

[10] https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/health-canada-approves-portable-human-covid-19-testing-device-that-delivers-results-in-90-minutes-873864114.html?fbclid=IwAR1b-CPav3wFlT5ay3PlAnXCsfexyMZ0jCbtHzRam3qeCZjkJJmTVLC43r8

[11] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/toward-covid-19-testing-any-time-anywhere-67906?utm_campaign=TS_OTC_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95303425&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8vALxKzogOJYeW9LrDgolk_sPb-uzXv_A6VoBA8pg8kJny4-2BxzBn2vA2nA_2CdZsHkflG_iTiPwj05Y9YqgktuS5yQ&utm_content=95303425&utm_source=hs_email

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://abbott.mediaroom.com/2020-08-26-Abbotts-Fast-5-15-Minute-Easy-to-Use-COVID-19-Antigen-Test-Receives-FDA-Emergency-Use-Authorization-Mobile-App-Displays-Test-Results-to-Help-Our-Return-to-Daily-Life-Ramping-Production-to-50-Million-Tests-a-Month

[15] https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/health-canada-approves-rapid-covid-testing-device-as-canada-braces-for-caseload-spikes/ar-BB19A9fI?li=AAggNb9&ocid=iehp 

[16] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-19-ontario-fall-pandemic-plan-draft-copy-1.5736538

[17] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/steroid-drugs-are-an-effective-treatment-for-severe-covid-19-who-67910?utm_campaign=TS_OTC_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95002753&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9PO8beJ1n-aeSRqcFpuIpvrh7uY91fqpvN2YeCmcbNhdxdu_JkPbGfduZTB258LB7F64c-RZfbkS_EDAzaXbcZIP65iw&utm_content=95002753&utm_source=hs_email

[18] Ibid.

[19] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/antibody-based-drug-may-reduce-covid-19-hospitalizations-study-67942?utm_campaign=TS_COVID_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95982719&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9BQSahkrffLf5RFMG4LVhNy5Uj-haxciNk7BLtM_2bLlCOAGE_N6ag4BStGTvT2hEL9GgMpUijL0wvHTwEpQP0wiDnkg&utm_content=95982719&utm_source=hs_email

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/indian-study-shows-no-survival-benefit-of-plasma-in-covid-19-67931?utm_campaign=TS_COVID_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95496231&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–hScDr8KTSPXq6hinYGUcjdFLRbJVlwFAEYKevBIQbwiQeW2mVD60dEYLWY7eFYLBaV0z13B7bYmEvZaywFdfKkV-MnQ&utm_content=95496231&utm_source=hs_email

[23] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html

[24] Ibid.

[25] https://www.nytimes.com/article/covid-vaccine-a-b.html?smid=tw-share

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] https://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2020/09/10/entire-september-10-coronavirus-town-hall-part-two-sot-vpx.cnn

[29] Ibid.

[30] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/scientists-voice-concerns-over-russian-covid-19-vaccine-study-67926?utm_campaign=TS_COVID_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=95496231&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–a2cwCe98EkzmWZ7GcqQZp_d6muwpOzzU0qMZjZU-o0S8GZQcJkhCu2wzzAt3cImU0EJZbyosJRfXrplOCNR20XyeP0g&utm_content=95496231&utm_source=hs_email

[31] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/health/9-drug-companies-pledge-coronavirus-vaccine.html

[32] In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, September 10, 2020.

[33] https://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/canada/trudeau-announces-purchase-of-20000-doses-of-oxford-university-covid-19-vaccine/ar-BB19qwis?li=AAggNb9&ocid=iehp

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/researchers-say-belief-in-conspiracy-theories-poses-barrier-to-controlling-the-spread-of-covid-19-1.5114446

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] https://www.newhamburgindependent.ca/news-story/10187764-uw-chemistry-professor-calls-covid-19-fake-emergency-/ 

[40] Ibid.

[41] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53579773

[42] https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/america-votes/trump-first-lady-positive-for-covid-19-u-s-president-has-mild-symptoms-1.5129420

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.baystatehealth.org/covid19

Public Funded Education In a Pandemic

In the weeks leading up to Labour Day and the annual return to school, Canadian media outlets have provided ample coverage of the unprecedented stresses and challenges the COVID-19 pandemic have created for politicians and educators.

On September 1, 2020, CBC reported that Ontario’s school boards will need to ‘collapse’ some classes, trustees group says. It appears that school boards are coping with a dramatic increase in online learning in response to the pandemic. School boards and media covering Ontario’s education system have focused-on class sizes as a key element of funding agreements with the province.

On August 31, 2020 The Globe and Mail published an article stating that Ontario’s education unions file labour board challenge over school pandemic plans. The upshot is that Ontario’s four education unions are challening the provincial government’s approach to the coming school year….with a focus on smaller class sizes.

Back in July, The Toronto Star reported that Opening Ontario schools safely amid COVID could require up to $3.2 billion funding for staff, cleaning supplies, say Liberals, staff union.

What is absent from all of this discourse? Any evidence that educators, politicians or the media have recognized how fundamentally-flawed, ill-prepared and out-dated the design of Ontario’s education system is.

Who does seem to have recognized this issue? Administrators. CBC reported on September 2, 2020 that Ontario school boards lose 20% of education directors as daunting pandemic year looms, even quoting Alana Murray, a retiring Director in the Bluewater District that “I guess my timing was pretty good.”

The timing to recognize that Ontario’s publicly-funded education system is terribly outdated and badly in need of reform isn’t just “pretty good” – it is critical.

Federal and provincial governments are tripping over themselves, and each other, in hurried efforts to distribute supplies, maintain social distancing, fulfill online learning needs, negotiate with educate unions and sort our their funding agreements. How it will all be paid for is anyone’s guess. Or isn’t it everyone’s certainty that the costs of COVID-19, whether within the domain of education spending or across the whole public sector, will be paid via taxes?

Ontario’s government, whether anybody wants to admit it or not, is faced with a critical problem to redesign and modernize Ontario’s publicly-funded education system. No small part of that will be recognizing and addressing one of Ontario’s most expensive anachronisms – the ongoing public funding of separate Catholic schools. After COVID-19, we can’t afford it any longer.

Citations and References

  1. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-classrooms-collapse-trustees-ontario-1.5708005
  2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/ontario-school-board-director-leaving-1.5708110
  3. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontarios-education-unions-file-labour-board-challenge-over-school/
  4. https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2020/07/27/opening-ontario-schools-safely-amid-covid-could-require-up-to-32-billion-funding-for-staff-cleaning-supplies-say-liberals-staff-union.html
  5. https://www.chroniclejournal.com/prairies/bc/alberta-to-dole-out-federal-funds-for-covid-safe-schools-on-per-student-basis/article_54bca2ee-a8b8-54c4-8ceb-bcad9d7e5d76.html

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo courtesy of Dr. Richard Thain

Critically Thinking About Covid-19 – Part II

You may wish to read Critically Thinking About COVID19 PART I first.

By: Dr. Christopher DiCarlo (June 26, 2020)

Over two months have now passed since my first commentary on the Covid –19 pandemic. And in that short time period, a lot has happened. When considering information and evidence regarding a novel new virus like Sars CoV – 2, we must constantly remember our knowledge limitations. And so it is always worth repeating and remembering what we might call Rumsfeld’s Rule:

“There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

So at this point in time, what do we know, and what do we know we don’t know about this particular virus? 

