There is something special about a global response to an epidemic. But for many of us, it will seem like our lives have been flipped upside down, you don’t even need to be a teenager in Philadelphia who has been sent to live with their rich Uncle.

This is my attempt to go through my life as normal as possible, while taking note of how things are changing and how we are all pulling together to tackle the spread of the virus.


New posts here everyday.

Day 3. Soap Hoarders

A few days into the global outbreak and it seemed like most people didn’t get the memo. Supermarket supplies were still ample and we were all shopping as we normally would. There was no panic buying in stores, anywhere that we could see or that was being reported on the news. A few days later, the realisation that the virus could spread and be labelled as a pandemic saw shoppers rushing to buy anything they could, or you would think so. 

The first things to go: toilet paper, soap and hand sanitiser. I didn’t join into the shopping frenzy; by the time I went to the store, all these were gone. Oddly though, bars of soap and shower gels were still in abundance. So surely no one is so desperate. This panic shopping is a fear that everyday essentials would not be available, and not quite at the stage of being triggered to find replacement items. 


If you are struggling to find hand soap, you can always try to use shower gel before any other type of soap-replacement. It has the same ingredients as hand soap, though some might not have the ingredients dermatologically tested for sensitive hands. In real desperate times, dishwashing liquid (dish soap, the kind you use by hand, not by dishwasher) is good too. Though as they are commercially made to tackle hard-to-removed grease and oils, they will also remove your naturally occurring skin oils. So using dishwashing liquid repeatedly, is not the most healthy approach. If you must use it, apply hand moisturiser after each wash to help your skin retain some oils. On this note, the same applies for hand sanitiser (if you can actually find some), especially to people with sensitive skin. It will always be best to wash your hands whenever possible. 


Anyway, I happened to buy one of the last liquid hand soaps available, I must admit that I myself am a bit lazy to use the bar of soap. It soon became very clear that soap was not coming back to the shelves any time in the near future. So the bottle of 500 mL liquid soap became a treasured item. So I needed to make sure it would last a few weeks. 

Method and Rationale

First, I had to take into account that it is not certain that each bottle comes in at 500 mL of liquid soap; some bottles have more, others have less. I had also used some, which I did not measure. I estimated that the bottle contained at least 400 mL of liquid soap when I started my measurements. 

Then, using a small graduated tube I poured in a squirt from the bottle (squirt sounds like the wrong word to use). The liquid is very viscous, and it took some time for it to settle to the bottom of the tube. Once it settled the volume was at 1.5 mL, though I imagine there to be some uncertainty. I only had one tube, so I could only have the one replicate. Approximately the same amount of liquid weighed 2 g. Though the sensitivity of this balance isn’t high, so we can imagine this as being less or more than 2 g. 

I would consider a small squirt somewhere at 1/4 and 1/6 of the total volume of one full squirt. This means that every time I was my hands, the minimum that I would be using is about 0.25 to 0.40 mL of liquid soap. Since some times I might use a bit more or a bit less, on average I would say I use around 0.35 mL of liquid soap. This creates a nice lather, which works well with my hand size. In addition, I typically do two washes per hand washing activity. This means, I could potentially be using anywhere between 0.5 mL to 0.8 mL of hand soap per session. 

Okay, now for the deviations of activity. Sometimes I will forget what I am doing or what I am measuring, and I will take a full squirt from the bottle. This is counted as double of what I usually use. When it is a quick wash, I also might only dispense once. Other times during the day, I might wash hands in the kitchen sink with dishwashing liquid. So counting “times washing hands” is only the number of times when hands are washed in the sink (and specifically, the sink where the soap will remain for the duration of this study). 

Measuring the activity. I am quite forgetful, and I will not remember the number of times I dispense from the soap bottle. Therefore, I have placed a mechanical tally counter away from the sink and every time I dispense a small amount of liquid from the bottle (0.75 mL, one unit), I record as one dispensing. 

I have established the amount I dispense every time is 0.75 mL (made up from the average of minimum and maximum dispensed per squirt, one unit). Note, that it doesn’t appear that liquid is released linearly to how the dispensing mechanism works. 

Preliminary Results

The system seems to work well. On the first day, the bottle was used 9 times (0.75 mL per time). Then we can expect that my behaviour had at least 1 time that I either did not dispense twice (indicative of a quick wash) or that I forgot to record the activity. The former seems to me to be the case, as I was paying a lot of attention to logging my activity. 

The second day, I recorded 10 washes. 

