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Yale 62

Hong Kong Cold, Part 3 – 2 March 2020
News and Notes by William Stork



Despite the worry about the COVID-19 spread, I woke up last Thursday knowing that I would soon be HK$10,000 richer!

Announced the day before by Hong Kong’s Finance Secretary presenting the government’s annual budget, a handout will be given to all residents, one designed to comfort the populace that the government was trying to counter the criticism of inertia at such a time of economic distress and medical concerns.

But I wonder if that ‘helicopter money,’ as it’s called here, is going to make much of a dent in my personal situation. Or to that of the Hong Kong economy, as most will bank the amount — and not spend it, when the cash was designed to stimulate the economy. That’s especially true now, as most of us are trying not to venture away from home unless necessary.

I remain sequestered in self-quarantine, because there are reports that the previously announced incubation period of 14 days just might not be enough! I’m doing a lot of research and, for other classmates, I would suggest taking announcements from the government sources/the media with more than a grain of salt! More on that later.

I’m asked what is life like here, and I can safely use the words ‘dismal’ and ‘fearful’! A return to life as normal seems out of the question for the near future and maybe always. We have not hit this button yet!

Just think about NOT leaving your home for over a month! Just think about having to carry out your business obligations via Skype and Zoom FROM HOME. Just imagine having your KIDS AT HOME for their virtual learning activities, as schools here will now be closed until after Easter (with school closures also predicted for the US). March is the month for Hong Kong’s major arts activities. These have now been cancelled. NO SOCIAL ACTIVITIES here.

I am a feverish watcher of the F1 Gran Prix and have already noticed that the Shanghai race in March has been ‘postponed’. Yet the Japan Olympics has not yet made a similar kow-tow to COVID-19. I sense that will come soon. Soccer-football matches are being played without fans watching in the stadiums in Europe. An increasing number of cities are on lock-down. Luckily, because of Hong Kong’s 2002-03 experience with SARS, we’re better prepared to deal with the medical aspects of treating an epidemic of this magnitude.

Despite what might be heard from public officials in the US, this is not a situation to be treated lightly. The ironic aspect of this is that COVID-19 is not designated as being highly fatal. By that, I mean that symptoms are not immediately present, so therefore they cannot be treated as immediately as was possible with those previous two major epidemics, SARS and MERS. This coronavirus contagion lurks undetected and therefore is easily spread to others. Like flu, COVID-19 can be spread even to pets, and one Hong Kong doggie has already been determined to be a ‘positive’, definitely infected with the virus, and is now in quarantine, as is its owner and family.

But there are some good indicators that have already been found: COVID-19 is not heat-resistant, as SARS was, so a temperature of 77 F or higher is recommended. Transmission is by personal contact or surfaces touched by one infected, and has not yet detected to be airborne, so the pictured face masks are really just a comforting signal and perhaps only have a medical function for a coughing infected person so not to share their spray!

How does this all translate to my activities? Well, I still refrain from being part of any activities in which there are others. Yes, I’m necessarily anti-social. Yet most of the activities that I would be a part of have either been postponed or cancelled, such as the Hong Kong Arts Festival (patron) or the Yale-China sponsored student exchange with New Asia College, YUNA (also patron). I do miss them.

Still, one has necessities, but with personal shopping ruled out, I’ve found wonderful home delivery sources for food, groceries and other stuff, often at better prices than if I were doing in-store shopping. I keep looking for silver linings!

And one of those is that we are spared the constant TV coverage of the violent Hong Kong protests that have racked our serenity for nearly a year until recently. Now, interspersed with how the stock market is doing are updates on the virus and its results, locally and abroad. Maybe not such a silver lining after all!

I have the time now to closely following various aspects of this new COVID-19: the development of a vaccine and other medicines devised to counteract the effects of the virus seem to be on the way; the inevitable global spread of this pandemic is increasingly being recognized; the current attitude of the Hong Kong populace seems to be reinforced by increased ‘education’ as to the disease and efforts to contain it; and the scientific evaluation of whether a 14-day quarantine is really sufficient for those currently diagnosed or even for those returning home from abroad. That hypothesis has yet to be confirmed but is being investigated.

From home, I continue to ‘mentor’ students as I have always have done; I submit my daily contributions as Contributing Editor of the Yale International Alliance; and I have found good sources for home delivery of food, groceries, and stuff, as I mentioned. A lot of the facilities where people gather near where I live have closed down: the club house, the swimming pools, and a number of other amenities, though our 7-Eleven and Park ‘n’ Shop remain open for last-minute needs.

The one grim limiting factor is not being able to socialize in person with others.

Yet I did break quarantine to have a meal with Beijing-based Jasmine Lau. A few years ago, she had been a student of mine, and I successfully suggested she attend Yale. Since then, she has formed her own philanthropy NGO, has been a Forbes 30-under-30, a Rockefeller Fellow, and has just recently been added to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation advisory board. She was here for a short Chinese New Year visit with parents, and a meal with her was not to be missed, as I still ‘mentor’ her in various ways.