Name Origin:

In case you’re wondering, there are very specific reasons why this particular novel corona virus is called Covid – 19. According to the Center for Disease Control:

On February 11, 2020 the World Health Organization announced an official name for the disease that is causing the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, first identified in Wuhan China. The new name of this disease is coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease.[2]

In April 16, 2020, Whitehouse counsellor, Kellyanne Conway said: “Some of the scientists and doctors say that there could be other strains later on, that this could come back in the fall in a limited way. This is COVID-19, not COVID-1, folks,” Conway said. “You would think that people charged with the World Health Organization facts and figures would be on top of that.”[3] In response to this startling statement of ignorance, Congressman Bobby Rush stated the following:

Dear Kellyanne, you seem to be confused, so let me break it down for you:

CO: Corona

VI: Virus

D: Disease

– : that’s a hyphen

19: 2019, the year the virus was discovered (no, there haven’t been 19 corona viruses).

Do better.[4]

President Trump, on the other hand, has called Covid-19 many different things from the China virus, to the Wuhan virus, and on June 24th:

President Donald Trump seemed confused about the origin of the “19” in COVID-19 during his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night as he riffed on various names for the novel coronavirus. “I could give you 19 or 20 names for that, right,” Trump told the student attendees, who were gathered for a rally organized by Students for Trump. He went on to give several examples including “kung flu,” a racist term targeting China, where the virus was first identified, that perhaps received the loudest cheer from the crowd. He continued: “I said, ‘What’s the 19?’ COVID-19, some people can’t explain what the 19, give me, COVID-19, I said, ‘That’s an odd name.'”[5]     

No, it’s not an odd name. It’s a perfectly rational, sane, and scientifically accurate term for a novel new virus. Enough said; moving on.


From the World Health Organization (WHO) we find that the virus originally developed in Wuhan, China sometime in December, 2019 (perhaps earlier). In their findings, the WHO states the following:

While some of the earliest known cases had a link to a wholesale food market in Wuhan, some did not. Many of the initial patients were either stall owners, market employees, or regular visitors to this market. Environmental samples taken from this market in December 2019 tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, further suggesting that the market in Wuhan City was the source of this outbreak or played a role in the initial amplification of the outbreak. The market was closed on 1 January 2020.[6]

Since then, scientists have determined that the virus has an ecological origin in bat populations which rules out conspiracy theories that it was man-made or intentionally constructed in a laboratory. 

Many researchers have been able to look at the genomic features of SARS-CoV-2 and have found that evidence does not support that SARS-CoV-2 is a laboratory construct. If it were a constructed virus, its genomic sequence would show a mix of known elements. This is not the case.[7]

Some readers will remember the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. This was another coronavirus called SARS-CoV-1, and it too, found its origins in bats. But these viruses did not directly infect humans from bats but first infected other animals.

For example, SARS-CoV-1 infected civet cats and then humans, while the virus causing the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is found in dromedary camels, and has continued to infect humans since 2012.[8]

Currently, scientists are not sure what animal the bats infected which then transmitted the SARS-CoV-2 virus to humans. Some have proposed that it may be pangolins. For those of you who may have seen the movie Contagion, you will recall that the novel new virus in the movie developed when a bat dropped an uneaten piece of fruit into a pig pen which was then consumed by a young pig which then infected a chef who was Patient Zero who then passed it on throughout much of the human population worldwide.

Ethical Dilemma 1:

For over two decades my colleagues and I have been contacting Chinese and Canadian politicians in an effort to stop or at least curb the way in which such ‘wet markets’ operate in China. Aside from the different types of animals which are being offered at these markets and the manner in which they are treated, we have tried to bring attention to the fact that the history of agriculture in general is the central reason why such viruses are transmitted to humans in the first place.

Aside: In case you’re wondering, it was due to our ancestral domestication of animals around ten thousand years ago that has led to all of our seasonal colds and flus. If we were still nomadic, the rate of such maladies would hardly exist. But once humans and animals are in close contact, the likelihood of novel new viruses crossing over into human populations increases dramatically. Because of our close proximities to domesticated and wild animals, we need to become far

Dr. C DiCarlo
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo

more conscious of what’s called ‘microbial ecology’ – that is, the relationships of multi-species pathogens at the very tiny level of causation i.e. at the level of bacteria and viruses. We must become ‘germ-aware’ not germ-a-phobic of how such pathogens arise and infect the human population. We are constantly in an arms race against mutating pathogens. And if we can understand them better and stay ahead of them, we win. Otherwise, the outcome can be catastrophic.

The ethical question that emerges from our understanding of the origin of this (and other) virus is whether or not one country has the right to tell another what they can and cannot eat – even if such practices pose world-wide catastrophic effects to other countries.

Controlling the Spread of the Disease

As we saw in my first paper, what makes the spread of this virus particularly difficult to contain is that a significantly large percentage of those infected with it, show no symptoms. This characteristic – the fact that carriers can be asymptomatic – is the single greatest reason we are all living under the conditions we now find ourselves. 

We also noted that a global viral pandemic will always follow this exact pattern of reaction:

Testing, Isolation, Anti-virals, and Vaccine (or TIAV)

To return to our acronym – TIAV, let’s now look at each element in light of current information:


Basically, there are two types of tests available for Covid19: Molecular and Antibody.

Molecular Tests are also called nucleic acid detection/amplification tests and are also known as genetic, RNA (recombinant nucleic acid), or PCR (polymerase chain reaction[9]) tests.

Antibody Tests – also known as serology (or blood) tests.                        

Molecular Tests:

In Molecular Testing, nucleic acid amplification (RNA) testing requires respiratory samples from the patient because SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus. And so nasopharyngeal swabs are most commonly used. And for those who have had one, the swab is shoved way – way, up the nose. Just ask Drake: “But yo, that test is uncomfortable though, they put that Q-tip all the way inside your thoughts!”[10] Yes, Mr. Drake is quite right. In order to assure that a sample contains the virus, a swab must reach a person’s nasopharyngeal region (where your respiratory tract meets your throat). This is where the virus first attaches and begins replicating. So there might be some slight discomfort or, as Morpheus told Neo in The Matrix: “This might feel a little weird.” But then it’s over and you can wait a few days for your results.

The next part gets a little complicated:

Samples are then processed and tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA. The test includes extraction of RNA from the patient specimen, conversion to DNA and PCR amplification with SARS-CoV-2-specific primers.[11]

This ‘nucleic acid amplification’ reveals whether or not a patient is actively infected with SARS-CoV-2 by detecting the presence of characteristic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA) in respiratory samples of patients. 

Molecular tests can yield a false negative result if the level of viral RNA in a particular sample is too low for detection, and results can be skewed if steps are not taken to ensure that the tests are performing properly in the first place. The American Society for Microbiology has developed step-by-step verification procedures to help labs develop efficient and effective verification protocols for commercial EUA [Emergency Use Authorization] COVID-19 diagnostic tests. These procedures will help ensure that data is accurate.[12]

So if you have been tested for Covid-19, this is the type of test that will tell you if you are currently infected.

