Summary of Why the Coronavirus Is So Confusing

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Why is it that the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, makes some people mortally ill and others not? How contagious is it really? How many have been infected so far? Answers to these questions remain largely in the dark. Part of the problem may be the unprecedented scale of the pandemic itself. Science journalist Ed Yong offers a guide to navigating and trying to grasp a pandemic that has overwhelmed just about everyone.

About the Author

Ed Yong is a British science journalist and a staff writer for The Atlantic. He is the author of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.



The causes of the coronavirus pandemic are easy to misunderstand.

By the time the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, came to broad public attention, confusion about exactly what was causing the COVID-19 epidemic was already widespread. Part of the problem may be that, in addition to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus manifests in many other versions. Several coronaviruses are responsible for what is commonly known as the cold, and they have moderate symptoms; two others, including MERS, are infrequent but cause serious illnesses. Scientists believe that hundreds of other coronaviruses, and potentially thousands, are already present just in China’s bat population, which is likely where SARS-CoV-2 originated.

A coronavirus is unlikely to leap from a bat to a vulnerable human, but in many Chinese villages, people live close to bat populations, and with many iterations of the coronavirus, the chances over time become less improbable. And, a single exposure can cause a pandemic. But despite the fact that the coronavirus has many incarnations, SARS-CoV-2 appears to mutate at a predictable rate, and consequently the world is dealing ...

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