This new time being available has allowed me ample opportunity for preparation of my US tax filing and for my US passport renewal, all of which can be done by mail/courier. I have also been encouraged to get involved in the mega fundraising campaign at Bowdoin College where I got my math M.A., and have been in conversation with one of their alumni directors there, curious about my experiences of a near half-century ago. Similarly, I’ve enjoyed new conversations with the admin at the school where I first began to teach and also with the admin of the second school where I taught, which followed before my return to California. It’s fun reconnecting and sharing memories with those who are interested in hearing from me.

I’ll restate the fact that I’m always am looking for silver linings. And now Paul Chan indicates that I am due to be $10,000 richer!

I am getting medical updates on Hong Kong every three days from a medical expert and am doing extensive research. Therein lies another aspect for conversation, the sense here that ‘life must go on’ balanced with the uncertainty of what we are facing in locally, and what the US will soon face. Should classmates be interested in aspects of my COVID-19 research, I can be reached at or comment below and I’ll respond.

Be safe, and stay healthy!


6 comments to Hong Kong Cold Part 3

  • Bill,

    Greetings from Paris. You may remember we roomed together freshman year on the top floor, many steps up, in a building whose name I have long forgotten.

    Thank you for your interesting and informative feet-on-the-street update on the situation in HK.

    FWIW, about the COVIS-19 spread my partner is an MD and epidemiologist researching and writing about environmental health at the French Public Health Agency. Today an epidemiologist specialized in infectious diseases briefed the staff at her agency about how to protect yourself. In particular he said that you should obviously avoid people who are sneezing or coughing. That you should stand no closer than 1 to 1 1/2 meters from others. And that whenever in such close proximity, wearing a scarf or surgical mask that covers your nose and mouth will protect you from the tiny droplets on the breath of the person near you when they exhale. Otherwise he said there is no need to wear a mask if you’re healthy, and that the best protection is washing one’s hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer.

    He did not recommend that individuals wear FFP2 masks, which are currently recommended only for health professionals treating infected individuals or those suspected of being infected. An infected individual or someone who thinks they may be infected should wear a surgical mask to protect others. He also said that the virus can live for 2 to 3 hours on a surface (this includes parcels). And that if there’s any concern to wipe the surface with antibacterial hand wipes.

    Concerning wearing N95 masks, on Saturday the Ministry of Health warned against wearing them saying they can cause stress to the respiratory system and thus cause other health problems.

    Lastly my partner told me that this evening an authority on the subject stated that this coronavirus is not seasonal, contrary to hopes, so spring will not bring the epidemic to an end. Too bad…

    Hope all this information is of help to you or others.

    Warm regards to you, Bill, many decades on,


  • William Stork

    Many thanks, Michael, for your wonderful and VERY helpful contributions as to how our classmates, reading all this, can now better prepare and protect themselves as this virus spread reaches pandemic proportions. At this writing [4 March] the reports are that Korea is now reporting almost 7,000 cases, and this is in but a week.
    Yes, masks are not the important thing, as we in Hong Kong know from our (since SARS 2002-2003) virologists have front-line experiences at treatment and medical relief measures, with Covid-19 the important thing really is, as you mention, frequent hand-washing in the proper manner and using a hand-sanitizer.
    Check with you partner, as the word here that anti-bacterial efforts (wipes and sanitzers) won’t be effective as this is a virus; we are using anti-viral alcohol-based sanitizers, and also use them for spraying surfaces.
    Glad to hear the comment on FFP masks [the acronym stands for ‘face filtering protection’, I think]. As for the N95 mask,I wore one here during SARS, and they are sturdy things, and washable. Since that time, at least here in H K, there have been improvements to make it easier for breathing.
    Enfin, puis-je faire une petite correction? I believe you have me confused with someone else, as we were not roommates nor did I ever live up a huge flight of stairs. My first year I roomed in Durfee, second floor, with McGlashan and Alderfer. But do not let this little thing distract from my gratitude for you Comment!
    Merci bien!

  • Expert Advice on the Coronavirus from a Virologist

    Communications Team member Steve Buck was sent this very helpful advice from an MD acquaintance:

    Dear Family and Friends,

    As some of you may recall, when I was a professor of pathology at the University of California San Diego, I was one of the first molecular virologists in the world to work on coronaviruses (the 1970s). I was the first to demonstrate the number of genes the virus contained. Since then, I have 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 U.S. are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread by mid to late March and April.

    Here is what I have done and the precautions that I take and will take. These are the same precautions I currently use during our influenza seasons, except for the mask and gloves:

    1) NO HANDSHAKING! Use a fist bump, slight bow, elbow bump, etc.