However, the antibody test is, in many ways, just as important because it informs scientists about who has been infected by the virus. This type of test allows us to better understand the extent to which a population has been infected.

Antibody Tests:

Antibodies are naturally occurring proteins produced by our immune systems which respond to various types of pathogens or infections. When pathogens (disease causing organisms) enter our bodies, antibodies attach themselves to antigens on their surfaces. When the antibody attaches to or ‘binds’ to an antigen, its sole purpose is to disable, stop, or ‘kill’ the pathogen through various means.

With antibody testing, scientists can determine if SARS-CoV-2-specific antigens are mixed with a person’s blood. If so, the two will bind to one another, resulting in a color change that marks the test positive. In this way, scientists can measure the amount of antibodies produced in response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection and does not test for the presence of the virus itself. Such a test, therefore, does not indicate if a person is currently infected – rather, it measures if they have been infected.

Important Findings and Caveats:

Antibody testing reveals if a patient has been exposed to the virus but does not tell whether an active infection occurred, or whether the antibodies produced are the kind that can prevent another infection. Furthermore, it does not reveal how long protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection will last if developed. If we can determine those things, they will help inform decisions about the safety of returning to normal activities.[13]

There are several concerns regarding antibody testing. For example, such tests may yield a false negative result if the test is conducted too early and antibodies have not yet developed. As well, they can produce false positives if antibodies to coronaviruses other than COVID-19 are present (e.g., SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV). It is vitally important that such serology tests are carefully designed to determine specifically for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The value of such serological testing is to provide an understanding of the infection rates of the larger populations. This will assist in surveillance and tracking in an effort to control the spread of the virus.

Here is a good depiction of the two types of tests from the American Society for Microbiology:

Comparison of COVID-19 Molecular and Antibody Tests[14]

Currently, the number one problem with Molecular Tests which diagnose active Covid-19 infections is the time delay in getting results. When the tests first began in March, it took Ontarians up to five days to get their results. Since then, the time to receive results has improved but it still takes anywhere from 2-3 days. And this is problematic for a number of reasons.

First, there is considerable stress produced in waiting for the results while being barricaded away from family members somewhere in a home, apartment, etc. And second, people can be negative during a test, and then contract Covid-19 between the test time and the day they receive their results. If the test comes back negative, but they have since become infected, they may unknowingly infect others. We have to decrease the response time for Covid-19 testing. Luckily, there are plenty of companies working on this right now.

On the Government of Canada’s website page: ‘Testing devices for COVID-19: List of applications under evaluation’[15], states that there are 43 companies that have developed fast-resulting tests: 16 DNA and 27 Serological. But there is a problem. Before such tests can be used, they need to be examined and approved by Health Canada, the FDA, etc., for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). So if you go to the website, you will find that the status for all 43 testing devices is largely “Under Review” (or “Awaiting Response from Manufacturer”).

To date, I have contacted 4 of the 16 companies working on DNA or diagnostic tests (3 Canadian, 1 UK): Spartan Bioscience, Precision Biomonitoring, Hyris Global Diagnostics, and the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBD). Spartan Bioscience released their devices over a month ago, but they were recalled due to issues with their swabs and so will be re-releasing their revised units shortly. When I spoke with Federico Baldo (Business Developer) at Hyris Global Diagnostics, he said that they “…expect to be close to getting approved but unfortunately with these matters you can never know for sure.” He also added that he would be pleased to inform me when they received approval from Health Canada. And in speaking with the Director of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, Dr. Paul Hebert, I learned that his team has developed a rapid results-producing and inexpensive Covid-19 test. Currently, the average cost for a Covid-19 test is around $40.00/test. Dr. Hebert’s team can produce a better, faster test for $1.00/test. When I spoke to Dr. Hebert recently he told me that his team’s progress has been impeded by university regulations. When I first spoke with the CEO of Precision Biomonitoring, Dr. Mario Thomas told me that his company was simply waiting for approval from Health Canada which he then described as “imminent”. When I questioned him about the device’s accuracy, he stated: “We know our system works very well…in blind testing it had an accuracy rating of over 98%.” During the very last stages of revising this paper, Dr. Thomas contacted me to inform me that his company had received approval from Health Canada.[16] This is extremely encouraging news because, if successful, such devices could drastically reduce the number of infections within a given population. This is exactly the type of testing that is needed at this point in the pandemic. Let’s just hope there are many more such testing units produced to be massively distributed around the world and especially, to those places hardest hit.

Ethical Dilemma 2:

During a pandemic, when perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake, what should be the protocol for monitoring and considering new technologies? For example, what is the hold up with Health Canada? We all want to be assured that tests are accurate and reliable. But at the same time, we want to save lives. What is the ethical balance between the two? For every day delayed, thousands of lives are lost. But we can’t risk making the situation worse by rushing approval for devices that may be inaccurate.

In my next entry, I will definitely be contacting officials at Health Canada to learn more about their policies and procedures during a pandemic.

What is Still Needed: Rapid Response Testing

As I mentioned in Part I, the Holy Grail of testing for Covid-19 would be a fast and accurate home test that anyone could use. Right now, this doesn’t exist. But there are some companies working on making this a reality. For instance, in South Africa, Canary Health Technologies has produced a proto-type breathalyzer that is currently undergoing test trials.[17]

If such testing units were to become widely available for public/private use, this would be a game-changer in a significant way. Governments could ease travel restrictions considerably; people could meet in larger gatherings; sporting events could return to some semblance of normalcy, etc. However, at this point in time, such devices simply do not exist. And there is a big gamble in developing such testing units. If, for example, these units took longer to perfect than a vaccine, then a lot of money in research and development will be wasted. However, if a vaccine is months or even years away, then such a device would be extremely effective in easing quarantine or travel restrictions.

The single greatest need at this point in the pandemic continues to be rapid, accurate, testing capabilities. Otherwise, isolation alone, would once again become our greatest defense. However, not everyone seems to be onboard with the value of testing. On June 21, 2020, in a less-than-half filled auditorium in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, said the following:

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ They test and they test.”[18]

In what appears to be a direct flouting of consistency and logic, some members of Trump’s administration claimed it was said tongue-in-cheek while the President followed up by saying: “I don’t kid. Let me just tell you, let me make it clear.”[19] Whether or not he was kidding, it was a ridiculous thing to say and undermines what every health official in the world has been calling for: massive increases in testing.

By using Critical Thinking, we can now state that, as a conditional, if any company could produce millions of fast and accurate devices for use around the world, then it logically follows that we will be better enabled to determine positive and negative cases and track infection rates much more accurately. This, in turn, will allow for the greater mobility of human populations.


Although isolation restrictions have eased in various places around the world, cases continue to rise in places like the US, India, Brazil, and others. Ontario has recently entered Stage II of reopening[20] which allows various businesses to re-open, and gatherings of 10 people or less. Some believe this decision may be premature. Time will tell. What is important to consider at this point is how well people will remain vigilant in physical distancing and wearing masks.