Approximately 50 uses corresponds to a difference in volume equivalent to a change in 1.2 cm (liquid line). This suggests that I am underestimating the volume used per wash (originally, one unit estimated to be 0.25 mL). If this is the case, then I could be using 3 times more than I estimate unit. Therefore, let’s suppose that I am using 0.75 mL per wash (1.5 mL per washing session), then in 50 uses I have used nearly 40 mL of liquid soap. The bottle has about 11 cm left of liquid, which is approximately 9.2 more 50-set uses. That means there is about 370 mL left over at this stage (working on this assumption, we can also estimate that there was 420 mL of liquid soap to start off with). 

Hypothesis

Estimation A: Assuming a starting volume of 400 mL and using 0.75 mL per use.

Based on assumption A (evidence from volume of liquid soap), I expect the bottle of soap to last 530 times, which is equivalent to 270 hand washing sessions. This could be spread over the course of about 27 days or just under a month. 

Estimation B: Assuming left over amount of 370 mL based on approximation to height of liquid line. 

Based on evidence provided through assumption B (evidence from height of liquid line), there is about 370 mL remaining for liquid soap, this is because in 50 dispenses there is about 40 mL of liquid soap. Assuming a starting volume of 370 mL, then I can use the bottle for another 490 times. If we take the starting volume to be 420, as calculated from these estimates, then, the total number of times I used one unit of liquid soap is 540 times (540 tally counts). This is comparable to my estimations by measuring by volume (Estimation A). 


I will have plenty to be doing every day for the next couple of months, and I will report back what I found. As someone who in the past has had extreme OCD, and who has mild symptoms now, my behaviour now, given guidance from the government, doesn’t deviate much from my typical behaviour. I typically will wash my hands before leaving my flat and after arriving from the outside, and any other time when I feel that I have come into contact with something that is dirty or is covered in germs. 

I will repeat this experiment with the next full bottle of soap, whenever that might be.


Day 2 – Staying at Home

It feels that this lockdown will last weeks, if not months. And staying at home for many of us will be difficult to deal with in these challenging times. But some of us might be living under different conditions, which for them staying at home isn’t so bad. After all, it’s about balance of one’s life and activities, which can still be accomplished despite the social distancing measures.

For some people, to be confined in a closed space, can be a living nightmare. For me however, it is less so, and perhaps what I have been living for all this time. For starters, I seldom go outside or go for runs, though my lab group has been wanting me to. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day a large mob showed up outside my house with pitch forks and torches demanding that I go out to Saturday Park Run. Funny thing is that I used to enjoy running when I was younger, and sports in general. As a teenager I was part of the District Unified Swim Team in Cook County, IL, USA. But it’s not like I wanted to be part of that swim team, it was more pressured on by my parents. 

The same thing went when I wanted to learn to play the violin, because growing up with my father listening to classical music, I thought that’s something he might approve. The same went for when I learnt to play the trumpet and the piano. I was 21 when I decided to self-teach myself to play guitar, and learn the songs that I wanted to play. As for recreational activities, I have always preferred the quieter arts: writing, reading, pretending to be different characters in theatre class. Not much interest for outdoor sports. Though admittedly I once signed up for a rugby team, though that was later when I was 18 and I didn’t do much, except tackle other players that appeared slimmer than me.


Anyway, I also have a fear of the outside, mainly caused by fear of crowds and open spaces (agoraphobia), though this is largely more a fear of leaving the comfort, or rather, safety on my home. I suppose this is a result of growing up in one of Latin America’s murder capitals, not to mention being born during a civil war. There’s always a freedom to be outside, but in places like this, that freedom is often robbed from you and living in constant fear is the way of life. So for the part of having to stay at home, that is not a big problem for me as it would be for other people. 

When I first moved to the UK, I lived in London. It was fine until the stories of late night muggings with machetes started to surface around my East London flat. It took me more than a year to gain to confidence to visit the home of one of my closest friends, who lived about 30 minutes away from my flat at the time. I also have a trend of sleeping through events such as low magnitude earthquakes, and more recently, London Riots of 2011, despite living on one of the main streets were gatherings took place. I could see myself sleeping through most of this without worry of it going on. 


Finally, I am very comfortable with the luxury of technology and access to the world without leaving my house. Let’s get it done quickly though. I use both MacOS and Windows; I grew up with using both, mainly the former at school and latter at home. Though personally my favourite is always going to be Windows XP, followed by Windows 7. Though, recently, in 2016 I moved almost entirely to MacOS, mostly for work-related purposes. Let’s be serious, no self-proclaimed PC gamer will ever acknowledge Macs as gaming machines. And as gamer myself, I keep a dedicated gaming PC in the background so I can play games. Second to my love of computers, I am fan of desks and monitors, and IKEA makes some really nice, simple working surfaces. 

