Readers ask about coronavirus, and weigh in on climate change coverage

February 29, 2020 cover

Come together

Climate change is altering the world at an increasing pace, transforming ecosystems and harming indigenous communities. Scientists observing these changes are frustrated and grieving, Jonathan Lambert reported in “When grief comes with the job” (SN: 2/29/20, p. 22).

Readers were moved by the story and many shared their experiences observing ecological changes in their own backyards.

“I live at a lake that is maintained by natural springs and I’ve been there all my life,” reader Rhonda Embelton wrote. “My heart breaks for my beloved lake. Frogs declining, I don’t see bats anymore, I could go on and on. Young people don’t miss what they don’t see, so I feel that I have a responsibility to do what I can, as little as that may be! Thank you, to all scientists [who] work hard to reverse and bring awareness to everyone.”

Lamberts story brought reader Rebecca Hepburn to tears. “I’m no environmentalist, but there are less and less birds in my yard, my neighbors poison the earth to make their yards look better and the fertilizers and pesticides roll into our yard,” Hepburn wrote. “Anyway, thank you for this. It makes me feel a little less crazy.”

Patric Hedlund, a managing editor at a small California newspaper, detailed his experience diving among coral reefs. “I am familiar with the distress that can be overwhelming at times to see the impact on nature of human choices,” Hedlund wrote. “As writers and journalists, we try to articulate the … dread, in hope that our words can … mobilize others to take effective action. But human change is glacial, while warming is accelerating exponentially,” he wrote. “Hope is a resource that can be self-regenerating by action or depleted by stubbornly resistant systems and attitudes. The children get it. They hold the seeds of hope that will fuel the urgency that is needed now. But they need all of us — and all our higher-order institutions — to … make this a priority.”


Science News reporters Tina Hesman Saey, Aimee Cunningham, Jonathan Lambert and Erin Garcia de Jesus are working hard to keep you up to date on the coronavirus pandemic. As cases rise, the team is answering reader questions about COVID-19.

“Why are people in such a tizzy about it?” reader Joe B. asked. “With regard to numbers killed, influenza in the U.S. alone far surpasses it. It just seems like the level of concern is disproportionate to the actual threat.”

COVID-19 is many times deadlier than the flu. Like the flu, this virus seems to hit older people hard. Unlike the flu, there isn’t yet a vaccine. And because this virus is new, no one has developed immunity against it. That means everyone is susceptible to get-ting infected and transmitting the virus to others, so it can spread rapidly and widely. If numbers of U.S. cases continue to rise rapidly, like in other countries, COVID-19 patients could have to compete with other sick people for hospital space. Too big a spike could overwhelm hospitals.

Scientists worry that the virus could take hold in the United States, causing yearly epidemics like the flu, which killed about 34,000 Americans during the 2018–2019 season. That means we would have another serious respiratory disease to deal with regularly.

Reader Ken M. asked if there are two strains of the coronavirus, one that causes mild symptoms and another that has more severe effects.

There are not two strains of the virus going around in the United States or elsewhere. A study published online March 3 in the National Science Review claimed there were two types of the virus infecting people. One of the supposed types had a particular mutation. This type was more prevalent in Wuhan, China, in the early stages of the outbreak and produced more severe symptoms, researchers suggested. But that mutation doesn’t change the virus’s proteins and probably has no effect on disease severity, other experts say.