In the US, a movement has begun which identifies the wearing of a mask as an impingement on human rights. As much as the Democrats and Republicans have been polarized on important issues, one more issue which has been added to the list is the wearing of masks for personal and public protection. Many on the left tend to side more with the expertise of scientists, public health doctors, etc., while many on the right tend to be somewhat suspicious of science and view the wearing of a mask as not only unnecessary but as a symbol of oppression. The evidence speaks for itself:

Though masks alone will not completely halt the spread of the virus, recent research has shown that wearing them is the most efficient way to stop its transmission. [Dr. Anthony] Fauci, at a recent talk, said everyone should wear a mask in public and it “should not be a political issue. It is purely a public health issue.”[21]

Although this again appears to be another case of autonomy vs. paternalism i.e. how much freedom should the public have vs. how much control should the government exercise over them, whatever one’s political stripe, remember: Nature always wins. And the greatest defense we have against this virus right now is, and always will be, scientific knowledge.

Ethical Dilemma 3:

With Stage 2 of the Province of Ontario’s ‘Reopening’, what are the legal and moral ramifications for employers asking their employees to return to work? We were all informed at the start of the pandemic that nobody would lose their job as a result of self-isolating at home. But now that travel and activity restrictions have eased, what happens if someone still feels uneasy about returning to work? What measures are being taken to assure their safety? According to the Ontario Government’s report: A Framework for Reopening our Province:

Keeping workplaces, employees and the general public safe as Ontario gradually reopens is essential for making the reopening of the province a success. That is why we are providing people, businesses and communities with the guidelines they need to prepare for Stage 2. The government and its health and safety association partners have released more than 100 health and safety guidance documents for multiple sectors, as well as a guidance document for essential workplaces. These documents, available at Ontario.ca/covidsafety, will cover businesses able to open in Stage 2. More guidance will be available as Ontario continues to move through the next stages of reopening and recovery. To reopen safely, employers must review the workplace health and safety guidance and ensure that appropriate measures are in place. Employers must also meet all existing occupational health and safety requirements.[22]

So these touch on the legal aspects regarding easing restrictions and gradually returning to work. But what about the moral/ethical considerations? What if someone is immuno-compromised? Or suffers from anxiety? Or simply doesn’t feel safe in such a workplace environment? What will be the new set of guidelines or policies and procedures for returning to work as we progress through the rest of this pandemic? Again, there are no easy answers, but just a few of the pressing questions we should start thinking about now.

By this point in the pandemic, I sincerely thought we would have had better, more rapid, and more accurate widespread testing available. I am disappointed that people continue to suffer and lives are being lost because we do not have these services up and running throughout the world. Hopefully, once Health Canada gives the ‘green light’ to some of the proposed testing devices, we can generate the much-needed testing at the facilities which require it the most: hospitals/clinics, retirement communities, prisons/penitentiaries, supply chains, food services, etc. Until then, unfortunately, all we can do is wait.


In my last paper, I had mentioned several developments involving anti-viral medications. Since then, we have discovered that President Trump has been taking the anti-malarial drug: hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic i.e. preventive measure, to avoid contracting Covid-19. Although studies have indicated that there is no evidence that such a drug has a preventative effect on this particular strain of the coronavirus, when asked why he was taking the drug (along with zinc), Mr. Trump responded with the apparent argument: “I’m not gonna get hurt by it…Here’s my evidence: ‘What do you have to lose?’” All of Mr. Trump’s evidence is based on a rhetorical question regarding harm. In other words, he’s making us infer his conclusion which is: “He has nothing to lose.” Not only is this a false premise, for he could possibly lose his life due to heart or other complications, it is simply a factually false statement. If there was an award for an argument’s failure to satisfy any and all logical criteria, Mr. Trump would be the grand master in this case.

Ethical Dilemma 4:

What if, based on Donald Trump’s beliefs and actions that hydroxychloroquine should be taken because people have “nothing to lose”, some of his followers copied his behaviour and became seriously ill or died? For example, if people believe that hydroxychloroquine[23] should be taken to ward off Covid-19 and as a result of side effects, die, should there be any legal or moral recourse against the President for spreading false and highly dangerous information? To consider this in some context, Trump’s actions were so stunning, that Fox’s own Neil Cavuto put out an Emergency Fox News Alert saying: “If you are in a risky population here, and you are taking this as a preventative treatment … it will kill you. I cannot stress enough. This will kill you.”[24] So if the President’s actions and/or advice e.g. injecting bleach or shining UV radiating into one’s body, harms another person, is he morally blamable? Legally culpable? Both? Neither?

Although there is no compelling evidence that hydroxychloroquine successfully prevents people from contracting the Covid-19 corona virus,[25] a recent major study in support of these findings was pulled from the leading science journal, The Lancet:

The online medical journal The Lancet has apologized to readers after retracting a study that said the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine did not help to curb COVID-19 and might cause death in patients. The study was withdrawn because the company that provided data would not provide full access to the information for a third-party peer review, saying to do so would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements, The Lancet said in a statement. “Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources. Due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted,” The Lancet said in a statement. The study was published May 22, with researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston using data and analysis provided by Surgisphere Corporation. The study was massive, with information coming from 671 hospitals around the world and the medical records of 96,000 patients.[26]

It was concluded in the study that researchers found that hydroxychloroquine not only didn’t help prevent or ease the effects of Covid-19, it actually caused heart problems and increased the likelihood of death. This led the WHO and other agencies to stop research into its efficacy.

Keep in mind that the results of the study are not in question; simply the protection of private information of those in the study has stopped third parties from confirming or falsifying the findings of the study. In science, this is the responsible thing to do; even if it raises doubts or questions regarding the truthfulness of the study.

There has, however, been some encouraging news in the development of antivirals. In the last paper, I mentioned that the drug, Remdesivir, had passed various randomized placebo controlled trials with 1090 test subjects which demonstrate “…a clear-cut significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery”.[27] Since then, remdesivir has become a much-needed drug in reducing inflammation in patients suffering from Covid-19. Such a drug can reduce a patient’s time in ICU by up to five days and has quickly become a very popular drug world-wide; so popular, that Mr. Trump decided to buy up the world’s entire supply:

The US has bought up virtually all the stocks for the next three months of one of the two drugs proven to work against Covid-19, leaving none for the UK, Europe or most of the rest of the world. Experts and campaigners are alarmed both by the US unilateral action on remdesivir and the wider implications, for instance in the event of a vaccine becoming available. The Trump administration has already shown that it is prepared to outbid and out-manoeuvre all other countries to secure the medical supplies it needs for the US. “They’ve got access to most of the drug supply [of remdesivir], so there’s nothing for Europe,” said Dr. Andrew Hill, senior visiting research fellow at Liverpool University.[28]

The Trump administration has purchased more than 500,000 doses of remdesivir from the manufacturer Gilead, which accounts for all of their production for July and 90% of their production for August and September. The patent for the drug is held by Gilead which means that no other manufacturer in the world can produce it.

Ethical Dilemma 5:

During situations like pandemics, to what extent should a major drug manufacturer prioritize who should receive their product or sell to the highest bidder? It costs billions to develop medications. So why should a company lose money by fairly distributing its product when they stand to make far more money for their stakeholders? And is there any ethical obligation for lessoning restrictions on their patent of the drug so that it may be produced in other countries? On the one hand, a drug company is in business to make money. On the other hand, they are involved in a humanitarian enterprise. There are no easy answers or solutions but when one country buys up an entire supply of a life-saving drug to the exclusion of all other countries, it does trigger our ‘fairness detectors’ and makes us wonder if such an act is ethically justifiable.

