Coronavirus 101

Recommendations from one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses.


Marin County had its first brush with the coronavirus at the end of February. The individual was transported to a Marin hospital from Travis Air Force Base and was among the American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan. Marin is one of the Bay Area counties accepting patients from the base to help lessen the burden on the Solano County health care system. Since then, a local health emergency has been up in place in order as a precautionary action. “Nearly one [in] three Marin residents is over age 60. It’s especially important to protect our seniors from infection,” Dr. Lisa Santora, Deputy Public Health Officer, said. “Older adults and those with other existing medical vulnerabilities are at the greatest risk for severe disease if infected with COVID-19.”

The Marin County hospital and Marin County Public Health are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the California Department of Public Health to coordinate testing and monitoring. All incoming flights to SFO from China are being screened by the CDC and the agency is working directly with pre-identified hospitals according to disease prevention and containment procedures. Marin County residents are still at low risk of becoming infected with COVID-19, and infectious-disease experts warn that face masks can offer only slight protection against airborne illness. Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against novel coronavirus.

In addition to following recommended CDC guidelines, here is advice from James Robb, MD FCAP, a former professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, and one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (in the 1970s). Robb was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, he has kept up with the coronavirus field and its multiple clinical transfers into the human population (e.g., SARS, MERS), from different animal sources.

The current projections for its expansion in the US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US by mid to late March and April. Below, here are a few recommendations from Robb on how to be prepared for the spreading pandemic.

Precautions to follow:


    Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.

  2. Use your knuckles.

    Use ONLY your knuckle to touch light switches, elevator buttons, etc. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.

  3. Open doors with your closed fist or hip.

    Do not grasp the handle with your hand, unless there is no other way to open the door. Especially important on bathroom and post office/commercial doors.

  4. Use disinfectant wipes.

    Get them at stores when they are available, including wiping the handle and child seat in grocery carts.

  5. Wash your hands with soap.

    Do this for 10-20 seconds, and/or use a greater than 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever you return home from ANY activity that involves locations where other people have been.

  6. Keep a bottle of sanitizer at each of your home’s entrances.

    Also, keep in your car for use after getting gas or touching other contaminated objects when you can’t immediately wash your hands.

  7. If possible, cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue and discard.

    Use your elbow only if you have to. The clothing on your elbow will contain infectious virus that can be passed on for up to a week or more!

Stock up on:

  1. Latex or Nitrile Latex Disposable Gloves

    This is for use when going shopping, using the gasoline pump, and all other outside activity when you come in contact with contaminated areas.

    Note: This virus is spread in large droplets by coughing and sneezing. This means that the air will not infect you! But all the surfaces where these droplets land are infectious for about a week on average – everything that is associated with infected people will be contaminated and potentially infectious. The virus is on surfaces and you will not be infected unless your unprotected face is directly coughed or sneezed upon. This virus only has cell receptors for lung cells (it only infects your lungs) The only way for the virus to infect you is through your nose or mouth via your hands or an infected cough or sneeze onto or into your nose or mouth.

  2. Disposable Surgical Masks

    Use them to prevent touching your nose and/or mouth (We touch our nose/mouth 90X/day without knowing it!). This is the only way this virus can infect you – it is lung-specific. The mask will not prevent the virus in a direct sneeze from getting into your nose or mouth – it is only to keep you from touching your nose or mouth.

  3. Hand Sanitizers and Latex/Nitrile Gloves

    Get the appropriate sizes for your family. The hand sanitizers must be alcohol-based and greater than 60% alcohol to be effective.

  4.  Zinc Lozenges**

    These lozenges have been proven to be effective in blocking coronavirus (and most other viruses) from multiplying in your throat and nasopharynx. Use as directed several times each day when you begin to feel ANY “cold-like” symptoms beginning. It is best to lie down and let the lozenge dissolve in the back of your throat and nasopharynx. Cold-Eeze lozenges is one brand available.

    ** Robb’s last comment regarding the use of zinc lozenges has been the subject of some criticism. The fact-checking website Snopes followed up with the doctor. See the response below.

    “While Robb does recommend zinc lozenges (of any brand, he told us), he would not describe the product as the silver bullet solution to the outbreak:

    In my experience as a virologist and pathologist, zinc will inhibit the replication of many viruses, including coronaviruses. I expect COVID-19 [the disease caused by the novel coronavirus] will be inhibited similarly, but I have no direct experimental support for this claim. I must add, however, that using zinc lozenges as directed by the manufacturer is no guarantee against being infected by the virus, even if it inhibits the viral replication in the nasopharynx.

    In general terms, research suggests that zinc may be able to inhibit the spread of some viral infections, but the question remains scientifically unsettled. A 2010 study using cell cultures published in PLOS One found evidence that increasing intracellular zinc concentrations “can efficiently impair the replication of a variety of RNA viruses” including coronaviruses. According to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, “trials conducted in high-income countries since 1984 investigating the role of zinc for the common cold symptoms have had mixed results.” The common cold is caused by a virus also classified as a coronavirus.

    Because the letter was written by him, we rank this claim as “Correctly Attributed” to Robb. For more tips on protecting against the coronavirus, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tip sheet here.”

    Kasia PowlowskaKasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include traveltrendsmushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction, and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is a never-ending endeavor.

Categories: Health, Marin Matters