Kyle writes:

Good afternoon,

I just listened to TWiV for the first time, episode 606, and have found it incredibly helpful and informative. Thank you for being a wonderful voice of reason and scientific explanation during a time when it is so difficult to find. Let me preface my story by saying that I know what I’ve done has little proven scientific backing, but I’m a naturally curious person. 

My question has to do with antibody testing. I live in Michigan, and a local urgent care advertised “rapid lateral flow immunoassay antibody testing” by appointment. I called, made an appointment, and had the test administered. I was expecting the results to show IgG positive, IgM negative due to how sick I was in early February, immediately following domestic travel, with nearly all the now known symptoms of COVID-19. However, my test came back as just the opposite IgM positive, IgG negative. I understand these tests are not to be used for diagnostic purposes, but being curious I wanted to see what my situation could be. 

Upon hearing these results, I asked for more information on the manufacturer and efficacy of the test kit itself. The physician told  me “it’s not FDA approved so I can’t speak to it’s efficacy or accuracy, but I’d advise self-isolation”. I have no symptoms at this point. 

I am wondering, do you have any knowledge of the company Alfa Scientific Designs Inc.? They are the supposed manufacturer of the test, but I’ve spent a few hours attempting to research the test and company only to find almost no information. 

Thank you!


Margaret writes:

TWIV, dear TWIV, thank you. You are the soundtrack to my life for the past six weeks. I put in my ear buds for that 1.some-hour stretch three times a week, and my family knows not to bother me.

Early on in this COVID horror, in the second week of March, I went looking for someone who actually knew something. Not the pundits who know exactly zero about science, and not the science journalists who are great but need to find a click-baitable headline and boil it down for the easily distracted. I needed to hear people who knew what they didn’t know, people with humility and perspective. And above all, people who took their time and trusted their audience to do the same. Then I found you. You are perfection.

I think of Vincent as The Grumpy Virologist. I have a whole back story for you, Vincent. You are prickly, yet capable of self-reflection, and easily wounded. Your back story involves some sort of scarring interaction with one or more haughty and self-important immunologists and a difficult home situation. I know that’s my fantasy, but let me have it. You are on a Parthenon-worthy pedestal. So just stay there. You have kept me sane. I am so grateful. 

Thank you to Kathy, “the voice of reason” Spindler. I am going to try to get my son to consider U Mich for medical school. Thank you, Alan “the even grumpier and more sensitive” Dove, and Rich “the science translator” Condit. 

Also thank you to Daniel Griffin whose heart-wrenching parking lot stories have left me in tears. Very few will get care from someone like you, but at least the knowledge is out there. At least evidence-based medicine is within our grasp, if only we had a system to support it.

You are beautiful people. You are the best our society has to offer. You stand fast for science, humanity, and reason, and you are educators. I have learned so much and know even more about what I don’t know.

I love you.

Margaret Ervin

Professor of English

West Chester University

Ellen writes:

Dear Professor Racaniello and Co:

I’m not a virologist; I’m a speech-language pathologist working in asmall hospital in San Francisco. I wanted to say that your podcast is the one thing that has kept me sane throughout this pandemic. Thanks for the rational thinking and the questioning attitude that makes good science.

Ellen, MS, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Angela writes:

Dear TWIV team,

My name is Angela and I’m just a virology student in Professor Racaniello’s class this semester. I read this NYT article (linked below) written by the president of Brown University about how opening colleges in the fall should be one of the top priorities for financial and education purposes. She details the steps needed to reopen universities (testing everyone, no parties, etc…) but I am hesitant to agree with her. Am I wrong in believing that until herd immunity is achieved, college campuses should not reopen?

Thank you, everyone, for all you do! I appreciate the time, work and dedication put into these podcasts. Would you all ever consider doing a live group Zoom podcast so listeners can tune in at the same time? It would be enjoyable to see you all in action!

Best regards,

Angela Luo

P.S. Anna, who is also in the virology class, sent me this article, so not taking credit for finding it. 

Jamie writes:

Dear TWIV team:

I’m a lay-person who stumbled on your show in early March. You are now my ONLY source for reliable information -even if your discussion often goes way over my head. 

Question: my family lives on a rural road in northern Westchester county where a neighbor – strangely – keeps exotic animals, including monkeys and camels. Given that dromedary camels are known reservoirs of MERS and an important source of human infection elsewhere, would it make sense that they are also at risk of being reservoirs for SARS CoV 2 and holding them in captivity near a human population is risky? We seem to know little about viral cross-species transmission and recombination and in the US have undertaken little or no captive camel (or bat) testing thus far.