At this point in time, we have seen another drug make its way into the antiviral arsenal and it’s called dexamethasone.

Dexamethasone, a cheap, widely-available steroid, is the latest drug touted by experts in the UK as a possible treatment for COVID-19, with evidence suggesting that it can successfully reduce deaths from the virus by up to one third in severely-ill patients. After researchers at the University of Oxford announced the headline results on Tuesday – with the full results to be released later this month – the British government immediately authorised its use in treating coronavirus patients. It’s not the first time during the coronavirus pandemic – which has killed 438,000 people worldwide – that a drug has been touted as a treatment for COVID-19, famously by the U.S. President Donald Trump, who controversially tweeted that he was taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. Interestingly, it was the same researchers at Oxford that proved hydroxychloroquine did not work that suggested that dexamethasone could.[29]

Although it is still fairly early in the pandemic, some scientists have said that this new treatment might be a game-changer in the treatment of those who have been most severely affected by the virus. By my next installment, we should know better as to the efficacy of this particular antiviral treatment.   


Since my first paper, there has been quite a bit of research and development of vaccines for Covid-19. Although the  re is a rigorous 3-phase procedure for developing and testing vaccines, scientists and healthcare experts are confident that one will be ready within the next six months:

COVID-19 vaccine candidates will enter late-stage clinical studies by the end of the month, with others beginning in August, September and October, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert said on Thursday. The news comes as Moderna Inc, which is at the forefront of the country’s vaccine development efforts, reiterated earlier in the day that a late-stage trial with 30,000 volunteers would begin this month. “We may be able to at least know whether we are dealing with a safe and effective vaccine by the early winter, late winter, (or) beginning of 2021,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview to JAMA Network. Earlier on Thursday, Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said the Trump administration’s vaccine-acceleration program could generate a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine by year-end.[30]

But developing a vaccine for such a novel new virus like SARS-CoV-2 is not an easy task. And it takes time. Because we now live in what I have been calling the Age of Immediacy where information and options are available in seconds, the world has gotten in the habit of expecting medical breakthroughs to function like Amazon i.e. same-day shipping. But scientific research does not work this way. It takes time because we want to do things properly and safely. I am not sure who the above-mentioned 30,000 volunteers will be. But I do know that there is already a movement underway which brings together volunteers who wish to sacrifice their own bodies in an effort to speed up the testing trials of new vaccines. Known as ‘1 Day Sooner’[31] the movement is comprised of volunteers who want to engage in what’s called Human Challenge Testing which bypasses current ethical standards and safety measures in order to help with the development of a new vaccine. They believe that if they can help develop a vaccine one day sooner than it normally would have been, they will have saved thousands of lives. It is indeed a noble movement. But it leads to some ethical considerations:

Ethical Dilemma 6:

Should people be allowed to offer their bodies as ‘guinea pigs’ to be subjected to vaccination trials for Covid-19? Such trials would involve the injection of vaccines and then the infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in an effort to determine efficacy. It raises questions again of paternalism vs. autonomy i.e. who has the right to say what people do with their own bodies? If I could sell some of my organs to make money in some parts of the world, why can’t I offer my body as a trial host to speed up the development of a new vaccine?

Although the WHO does not sanction the wishes of such 1 Day Sooner volunteers, it did make a statement saying that if such testing were to be allowed, subjects would have to be healthy, between the ages of 18 and 30, use a safe dose of the virus i.e. one which causes illness but not severe disease, and test in secure facilities to avoid infecting others. To date, there has been no official approval of such Human Challenge Testing because as the WHO notes, there is no “escape treatment” which could rescue any test subjects if they became severely infected i.e. no one yet knows what a “safe dose” of the virus is.

With 38 vaccine trials currently underway around the world[32], we have little choice but to wait and hope. Many experts in the field of immunology believe that it’s not so much a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ such a vaccine will be available but currently can give no definitive estimated time of arrival. In March, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that it would take a year to 18 months before a vaccine was available. Although we may see one developed before then, Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins (Director of the National Institutes of Health) recently stated in the journal Science that perhaps multiple vaccines may be needed in order to inoculate billions of people worldwide.[33] We must also anticipate the possibility that even if a vaccine is developed and distributed worldwide, it is unlikely to be 100% effective. To put things into perspective the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is 97% effective in prevention and our seasonal flu shots come in at around 60% effective. Nonetheless, such a vaccine, combined with other protective measures e.g. physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, etc., should prove largely effective in defeating the virus throughout the world.

Recommendations – What Needs to be Done Now:

What the world needs right now is the development and distribution of hundreds of thousands of portable, fast, and accurate testing devices throughout the world – especially those countries most affected. Within our own province and country, all hospitals, retirement homes, police, ambulance, and fire stations, all supply side and food distributors and processors, migrant workers, borders, airports, bus stations, etc., must be equipped with such devices as soon as they become approved.

REMEMBER: This virus spreads largely because of people who are asymptomatic –which represents anywhere from around 20% to 50% of the population. And the only way to determine who has the virus is through proper testing. People who feel well, but are infected, run the risk of infecting hundreds of others. Until we have the appropriate number and types of testing devices in place, we have no choice but to rigorously practice physical distancing, isolation, and wearing masks.


I am deeply concerned that many countries around the world – especially in the northern hemisphere – are lifting isolation restrictions too much and too quickly. This will invariably lead to the spiking of cases in specific parts of the world. We are unfortunately seeing this occur in many states in America.[34] When the warm weather and sunshine of the summer arrives, many people are naturally drawn to the outdoors. Psychologically, we subconsciously think that the summer is not a time of the year to be sick. And we’ve heard that the Covid-19 virus doesn’t survive as well in warmer weather. Combine this with the fact that many people are facing what has been called ‘quarantine fatigue’[35] along with the recent #BLM protests, and you have the perfect storm of causalities which will, unfortunately, lead to a considerable spike in cases.

Ethical Dilemma 7:

With the recent death of George Floyd, many people around the world took to the streets to protest against black racism and injustice. While the world applauds the right to assembly and protest, we must also keep in mind that this (or any) virus doesn’t care about human rights. It doesn’t care about anything. It’s simply a small, replicating, machine which needs biological hosts to reproduce. No matter how noble our causes, SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t care one bit about our politics. And so we are left with another ethical consideration regarding the delicate balancing act of allowing massive assemblies of people vs. the avoidance of physical contact. Once again, this is another example of autonomy vs. paternalism. That is, we want people to be free to demonstrate their rights and to be able to assemble and protest. But in so doing, how many more lives might be lost due to the spreading of this virus? How do we balance the right to peaceful assembly with the various pandemic conditions placed on physical distancing?


Let’s never forget that now, more than ever, it is time to use our prefrontal cortexes rather than our limbic systems. During these stressful and difficult times, we need to think critically, not emotionally, about our next steps. And we must be vigilant in using Critical Thinking and Ethical and Scientific Reasoning in meeting and resolving our challenges. For these are the systems of thought that will save lives and get us through this pandemic. Let us not forget this when we get to the other side.  

