The pandemic. Keeping it real.

The Coronavirus in Action

If you’re like most people, you may find it hard to picture SARS-CoV-2, the invisible virus that causes COVID-19. You probably know the virus often attacks the cells lining our respiratory system. The virus spreads to other people in respiratory droplets and smaller aerosols that are expelled while coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, and even breathing.

Here’s a recent photograph taken during a study that may help people better understand the potentially enormous magnitude of viruses produced by infected cells of the human respiratory system.

Newly produced viruses leave their infected cells and can accumulate in huge numbers within mucus. Outgoing, exhaled air scatters mucus in bits ranging from visible droplets to aerosols, which are tiny, nearly invisible specks that can stay suspended in the air for quite a long time after the infected person has left the area.

What does this image tell us? This photograph was produced using a scanning electron microscope. The specimens are actual human cells obtained from a volunteer’s respiratory system. The cells were grown in laboratory dishes, and then infected with a known quantity of SARS-CoV-2. Later, the same cells were examined with an electron microscope.

Electron microscope images are in grey-scale. Here, the original image was colorized to highlight areas of interest. The human lung cells (purple) are covered in hair-like cilia (blue). Those cilia line the inner surface of the airways and help to clear mucus (yellow-green) containing dust and other debris from the lungs. Emerging from the surface of those infected airway cells are many thousands of coronavirus particles (red). For scale, the bar represents 1 um, or one micrometer, which is one millionth of a meter. Those viruses are each 50 – 70 nanometers in diameter. One nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is about 75,000 nm in diameter, and a fingernail grows about 1 nm per second! (By the way, in 1 nanosecond, light travels 11.76 inches, about the length of a typical pipe cleaner)

In this study [1] about 1 million human cells were infected with about 1,000 viruses; in only 96 hours, these cells produced about 10 million viruses.

This explosive growth of the virus may explain how COVID-19 spreads so easily from the lungs to other parts of the body and to other people. Studies have found transmission occurs more efficiently in crowded, indoor environments.

Let’s hope images like this remind us why it is important to avoid indoor crowds; keep physical distance between people; wear face masks when among people; and wash hands regularly.


[1] SARS-CoV-2 infection of airway cells. Ehre C. New England Journal Of Medicine. 2020 Sep 3;383(10):969.

Photo Credit: Laboratory of Dr. Camille Ehre, University of North Carolina School of Medicine

Quirks and Quarks


Together we trace overlapping plates of thick gray bark, the old oak’s memory of winters past. She marvels at how she cannot pry even one thickened scale. How can she understand a tree hardened by more winters than she knows? This old oak fears no cold.

Overhead, summer’s clinging reminders bob on the October breeze. Below, others tumble among hard-earned hardened yellow nuts. A happy rustle-crunch-crush as schoolchildren tramp home this candy apple afternoon.

Delighted by the bounty, she stop-stoops, gathers fists of golden nuts, one by one peels back their jolly caps, aligns uncapped nuts across from their caps, two files of opposing teams awaiting kickoff.

Beaming at her ordered harvest, now she worries that squirrels won’t know these bald nuts, and unburied they’ll not sprout next spring. She carefully replaces a cap on each nut, rearranges her harvest as a golden diamond, hopes the shining display will draw their attention.

She dance steps to our porch, takes my hand. We watch a jaybird, mouth gaping impossibly as he snatches one golden prize. With precise toss of his head, he positions the nut just so, then caches his treasure beneath dry leaves. Today, I won’t tell her how this same bird pillages robin nests each May.

The old oak draws courage from its past and wears it like armor. I summon courage from my child’s dance among the acorns.

Quirks and Quarks

Let go of these delusions

Do you hold these thoughts, wishes, lies? I promise you’ll feel much better, and you’ll think more clearly if you let go of these lies.

Everything happens for a reason. No, it doesn’t. Just, NO. This idea is so flawed I can’t even stand writing about it. Sit down or take a walk and think about it, will you, please?

You’ll not be given more than you can handle. NO. That’s the definition of somebody or something administering torture, which is inhumane. Think about it.

It could be worse. Yeah, of course, but so what? You don’t need to experience spaghettification at a black hole’s horizon to prove to yourself or others that things are bad.

It’s all in your head. Of course it’s in your head. Unless you are brain dead. Your experiences are authentic, glorious, mundane, painful.

You’re not doing enough. You probably are doing enough, and the universe being real, and life being complex, there really are things out of your control, and you may not be to blame for your circumstances.

I wish you find inner peace today.


What Endures?

Trimming the Tree

One glass swan
Color of Riesling
What else endures?
Nothing fragile
Not artifacts
No relics
This frost-lit night
December’s tea-stained sidewalk
The aurora
Flowing through
The cold black sky
Thick with stars?