Isn’t being a ‘reservoir’ quite different than testing positive – like the tiger you spoke about in April? 

 Until we know more should captive camels (along with captive civets and bats) be quarantined in America? 

Keep up the great work-


Trish writes:

Hi TWIVers 

is this #fakenews?

Should I wash this down with a big dose of bleach or a tremendous light? 


Trish from Kamloops.  

12C and not gardening weather yet 

Hello all,

I’d like to remain anonymous please.

You mentioned whether anyone has looked at Rodent Coronaviruses on the last TWiV.

I just wanted to point you towards these two papers from a lab group at Nottingham University in the UK.

All the best,

Stay safe.

Shawn writes:


Since January 2020, I have wondered if the novel coronavirus could have seeded into N. America via the jet stream.  I am a weather junkie and have observed that the jetstream meanders fairly directly from China to N. America, specifically western BC and Washington state.

Can you answer this question for me?

Thank you


Thunder Bay, ON Canada

Tom writes:

Hello TWIVers,

Hi, I live in Astoria Oregon and I’m on the city Council here. Oregon’s governor Kate Brown plans on initiating statewide random samples surveillance of 100,000 volunteers. As I understand it, this hundred thousand volunteers will be tracked over the next year. Another subset of these 100,000 will be 10,000 who will be tested for the COVID-19. Letters will be going out to Oregonians on May 11. More detail about this program being conducted by OHSU.

Strikes me that it’s a great opportunity. What do you think? 

New to your program, I’m glad to have found you and found it extraordinarily informative.


Tom Brownson

Daniel writes:

Dear TWiVers:

I am a pediatric infectious diseases specialist from Taiwan, and I’ve been listening to TWiV since like episode 100. I really want to thank you wholeheartedly for the great podcast. I always enjoy listening and absolutely learn a lot from it. 

This is my first time writing to TWiV, and I would like to share with you some Taiwan experiences on the management of COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has a population of 23 million people, and until May 4th, we have 437 confirmed cases, including only 55 local cases, and 6 deaths. We have tested more than 60 thousand high-risk people in the past 100 days, leading to a positive test ratio of about one positive case out of 150 tests. 

As you can see from what is going on in the world now, an effective prevention of the epidemic cannot be done by government enforcement alone, it has to be a collaboration between the government and the people. And I must say Taiwan has set a superb example of risk communication this time. In the past 100 days, Taiwan CDC has been hosting press conferences every day at 2pm to report the most updated COVID-19 cases and information, providing Q&A sessions, and most importantly, everyone can see it LIVE on TV or on the internet. And I believe this simple action, is a key for the government of Taiwan to build trust with its people.

Taiwan CDC’s strategy set many examples to let its people feel secure and safe. For example, we started border-control in advance, in fact, Taiwan is probably the first country that started border control and management ahead of the world. Taiwan CDC also practice thorough and complete “test-trace-isolate”from the beginning. Since early February, anyone travelled from China, or anyone who has contacts with COVID-19 patients must practice a 14-days home quarantine. In March, the quarantine requirement broadened, so “everyone” who entered Taiwan needs to be home quarantined for 14 days.

Nonetheless, in my opinion, I believe a key strategy that is only being practiced in Taiwan is the mask-production management. In January 2020, Taiwan’s mask production was only about 1.8 million pieces per day, and we have a population of 23 million people in Taiwan. So, the government worked with the local factories, providing help, increased mask production lines immediately, and took control over the masks so that there is no scarcity over the lack of masks, and more importantly, the price of masks are stable as in the past. Right now, Taiwan can produce 16 million masks daily, and the number is still increasing. People are wearing masks whenever we go outside, plus frequent use of hand sanitizers, we don’t need to have very strict social-distancing, and people in Taiwan can almost maintain the same lifestyle as we all used to have with very low and limited community spread of the virus.

So unlike other places in the world, Taiwan did not have a lock down, we still go to work and students still attend schools normally. All the businesses were operating as usual. The only restriction is that mass-gathering. I must say people in Taiwan eliminated a lot of social gathering and practice work from home voluntarily, there is no need for government enforcement. 

By the way, our professional baseball just started this season as scheduled, though there were no on-site audience, all the games were streamed live for the baseball fans.

During SARS in 2003, we locked down a hospital. That was a bitter experience. We realized that lock down is the last option and it impacted negatively in many ways to the society. In order to prevent the same thing happening, the government must work well with people, and on top of that, the most important factor is early decisiveness on prevention, we must act ahead, plan ahead for the worst. So in my opinion, the three most important lessons Taiwan can provide to the world in handling COVID-19 are: advance decisiveness, scientific thinking, and an effective risk communication. I really hope our experience could offer some help for countries around the world to maintain low transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 after reopening of the society. 