[1] https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/60/3/712/453685

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

[3] https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/04/16/nation/this-is-covid-19-not-covid-1-folks-kellyanne-conway-mistakenly-suggests-name-virus-means-multiple-versions/

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://www.businessinsider.com/whats-19-trump-confused-over-covid-19-name-skips-mask-2020-6

[6] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200423-sitrep-94-covid-19.pdf

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] PCR is a laboratory technique which can make many copies of a specific segment of DNA. It is a very precise technique and can be used to amplify, or copy, a specific DNA target from a mixture of DNA molecules. This helps to determine if specific pathogens (like viruses) are present.

[10] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/drake-covid-19-test_ca_5e7678a5c5b6f5b7c5455933

[11] https://asm.org/Articles/2020/April/COVID-19-Testing-FAQs

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/medical-devices/testing/applications.html

[16] https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/health-canada-authorizes-precision-biomonitoring-to-import-and-sell-biomeme-s-sars-cov-2-real-time-rt-pcr-test-in-response-to-covid-19-869985862.html

[17] https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/in-south-africa-covid-19-breath-test-trial-set-for-june-67631?utm_campaign=TS_OTC_2020&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=89795891&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–HvBYXCH3NS4mcSIww-QaBFGQDbG1270hcvlF1ESlR1GOfCHWo8LNX8vFiyCkRgFQbdufomZwpUyAv1l3plEqdkrAJkg&utm_content=89795891&utm_source=hs_email

[18] https://khn.org/morning-breakout/joking-or-not-trumps-slow-the-testing-down-statement-stands-out-from-tulsa-rally/

[19] https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/22/politics/donald-trump-testing-slow-down-response/index.html

[20] https://www.ontario.ca/page/reopening-ontario

[21] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/29/face-masks-us-politics-coronavirus

[22] https://files.ontario.ca/mof-framework-reopening-province-stage-2-en-2020-06-08.pdf


[24] Ibid.

[25] https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/hydroxychloroquine-for-covid-19-what-do-the-clinical-trials-tell-us/

[26] https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200605/lancet-retracts-hydroxychloroquine-study

[27] https://twitter.com/NBCNews/status/1255541788154224641

[28] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/30/us-buys-up-world-stock-of-key-covid-19-drug

[29] https://www.euronews.com/2020/06/17/what-is-dexamethasone-the-new-drug-being-used-to-treat-covid-19

[30] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-covid-19-vaccines-to-enter-late-stage-trial-by-end-of-july-dr/

[31] https://1daysooner.org/

[32] https://www.raps.org/news-and-articles/news-articles/2020/3/covid-19-vaccine-tracker

[33] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6494/948

[34] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/25/world/coronavirus-updates.html

[35] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/quarantine-fatigue-real-and-shaming-people-wont-help/611482/

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on Humanist Freedoms are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.

Featured Photo Courtesy of: https://www.baystatehealth.org/covid19

Critically Thinking About Covid-19 – Part I

By Dr. Christopher DiCarlo

April 16, 2020


There is perhaps no greater time in history to think critically than during a world crisis. But what is ‘Critical Thinking’? And why is it important; especially now? Many CEOs, politicians, world leaders, and educators champion its importance, but very few know what it actually is. So allow me to be clear: Critical Thinking is comprised of a set of tools or skill set that teaches us how to carefully, reflectively, and analytically interpret, understand, and act on information.

There really are better and worse ways to think about information

Critical Thinking allows us to distinguish between fake news and

reliably-attained, evidence-based

Dr. C DiCarlo
Dr. Christopher DiCarlo

information; and then to make valid inferences or conclusions based on that information. Although the Critical Thinking skill set can point us in a direction regarding what to think, it is primarily a set of guidelines initially assisting us in how to think about information.

The ABC’s of Critical Thinking

These guidelines include tools for the responsible collection of data and information which can be stated in the form of convincing arguments. They also include a greater capacity to acknowledge biases – both within ourselves – and within others, which may affect the way in which information is presented or interpreted. As well, Critical Thinking tools train us to understand the context in which information is housed so that it is reflected faithfully and without the omission of important back-story elements. Critical Thinking skills also allow us to better understand how evidence plays a key role in supporting arguments. And finally, one of the most important tools in the Critical Thinking skill set is the ability to recognize and call out errors of reasoning known as fallacies. When political leaders favour personal biases which contradict scientific evidence, we should recognize these fallacies for what they are – irrelevant, unfounded, emotional, self-serving, and often, dangerous.

How to Critically Think About Covid-19

Having acknowledged the importance of the Critical Thinking skill set, how should we be thinking about information regarding Covid-19? First and foremost, we need to start with information that has been attained responsibly and reliably. We need to familiarize ourselves with relevant contextual and background information that is evidence-based rather than simply based on opinion.

Although no news service can be completely free of bias or vested interest, there are many reliable resources available to choose from including:

BBC News, ABC, NPR, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, Google News, NBC, The Guardian, CNN, PBS, NASA, Scientific American, Popular Science, Real Clear Science, Discovery, Nautilus, and National Geographic. 

There are various other online resources that one might find useful to fact-check or further research information regarding a particular issue: Snopes, Pressbook: Web Literacy, Politifact, Factcheck.org, Washington Post Fact Checker, Truth Be Told, NPR Fact-Check, Lie Detector (Univision, Spanish language), Hoax Slayer, Climate Feedback, SciCheck, Quote Investigator, FactsCan (Canada), El Polígrafo (Mexico), The Hound (Mexico), Guardian Reality Check (United Kingdom), BBC Reality Check (United Kingdom), Full Fact (United Kingdom), mediabiasfactcheck.com, civilination.org, domainbigdata.com, and newswise.ca. 

This list is not meant to be exhaustive of the resources available; rather, it illustrates some of the helpful and trusted sites that one may access in determining the reliability and truthfulness of information.

When it comes to knowledge – that is knowing what is true from what is mere speculation, our epistemic states of being could not have been summed up better than, believe it or not, Donald Rumsfeld. As Defense Secretary for George W. Bush, Rumsfeld summed up all possible epistemic states regarding any object of knowledge. He said:

“There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know.”[1]

Even though he was wrongly ridiculed for making these statements, his pithy depiction of epistemic brevity captures brilliantly what we should be asking ourselves with every issue we face. We should always begin with what we know, then proceed to consider what we know we are ignorant of i.e. reflective ignorance, and finally, we should be cognizant of the fact that our level of ignorance extends more deeply to the point of oblivion i.e. blind ignorance or not even being aware of what we don’t know. This is a healthy way to approach knowledge acquisition while working through uncertainty.

In regards to the latter epistemic state, David C. Logan pointed out that:

Much scientific research is based on investigating known unknowns. In other words, scientists develop a hypothesis to be tested, and then in an ideal situation experiments are best designed to test the null hypothesis. At the outset the researcher does not know whether or not the results will support the null hypothesis. However, it is common for the researcher to believe that the result that will be obtained will be within a range of known possibilities. Occasionally, however, the result is completely unexpected—it was an unknown unknown.[2]

Sometimes referred to as ‘serendipity’, every now and again, scientists discover something completely novel that they never anticipated. This leads to the discovery of an unknown unknown. But let’s start at the beginning: what do we currently know about this particular virus? 