So self-isolation for gaming fanatic, hermits like me might not be so bad after all. And perhaps I am being too extreme in my description. I think I have been better at facing challenges and tackling my fears. And I feel that it is much easier to commit to something when there is a duty and responsibility to do so. Ironically, the duty for most of us right now is to stay at home, and minimise the time that is spent outside with others.

At least the sun is shining and the days seem to be brighter. 


Day 1 – This can’t be so bad, can it?

It is almost difficult to accept how one’s life can change overnight, more so when it’s the lives of a quarter of the entire world population. Many of us will either be entering into a period of self-isolation, or quarantine or have already been through the first couple of weeks. It is important however, that we slow the spread of the virus, ideally by placing restrictions on the way we essentially function as a population. But this mustn’t come as a surprise. Viruses will take advantage of tightly packed cities from which the disease can travel from host-to-host (effectively more like coast-to-coast). 

It is no surprise that we are all connected to one another. In fact, to reach the entire population, it is said that each one of us needs to have five close friends. In theory, if everyone were to have five close friends, eventually, through mutual friends everyone could easily affect a person on the other side of the world. We can see the trend of the transmission and from it determine that this is not about the virus passing between one or two people per day, but through several people who might unknowingly have become hosts while brushing shoulders with an infected person. Though the scary part is that there doesn’t need to physical contact, and we don’t really quite grasp the dynamics of the transmission. 

That is why self-isolation is important. Ironically, through the same mechanism that enable life (cell proliferation, that doubles the number of cells through each division cycle), the number of affected hosts has the potential to double, increasing the risk of those being infected. Official numbers haven’t yet shown a doubling in number of confirmed cases, but those numbers should be trusted with caution. We don’t know for certain how many people don’t have access to testing kits and more importantly, there will be some who will choose not to be tested, regardless if they have the opportunity to and others that may not even know they are infected, mistaking their symptoms for a milder cold or flu. 

And would we be able to handle numbers that are ten times what they are now? Would our response be any different? Would be see the future as an opportunity to change the way that we have lived in the last 20 years? Probably not. But there is some glimmer of hope for change. In 2002 a similar epidemic broke out in Asia, caused by the same group of the virus, SARS-CoV, which caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome. The current pandemic is caused by SARS-CoV-2, though this is more commonly referred to by the media solely by the disease it causes: Covid-19. In fact, there has been several attempts to refer to this virus in different ways, with some proposing it to be called HCoV-19, implying that it a type of human coronavirus, and not of within the naturally occurring SARS-CoV strains which are usually solely identified through their genome sequences [1]. However, despite referred to as coronavirus (which refers to a group of related viruses), according to WHO, Covid-19 is best for public communication purposes, as it is irrespective of the country in which this virus initially appeared or the disease that it causes. That being said, this is because of the fear that it may be similar to the SARS epidemic in 2002, particularly among Asian countries, who were most affected by that outbreak. 

Nevertheless, the glimmer of hope is that the countries that have been able to control this virus have been those who have in the past been affected by similar strains, which admittedly had higher fatality rates. They have done this through a community response, in which every person within that community knows their responsibility in slowing down the spread, by taking precautions such as wearing face masks, staying at home, avoiding public transport or crowded places, and generally just being more conscious on how viruses spread. When I visited Hong Kong for the first time, and Asia as a matter of fact, it struck me how everything was very clean. Workers cleaning rails with disinfectant, wiping walls near rest areas or seats in shopping centres. Also, the general law of no spitting outside or being stared at if one happened to sneeze or cough without a mask on. Perhaps it is a bit of fear that resonates across every individual who lived through the epidemic. And perhaps that will be something that more of us will remember when this pandemic is over. 

So there is hope that it will pass, but it will take its toll, we cannot forget about that. And it will come from those we expect are most at risk, and also from those we don’t expect are at risk. That is the uncertainty of this virus, and of any novel illness. Until the research is done on it, we just won’t know. And we must resort to solely observing as time goes and forming conclusions qualitatively, until we can analyse patients’ data with more accuracy. And this will perhaps change people attitude to personal hygiene in the future. But not only that: healthy eating, the importance of exercise, dismissal of activities such as smoking or excessive drinking. It seems that we have this understanding that the virus does not affect those without underlying health conditions, but that doesn’t quite explain why some that are reported to be generally healthy have perished due to the coronavirus. And this is where an individual’s history plays a role, and past, not only within their lives or through the lives of their ancestors. Coded within our genomes, and manifested in our lives through epigenetic mechanisms. 

That’s why there is so much we don’t know about this yet.

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