Best Regards,

Daniel Huang


Daniel Tsung-Ning Huang, M.D., Ph.D.

-Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, MacKay Children’s Hospital

-Department of Medicine, MacKay Medical College

Zack writes:

Hello all, 

While listening to twiv 609, and Susan Weiss talking about SARS and MERS, I came to a simple question. 

Why is MERS not considered a “SARS-like” Coronavirus? I’ve heard you all refer to bat or animal isolates as either SARS-like, or MERS-like. So is it the active host receptors, the pathogenesis, or genomes that determine whether or not an animal Coronavirus is considered SARS-like, or MERS-like? 

Thank you again for everything each of you do! 

P.s: Professor Racaniello, in light of this pandemic, have you considered devoting an entire lecture to Coronaviruses to your virology class like you have for Ebola, HIV, and H5N1? Or is there still too many unknowns about coronaviruses as a whole to give an entire lecture on them? 


John writes:

Many thanks for the wonderful program! I really enjoy it.

Going back to the oral polio vaccine, if that does work the wonder, my question is then, will getting the coronavirus-caused common cold do the same trick?

Best regards,


Margaret writes:

Dear Houston,

We have a problem.

My sisters, very well educated people, were with me on our daily 9:00 am Zoom call with my parents who are stuck in an assisted living facility (where there is no COVID, thank God) and what should they start to talk about but the Wuhan bioterrorism conspiracy theory! I thought they were too well educated to fall for that bunk.

I found myself at a loss to dispel their nonsense, but I found myself falling back on “but a very important group of virologists from Columbia, the University of Michigan, and other very important places said that was not true.” In fact, to my chagrin, this explanation sounds equally ignorant as their conspiracy.

I need talking points in plain English. Could you please dumb down the answers to these questions:

  1. How do you know SARS CoV2 is not man made or genetically engineered?

As a benchmark for how dumb, here is what I said to them: “The virologists can look at the genome and tell it was not modified by humans because they can tell by looking at it.”

Follow up question: Really, how?

Me: I don’t know. The virologists said so. I don’t know. They said words I couldn’t understand, and I don’t have time right now to 1) go back and find the places where they answered this in the podcast and 2) look up all the words and study enough biology to understand what they said in enough detail to teach it to you. But I will look into it and get back to you.

  1. How do you know SARS CoV2 is not mutating into different strains the way the flu does?

Now, on this one, I felt extremely proud of myself: “The virologists said “Ha, ha, ha. Those idiots. It’s a Coronavirus. All viruses mutate, but blah, blah, blah, proofreading function, blah, blah, blah.” 

I was very proud of myself because I understand the word “proofreading.”

Follow up question: Really, how can a virus mutate some, but not have different “strains” like the flu?

Me: I don’t know. The virologists said so.

Look, I am exaggerating a tiny bit for comic effect, but here is what is going on. Intelligent people in light of not having comprehensible scientific explanations are latching on to conspiracy theories and then using their critical thinking skills, and tough questions such as “really, how do you know that?” to debunk the actual Science.

What I do know how to do is find credible sources of information, and that’s you.

This quote from this article in the Atlantic puts it very well:

“Journalists still think of their job as producing new content, but if your goal is public understanding of COVID-19, one piece of new content after another doesn’t get you there,” he says. “It requires a lot of background knowledge to understand the updates, and the news system is terrible at [providing that knowledge].” Instead, the staccato pulse of reports merely amplifies the wobbliness of the scientific process, turns incremental bits of evidence into game changers, and intensifies the already-palpable sense of uncertainty that drives people toward misinformation.

This is what you are up against, Houston.


Margaret Ervin

Professor of English

West Chester University

Norman writes:

You do know, don’t you, that you can get free computer-generated transcripts of your podcast on Youtube? 

When you click on the closed caption (CC) button, you get a text that crawls across the bottom of the screen. 

You can get that all in one big file. 

Go right below the screen, to the heading, 


TWiV 609: A coronavirus chronology with Susan Weiss

682 views•May 3, 2020

Then at the right it says, “SHARE SAVE …” 

Click on those 3 dots and a box comes up that includes the selection, “Open transcript.” 

In the upper right corner of the screen, there’s now a column that starts: 


this week in virology the podcast about


viruses the kind that make you sick from


microbe TV this is twig this week in


virology episode 609 recorded on May 1st


2020 I’m Vincent rockin yellow and


you’re listening to the podcast all


about viruses joining me today from Fort


Lee New Jersey Dickson Depot a good