Currently, we now know that Covid-19 is a novel new form of Corona virus which has passed from one animal species (probably bats) to another, and is using human beings as hosts which has unfortunately spread itself around the world due, in large part, to air travel. We first learned of its origins stemming from Wuhan, China. For various reasons – due both to human ignorance and political bureaucracies – the virus was not contained at its point of origin and has spread rapidly through populations causing a global pandemic.[3]

What makes the spread of this virus particularly difficult to contain is that a significantly large percentage of those infected with it, show no symptoms. This characteristic – the fact that carriers can be asymptomatic – is the single greatest reason we are all living under the conditions we now find ourselves. 

Now that we are faced with the extremely daunting tasks of avoiding or containing further infections while trying to develop ways to destroy or prevent further spreading of this pathogen, a global viral pandemic will always follow this exact pattern of reaction:

Testing, Isolation, Anti-virals, and Vaccine (or TIAV)

If you can remember the acronym TIAV, you will forever remember the order in which humans will always react to viral pandemics. Let’s look at each element of the acronym.


Due to the fact that we know carriers of Covid-19 can be asymptomatic, it has become vitally important to develop accurate tests which determine infections in real time. In various parts of the world, testing for signs of infection require people to wait for their results over a five day period. It doesn’t take much critical thinking to realize that this is far too long a time period if we wish to know accurate numbers of infections in real time. For example, based on such a system, person A could be tested on one day and produce a negative result, and then contract the virus between the test date and the result date thereby making the results of the test extremely ineffectual and potentially dangerous.

Luckily, there are new tests being developed and used to quicken the results. In Canada, the company Spartan Bioscience[4] is producing millions of units to quicken the diagnosis time of testing. But not all countries have such tests; and some tests may not be as accurate as others. So in case you’re wondering why some countries – like Singapore and South Korea – seem to be ahead of other countries in ‘flattening the curve’ of their outbreaks, it’s because they conduct massive testing which provide results much more quickly. This allows officials to more accurately know and track those who are infected and those who are not. This, in turn, can allow for greater autonomy or social movement within various communities.

At this point in time, we know that Spartan Bioscience has developed portable DNA testing devices which were recently approved by Health Canada. These devices can apparently provide accurate tests for Covid-19 in less than an hour.[5]

By using Critical Thinking, we can now state that, as a conditional, if Spartan Bioscience (or any similar companies producing fast results) can produce millions of these devices for use around the world, then it logically follows that we will be better enabled to determine positive and negative cases and track infection rates much more accurately. This, in turn, will allow for the greater mobility of human populations. But – and this is a very big but – we can only increase human mobility if we have such accurate testing capabilities. Otherwise, isolation alone becomes our greatest defense.


Without such quick and accurate testing, our greatest defense against such a pathogen is isolation. By keeping populations isolated, we can slow the transmission of the virus and limit the increase of infections which will, in turn, ease the burden on hospitals faced with increasing numbers of advanced or critical cases. Trying to isolate massive populations, however, is not an easy task; and our current world population does not have much experience in doing so. There are many people – from essential services, to the homeless, to those who simply ignore the dangers of infection – who are susceptible to contracting the virus.

Autonomy vs. Paternalism

This raises the very interesting philosophical and political issues of autonomy versus paternalism. In other words, how much freedom should individuals have versus the State’s right to act like a parent and restrict their freedom? In Wuhan, China, and other countries around the world, strict isolation was enforced. However, in the US, individual states have controlled the amount of autonomy individuals have.

The most important inference to make here is that without accurate testing with real time results, isolation is our only tool by which to lower the rate of infection and ‘flatten the curve’. By using Critical Thinking, we can logically infer, then, that once a faster type of testing is available, we will begin to see a lesser need for isolation and a gradual loosening of travel restrictions on citizens.

By using the skill set of Critical Thinking, we can now infer that, at this point in the pandemic, there are three – and only three – reasons for easing isolation restrictions:

Testing: By conducting massive and accurate testing in real time to track infection populations.

Anti-Virals: The development of novel drugs which either cure outright or severely limit the damaging health effects to those who contract the virus.

Vaccine: The development of a novel vaccine which will prevent people from becoming infected by the virus.[6]

It logically follows that the first wave of attack against the virus will be the development of accurate and effective tests. As mentioned above, this will allow epidemiologists to more accurately determined and track rates of infections and where those infections are occurring within a given population. This will then provide a more accurate picture of how and when personal isolation can gradually and strategically be lifted.


The next advancement in the war against Covid-19 will be the development of novel anti-viral medications. Currently, there are hundreds of trials being conducted worldwide to determine which drugs – or combinations of drugs – are effective in fighting this particular strain of Corona virus. Naturally, the world wants a cure as soon as possible. But we must be careful and vigilant in knowing which drugs work and especially, which ones do not. President Trump has been championing Hydroxychloroquine (a malaria drug) to combat the virus. But studies have demonstrated[7] that it is not very effective and can actually have harmful side effects to patients – especially those with underlying heart conditions.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has stated that research is being conducted on Avigan (or favipiravir), an antiviral drug developed by a domestic firm (Fuji Film) that has been effective in treating COVID-19 patients.[8] He has even gone so far as to give Fuji Film the go ahead to produce millions of pills. The problem, however, is that there is no definitive knowledge of its effectiveness and there are some bad side effects – including birth defects.

As much as we emotionally want to bring help to those suffering – and about to suffer – from the virus, the skill set of Critical Thinking trains us to ‘step back’ from our emotions to carefully and more reflectively consider how we should proceed. And this means that, at this point in the battle, any drug or vaccine development must go through stringent testing. In my latest book, I state that there are several phases for determining a drug or vaccine’s effectiveness, or efficacy, which must be carried out before such treatments ever make it to world-wide distribution and use:

Phase I: First of all, studies are initially conducted to learn about the dosages required to produce a response in the human body and about how the human body processes the drug and to learn whether the drug produces toxic or harmful effects and at what dosages.

Phase II: Second, a drug under consideration will be tested on a group of patients who have a specific disease. At this point, the drug is not a treatment per se but rather is the object of study to determine any benefits, side effects, and so on. If there are no benefits, the study stops. If there are benefits, researchers move on to Phase III.

Phase III: Finally, at this point, the intent of the drug experiment is to introduce a lasting beneficial change in the patients participating in the study with the intent to prevent or reverse the progression of the disease. There is a specific strategy involved in treatment experiments with patient participants at this stage.

For vaccine research, there are often Phase IV trials which occur after successful development at the prior three phases. This phase utilizes post-market surveillance studies to consider any and all potential adverse events with regular reports by the manufacturer to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) [9] to quickly and effectively identify potential problems after use in the population begins.

During the various Phases of drug research, scientists are utilizing the Controlled Clinical Trial. Clinical research on drugs or surgical treatments are undertaken in order to provide answers to specific questions such as these:

  • Will this treatment prevent or remedy a particular disease?
  • Will this treatment do more good than harm to patients with this particular disease? 
  • Will this treatment do more good than available alternative treatments?