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

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

    5) Wash your hands with soap 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 available at each of your home’s entrances. AND 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!

    What I have stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the U.S.:

    1) Latex or nitrile latex disposable gloves 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) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose or your 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) Stock up now with 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) Stock up now with 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, but there are other brands available.

    We hope this pandemic will be reasonably contained, BUT I personally do not think it will be.

    Humans have never seen this snake-associated virus before and have no internal defense against it. Tremendous worldwide efforts are being made to understand the molecular and clinical virology of this virus. Unbelievable molecular knowledge about the genomics, structure, and virulence of this virus has already been achieved. BUT, there will be NO drugs or vaccines available this year to protect us or limit the infection within us. Only symptomatic support is available.

    I hope these personal thoughts will be helpful during this potentially catastrophic pandemic. Good luck to all of us.

    James Robb, MD FCAP
    Entry #1,161

    • Perhaps as for other readers of Dr. Robb’s advice, his comments on the effectiveness of zinc lozenges caught my attention. I was unfamiliar with these lozenges, so I Googled them. The first hit was the Snopes hoax-busting site. In a March 2 post, it reports that Robb’s letter had circulated widely on the Web and that the site had contacted Robb for clarification, in particular about zinc lozenges.

      In the section “Analysis” here you can read Robb’s qualification of his claim about their effectiveness in treating COVID-19. You will also see there more information about research on the lozenges’ effectiveness.

      The Snopes page also links to this useful CDC page on prevention:

      • William Stork

        Greetings again, Michael! Your contributions are certainly very helpful for our Classmates to better understand COVID-19, and I am so pleased that you gave the Link to that posting by Steve Buck, of a message that he had received from an M.D. friend quoting Dr James Robb.

        By your posting of that Link to Snopes, we can see that Dr James Robb had no intention of his comments going to others than family and friends; is upset that they, too, have gone viral; and he admits to being somewhat naive about social media and ‘sharing’.

        But there are three GREAT things about your putting this forward … to read there in that Link
        A) Zinc lozenges have NO proven role in preventing this coronavirus, though are helpful in providing relief for upper respiratory problems. However, the symptoms for this Covid-19 are lower respiratory, and that is where medical practitioners go to get phlegm samples for testing, I am told.
        So, Zinc lozenges are NOT a solution!
        B) The best part is Dr James Robb’s Seven Suggestions … but they are a bit FLAWED. Most importantly, the suggestions on “Stockpiling” are absolutely WRONG. Evidence shows that gloves do not work as they will keep the virus with you longer as you wear them and collect more along the way … and then there is the disposal problem. As for ‘surgical masks’, they have such limited effectiveness for common practice that most experts decry their now-common use. The real problem is that by hoarding these type masks (or gloves etc), hospital workers worldwide are being faced with ‘limited-supply’ problems!

        Here is why I say Dr Robb’s ‘7 suggestions’ are now felt to be ‘flawed’:
        #(2) and #(3) — you should NOT use any part of your body to touch surfaces, especially metal ones where the virus can last longest. Instead, use a disposable paper towel between body-part and metal (elevator buttons, door handles and other metal surfaces that you might encounter when out-and-about … which you should minimize doing!)
        #(4) There are two types of disinfectant wipes, and you do not want the bacterial one, you want one that deals with a virus. Alcohol-based.
        #(5) Here I need to add one more little corrective! After washing hands which might be carrying the virus, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet/tap! It got dirty when your dirty hands turned it on! But when washing, do so for a FULL 20 seconds at least, being careful to include washing between the fingers and hand backs. Lavatory fixtures should regularly be cleaned as well, using a 1:99 bleach:water solution. Use a wipe for this that can be discarded, not a sponge or cloth. After returning home, immediately put clothes in the washer and take a hot shower. Covid-19 is said to NOT be heat resistant, as was SARS.
        #(6) But Dr Robb is right-on about the type of hand-sanitizer you should use (this also applies to what was mentioned just above)
        and #(7) Great suggestions, but don’t use that elbow! See (2) and (3) above. And avoid gloves.
        One cute addition to his #(1), and that — as a greeting instead of a handshake some of the younger locals are using a hip-wiggle! And more adults are now using an Asian ‘wai’
        Lastly (finally!)
        C) The Snopes link ends with that VERY useful Link to the Center for Disease Control’s “Helpful Tips”, which you have also highlighted!

        Again, much gratitude Michael!
        William Stork

        [send me an email and I will forward my local virologist’s “9 Easy Questions to Explain Covid-19”, updated 6 March 2020. I am at

  • There’s interesting information in an article, “Taking the right measures to control COVID-19,” published onlinr yesterday, March 5, in The Lancet and available here:

    Note the authors, their affiliations and the funding, and compare their recommended measures, the first one in particular, with those taken in some cities and countries.