How Many People Have Died?

In your mom’s closet or in a shoe box under the bed, you might find a fancy-looking colored piece of paper that says “Birth Certificate” on it. Your parents probably got that birth certificate from the hospital right after you were born. In fact, if your neighbors or classmates were born at a hospital, they were given birth certificates too. So, if you wanted to know how many babies were born this month, you could go to all the hospitals and ask them how many birth certificates they made in the past 30 days. 

Just as a birth certificate is made when a baby is born, a death certificate is made when someone dies. Even if a person doesn’t die at hospital, a doctor can examine the body and determine what caused the person’s death. That cause of death, along with other health problems the person had, are then written on the death certificate. So, if you wanted to know how many people died of COVID-19, you would count all the death certificates that listed “COVID-19” as a cause of death. But sometimes it can be tricky to know whether or not COVID-19 was the cause of death. 

If someone dies in a hospital with pneumonia after testing positive for COVID-19, then COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death. That person might have also had diabetes or kidney problems, and those details are written on the death certificate, but not as a cause of death. If someone dies in a car accident and tests positive for COVID-19, the car accident is listed as the cause of death and COVID-19 is listed as a disease the person died with, not the disease they died of. 

So far, this seems pretty straightforward. But it gets complicated for diseases that COVID-19 increases the risk of getting but doesn’t directly cause. For example, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, even if they have no lung issues. It’s also tricky if someone dies but their body can’t be tested for COVID-19. The family might report that the person had COVID-19 symptoms but, without a test, is that enough evidence to say that the person died of COVID-19? Early in the pandemic this was a big issue.

Even though it’s difficult sometimes to tell whether someone has died from COVID-19, agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have written guides to help doctors decide. As we learn more about the disease and testing becomes easier, we get better at knowing if someone has died of COVID-19 and our counts become more accurate.

Author: Zarina Akbary (BioBus Junior Scientist)
Original COVID-101 article by Gretchen Snoeyenbos Newman, MD

Can You Get COVID-19 More than Once?

With COVID-19 spreading everywhere, there’s a lot of fear and false information about the virus spreading with it. News of people getting COVID twice might have popped up on you or your friends’ social media feeds. But, you don’t have to worry because many stories about COVID reinfection, or being infected with the coronavirus more than once, aren’t really backed up by doctors.

Let’s talk about COVID immunity. Typically, when you catch a virus once, you might gain some immunity to it, meaning the next time the virus enters your body, you will fight it off fast enough that the virus’ symptoms won’t affect you very much before it disappears. For COVID-19, this means that the virus probably won’t cause you to have very intense symptoms if it enters your body more than once.

Can you get COVID more than once? Testing positive for COVID more than once usually means that the person never completely got rid of all the virus from the first infection. It may possible, but is highly unlikely, to catch COVID a second time.


Author: Sammy Tavassoli (BioBus Junior Scientist)
Animator: Sammy Tavassoli
Original COVID-101 Article by Brad Kern Phd

Will COVID-19 be worse in winter?

Do you ever wonder why your body changes as it gets colder? Or how you see more people catching the flu or a cold in the winter? Common cold coronaviruses have been found everywhere no matter what season. However, in most of the United States, the common cold coronavirus and seasonal influenza infections are at their highest in the winter. Why is this the case? Do these viruses have a favorite season? Let’s find out!

Do you ever notice your nose is itchier in the winter or your lips feel dry? That’s caused by the drier air!  Tiny virus particles love this drier, denser air because they float in the air longer making it easier to infect new people. Do these particles act the same way in the summer? No, the air has different conditions that the particles don’t like! In the summer, the air is hot and humid so the tiny virus particles don’t stay in the air as long which keeps them from infecting new people. This helps fewer people to catch a cold or the flu!

Did you know that the mucus in your nose also plays a role in keeping you healthy? Mucus is very important because it traps little particles that come into your nose from your environment. These particles can be pathogens, like bacteria and viruses that cause infections and get you sick. After your mucus catches these pathogens, it tells your body to sneeze or blow your nose to get these particles out of the body. This is usually the case, but winter weather changes your mucus so it doesn’t do as good of a job protecting you. With the mucus defense down, people can more easily catch a cold or the flu.

So, this is what we know about existing diseases like influenza and other coronaviruses – do we know for sure what will happen with this new virus? There is not enough information about COVID yet to fully understand how it will behave this winter, however, a small study from Australia looked at local COVID cases in March 2020 and compared temperature and humidity. The results show that the drier the air was the more likely people were to get sick.

With more time spent inside and with the reopening of schools, there may be a possibility for COVID-19 to rise again. Unfortunately, we’ll only know once we get there. On that note, social distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask will continue being helpful ways to reduce your risk and keep those around you safe.  

Author: Dhara Salazar (BioBus Junior Scientist)
Original COVID-101 article by Gavin Harris MD

T Cell Immunity?

COVID-101 For Kids

Maybe you’ve heard the word immunity a lot this year. Having immunity, or “being immune”, means your body is able to fight off specific diseases by recognizing it quickly and eliminating pieces of disease.

In school you may learn that being immune relies on your body making antibodies to keep you safe. Antibodies are little recognition machines (like the fingerprint sensor on new phones or facial recognition software that identifies faces in pictures) and they alert the white blood cells of your immune system to act! Being exposed to a disease once (either through becoming sick or getting a vaccination) usually makes your body produce lots and lots of antibodies to protect you from ever getting that disease again. The cell that makes antibodies is a white blood cell called a B cell.

Knowing this, doctors can check if you’re protected against a certain disease or not by testing some of your blood to look for those specific antibodies. If you have enough antibodies, you’re considered immune; if not, you could still potentially get sick.

But, we are learning it isn’t so simple. Some people are protected from a disease even if they don’t have antibodies, and scientists know this is because of another special white blood cell in your immune system: T cells. T cells fight infections by hunting down and destroying other cells that have become infected, and T cells are usually activated by antibodies.

Recent studies suggest that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have T cells that hunt and kill other cells infected with the novel coronavirus. This was true even in some people who did not produce antibodies to the virus. Even more exciting is that some people have T-cells which recognize bits of coronavirus even if those people have never been exposed to the new virus (even blood samples taken five years ago!) This means those T cells might have been exposed to another similar corona virus and still have the ability to protect us from getting COVID-19. This different type of protection is called “T Cell Immunity”.

What does it all mean? It’s an exciting scientific finding showing how our immune system is very complicated and good at protecting us. It’s possible this disease leads to immunity through T cells as well as immunity through antibodies. However, if you receive an antibody test and you have no antibodies for the novel coronavirus it is most probable that you are still able to catch the virus and become sick. Don’t rely on t-cells alone to protect you! It is also important that once a safe vaccine is released, after rigorous testing, that people get vaccinated to protect ourselves and each other from catching the virus.

Author: Rob Frawley PhD
Original COVID-101 article by Brad Kern PhD