The central idea behind controlled clinical trials is to reduce bias in order to maintain objective, reliable observations. If scientists are not careful, their own biases can skew their understanding, rendering research useless thereby creating a false belief that ineffective or harmful treatments are therapeutic when in fact, they are not. The purpose for establishing a clinical trial is to determine the effectiveness of a therapeutic treatment. The word ‘trial’ indicates that there is a comparison between two or more potential outcomes.

Sometimes the outcomes compared are null, or to consider the option of having no therapeutic treatment. At other times, trials may involve comparisons between current and newly developed treatments. In the case of the latter, the goal of the trial is to determine which treatment is superior to another in, say, safety or effectiveness. The word ‘controlled’ refers to the comparative null set or group that receives no therapeutic treatment. It is often the case that a control group will receive a placebo rather than the actual treatment in order to compare the outcomes or effects of the study group. So there are often two groups that have a particular ailment. One group will be given a new therapeutic treatment, while the other group will be given either a placebo or competing drug.

The most important aspect of such studies is that they are blinded. This is a creative and novel use of what we might call ‘enforced ignorance’. Researchers deliberately single-blind or double-blind their experiments in order to maintain objectivity when compiling and later reading data.

Controlled clinical trials in which the patients do not know what group they are in are known as single-blinded studies. However, when neither the patients nor the administrators of the test know which group they are in, the study is said to be double-blinded. The purpose of blinding a clinical trial is to limit bias on the part of the administrators. In other words, if neither the administrators of the test nor the subjects know who is in which group, this will ensure greater objectivity in determining the effectiveness of the treatment. Only the lead researcher knows who is in the control group and who is in the test group. By blinding the administrators and the subjects of the trial, the lead researcher can prevent bias on two levels: at the level of the participants and at the level of the administrators.


Currently, throughout the world, there are hundreds of drug and vaccine trials being carried out.[10] The greatest obstacle in determining what potential treatments are safe and effective is time. Right now, the world just wants to get back to normal. However, scientists cannot simply speed up the process of trials because, in so doing, they may approve a drug or vaccine which either doesn’t provide results or perhaps can even make things worse.[11]

Since vaccines take much longer to develop, we can logically infer that an anti-viral treatment will likely be developed sooner than a vaccine. Should a successful antiviral treatment develop over the next few months, it will help to flatten the curve considerably. It will also provide hope for those who suffer most from the harmful effects of the virus. This, in turn, will help buy some time for those front-line staff and ICU hospital workers until a vaccine can be developed.

Unless and Until – The New Normal

One final aspect to consider: unless and until a safe and effective vaccine is developed, the world will be forced to live according to a new ‘normal’. Travel restrictions can conceivably be loosened with proper testing and anti-viral drugs. However, we will not get back to a pre-Covid-19 existence until all humans can be protected from the virus. And Critical Thinking allows us to infer that there are limited ways that this can happen: either the virus will be eradicated naturally from the world – as we saw with SARS and MERS; or there will be global inoculations through vaccinations to prevent the contraction and spread of the virus – or perhaps, a combination of both will occur simultaneously.

Recommendations – What Needs to be Done Now:

Accurate testing and tracking in real time needs to be set up as soon as possible at all of the following locations:

  • Hospitals/Clinics 
  • Retirement Communities 
  • Prisons/Penitentiaries 
  • Supply Chains 
  • Food Services 
  • Financial Services 
  • Telecommunications and IT infrastructure/service providers 
  • Emergency Responders 
  • Military 
  • Maintenance 
  • Transportation services 
  • Manufacturing 
  • Agriculture and food production 
  • Construction 
  • Resources and Energy 
  • Community Services 
  • Research Institutions

At each one of these facilities (and more), testing must be done consistently so that identification of infection can be accurately determined, tracked, and controlled. Without such testing, easing isolation restrictions will undoubtedly lead to a second or third wave of infection rates.

When you read or watch a media report claiming that a country is taking precautions by taking peoples’ temperatures, red flags and alarms should go off in our heads. And this is because a large percentage of people who are infected with the virus are asymptomatic – they experience and display absolutely no overt effects from virus – like fevers, body aches, tiredness, etc. Therefore, using our Critical Thinking skills, we can logically infer that testing for physical symptoms will only do a partial job of identifying and tracking viral infections. So if we simply let all people without symptoms move about within a given society, we will continue to see a surge or increase of affected cases. This is why accurate testing in real time must be done excessively and redundantly. Without a vaccine, it is literally the only way we can be sure of infection rates. And we should not limit isolation unless and until we can test at this level.

Conclusions and Caveats:

One final aspect to consider is human population behaviour once isolation restrictions have been lifted. Currently, some people – particularly in the US, but there have been some Canadians – who have begun picketing in protest of the ‘lock-down’.[12] They are demanding that the travel bans and home isolation orders be lifted so they can return to their ‘normal’ lives.

There are obvious and great problems with these gatherings. Such gatherings will only worsen the spread of the virus which will inevitably and ironically, lengthen the time people have to self-isolate. Part of the reasoning behind such gatherings is that the virus is no more deadly than the common seasonal flu; and that we should just let it ‘run its course’. This is sadly misguided. What we do know is that Covid-19 kills, on average, ten times as many victims as regular flu strains. So it definitely is more dangerous.

Alone and Isolated

And finally, what many do not realize is the horrific way in which this particular virus takes lives. Because of the nature of the disease – its transmission, the likelihood for contagion, its pathology, etc. – those who suffer worst from the virus, usually die alone and isolation. And because of our current state of world-wide self-isolation, funerals and burials have been restricted which has severely affected the grieving process for millions of people worldwide. The long term effects this will have on loved ones will be felt strongly and for years to come. So we should be preparing our mental health experts to anticipate an increase in therapeutic need when the world emerges eventually and successfully from this pandemic.  

Now, more than ever, it is a time to use our prefrontal cortexes rather than our limbic systems. During world crises, we need to think critically, not emotionally, about our next steps. It is my great hope, that when this world, our country, and our neighbourhoods return back to some level of normalcy, we will not forget how this happened or how we overcame it. We must continue to strive to put Critical Thinking at the forefront of our education and political systems at all levels. These are the skills needed at any given time in our lives. But they are most needed when we commonly face a world-wide crisis.


[1] https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/60/3/712/453685

[2] Ibid.

[3] To track its global spread, see: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

[4] https://www.spartanbio.com/

[5] At the time of publication, I had attempted to contact the COO and CEO of Spartan Bioscience to determine their productivity and efficacy of such units.

[6] There is a potential fourth possibility wherein the virus dies out of existence similar to SARS, but we are nowhere near that possibility a this point in time.

[7] https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/hydroxychloroquine-for-covid-19-what-do-the-clinical-trials-tell-us/

[8]  https://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2020/04/12/japan-coronavirus-anti-flu-drug-abe-ripley-dnt-vpx.cnn

[9] https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/ensuringsafety/monitoring/vaers/index.html  

[10]  https://www.visualcapitalist.com/every-vaccine-treatment-covid-19-so-far/  

[11] For an excellent account on the current process, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_drug_development

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/17/far-right-coronavirus-protests-restrictions

Featured Image of COVID-19 Courtesy: https://www.baystatehealth.org/covid19