COVID-19 Transmission Back in the News
Dr Victor Luca
Published The Beacon 11-Jun-21
This pamphlet was delivered to letter boxes in the district in May.
On the 8th of April 2020, I wrote an opinion piece in this paper entitled “Transmission of Covid-19 compared with influenza”. I had started researching and writing this article in January 2020 and finally submitted it to the Beacon toward the end of March. The article can be found on my blog (https://www.votevictorluca.com/blog/categories/covid-19).
When the article was published we were near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and we weren’t sure if we were going to come out of it unscathed. Not long after that we went into level four lock down.
My intention in writing the article was to synthesize my research of the rapidly expanding scientific literature on the COVID-19 pandemic and provide my community the best available information on the subject so that people could protect themselves. I had a particular interest in understanding the mode/s by which COVID-19 was being transmitted. My conclusion that aerosol transmission was an important factor in the spread of the disease was inescapable. Since the science regarding the transmission of Influenza A by aerosols was settled, and since the influenza viral particle (virion) and SARS-CoV-2 are of similar dimensions and density, then the odds strongly favored a similar mechanism for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2. The importance of this conclusion was difficult to overestimate in providing useful guidelines in regards to personal protection against the disease.
In subsequent articles (also on my blog) I elaborated on this and spoke about the importance of factors such distance, time and shielding. These are the same means of protection that one would employ to protect against inhalation and ingestion of nuclear radiation within a radiochemical facility. I probably did not mention that I had recently designed and overseen the construction of such radiochemical research facilities in both the Australia Nuclear Science & Technology Organization and at the Argentine Nuclear Energy Commission. These radiochemical facilities are similar in nature to the biosecurity laboratories used for experimental research on biological pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. BioSecurity Laboratories are referred to as BSL x where x is the level of protection that is offered. The most secure biohazard laboratories are BSL 4.
Not long after writing my article I entered into an e-mail ping pong match (a tête-à-tête) with the folk at our Ministry of Health (MoH) and I have a nice long e-mail thread showing how hard I tried to convince them to take note of airborne transmission. I received polite and comforting return e-mails from bureaucrats assuring me that the MoH had our backs. The MoH had uploaded to their web site a pathetic research paper on the subject of transmission and masks entitled “Review of science and policy around face masks and COVID-19” and dated 15-May-21. I found holes in this research paper and lots of cherry picking and felt compelled to complain about the scholarship and the conclusions. The document was soon taken down from the MoH web site which amounts to an admission of how poorly crafted it had been. Although the names of the authors of this master work were not provided, I was left wondering if they weren’t early career researchers or even graduate students; the people I have been teaching. Kia ora MoH.
Aside from hammering airborne transmission of COVID-19 in this newspaper, I also contacted Newshub in July of 2020 and spoke to one of their reporters. I emphasized that whilst it may have seemed that at that stage we had things under control here in Aotearoa, there was clearly still a need to keep transmission front and center and emphasize the use of face masks. The reporter I spoke to fobbed me off thinking that nothing I said was compelling enough to warrant bringing the matter to people’s attention. I eventually gave up, and in August 2020, following a minor outbreak, we finally mandated the use of face masks on public transport.
Last week readers may have noticed that the subject of aerosol transmission of COVID-19 was back in national media such as TVNZ. This time reporting related to managing COVID-19 cases at our so-called Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities that occurred this year. A young research fellow from the University of Auckland was interviewed and he basically repeated what I had been saying for more than one year. So it seems that the penny finally dropped for the geniuses at the MoH who finally had to admit that COVID-19 transmission at MIQ facilities was probably facilitated by inadequate ventilation systems in these hotels. The ventilation systems in hotels are never designed to deal with small airborne virus particles. As for the two meter distance rule, I mentioned my times in subsequent Beacon articles that this was a load of bunkum considering that organic aerosol particles can remain suspended in air almost indefinitely and travel great distances.
All I can say is that, if we have got through this pandemic so far, it is less by good management than good luck. I say good luck because we have the fortune of being an isolated island nation of only five million relatively compliant people with some level of trust in our authorities. However, when it comes to such important matters we should be guided by the science which always involves a healthy dose of skeptism and an ethos of being thorough and never leaving any stone unturned. It would also help if in matters of such importance our national media really were better at listening to those outside bureaucratic authority structures who have experience at dealing with toxic materials. As I have said many times, this pandemic is far from over.
The longer we take to eliminate this virus through such measures as efficient vaccine roll-out, the more chance the virus evolves through mutation and becomes more deadly and vaccine-resistant. In this regard it would seem to me that we are botching the roll-out also. A few weeks ago we will all have received in our mail boxes a pamphlet entitled “Our COVID-19 Vaccination Plan” in which it was stated “There’s no need to call anyone. We’ll contact you”. Last week when visiting my doctor’s surgery I was given another pamphlet and told that I needed to call 0800 829 001 for an appointment. So much for ‘don’t call us we’ll call you’. On calling, I was to be informed that you can only get an appointment
if you are over 75 years of age and it doesn’t matter if you have pre-existing conditions.
Is this what you call good messaging? Come on MoH, get your acts together please.