I have to say upon writing my first blog post on my new website in 2020 I would never have thought I’d be writing this! I have spent the past week deep in researching all of the latest information on COVID-19 from many well-respected scientists and distilled a lot of information in this post, which I hope you find useful. I am so glad you are here, so get comfy, grab a cuppa and together let’s dig into this.
It started last June for us. The unrest, anxiety & fear due to the Hong Kong protests. As a result of the escalation school closures were implemented in December 2019 then came the holidays. We took off to Sydney where my beautiful home country Australia was catastrophically burning nation-wide. I had a major accident whilst the kids, my husband and I were staying at my parents where I sustained several facial fractures. A couple of days after 2020 arrived so too did the reality and impact of my accident. I flew with the kids back to Hong Kong when I was cleared and began my recovery process along with multiple surgeon consults. The lunar new year arrived (largest annual human migration) and so too did COVID-19. It has been non-stop eventful to say the least.
COVID-19 hit Hong Kong then the world:
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong was announced on 23rd of January 2020. On the 8th of January Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) added to their list of notifiable diseases, ‘severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent.’ The Hong Kong government appointed Lady MacLehose holiday village in Sai Kung as a centre for quarantine. All Lunar New Year festivities were cancelled. By the 24th of January several confirmed cases of men and women carrying the virus had come from Wuhan, China. The Hong Kong Government declared a state of “emergency” of the highest tier on the 25th of January. High-speed rail, ferries, flights from China were suspended. The initial phase was fear, which I know many of you are feeling right now. Toilet paper, tissues, hand paper, sanitizers, cleaning products, face masks, rice, canned foods & sanitary pads leaped off the store shelves! Thankfully, the HK government reduced contagion ‘proactively’ from the outset by actioning travel restrictions, contravening the WHO’s ‘unnecessary travel bans,’ to China mainland. Currently, Hong Kong has stepped up measures again to prevent contagion by ensuring all foreign arrivals are now to be home quarantined in an effort to ‘flatten-the-curve.’ With an influx of people returning to Hong Kong we are currently experiencing a surge of infections heightening the risk since the outbreak began. Promisingly, last Thursday, China reported not a single new case of domestic transmission. However, we are currently in the throes here in Hong Kong of being vulnerable to a second wave of infection, so our vigilance is paramount at this time.
Social distancing, school & university closures across HK were implemented. Many businesses followed suit. Having had endured “SARS-CoV,” “Bird-flu H5N1,” “Swine-flu H1N1,” and “MERS-CoV,” this meant with COVID-19 (a relative of SARS) Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan were somewhat prepared. After everyone had fled Hong Kong a couple of months ago they are now all trying to return, as it is unofficially being called a “safe spot.”
On a personal family front, we have been homeschooling our kids going into week 8, two months this Monday for approx. 5 hours per day, which is extremely time-intensive. My time allocated to work from home has dramatically decreased. Many Mum’s I know who work outside the home have been overwhelmed by the additional pressure to homeschool. Some took their kids back to their country of origin to temporarily put them into schools, or have relatives help and escape the initial Hong Kong ‘hot spot.’ In Hong Kong, many families are fortunate to have a ‘helper,’ (similar to a nanny without the formal qualifications) however, ‘homeschooling’ is not part of their training. It has been a steep learning curve for everyone involved as we all find our groove and establish what works best.
Whilst Hong Kong felt the fear & frustration many of you are going through now since the end of January/ early February, this experience has made us get back to basics as a family and be scrupulous whilst staying at home as much as possible. Watching this unfold around the world makes my heart go out to every single one of you because I know how much the uncertainty can rattle you. However, please know that you are not alone and that whilst none of us have the answers we are indeed all in this together.
I hope that the information below helps you to understand what we know about COVID-19 thus far, where it has come from and what we can do to try to prevent it. This information could change and is currently evolving in the scientific field. Here is what I have researched so far:
After doing my own research on COVID-19 best prevention practices, I have included my findings below along with what our family has been doing anecdotally. This is NOT meant to replace any public health recommendations regarding social distancing and hygiene. This is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advise. It is imperative you seek the advise of your physician, or qualified health care provider for any concerns you may have.
Here’s a brief summary of what we know about coronaviruses:
COVID-19 is quite similar (its genome is 87% identical) to the SARS coronavirus, which impacted us, especially here in Hong Kong commencing 2003. This is why COVID-19 scientific, or technical name is SARS coronavirus 2. With its emergence in December 2019 it was initially called 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), however in February 2020 it’s new name emerged, SARS coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Further, it was re-named again coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This means that treatments that were efficacious during the SARS outbreak may also likely help us now. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012 along with SARS hijack our antiviral immune response defence mechanisms.
Coronaviruses are lipid-enveloped viruses, which means that their oily outer coating help keep them protected from our defence systems, however when on skin surfaces can be killed by using soap and water, hence the importance of washing hands. Elderberry has been shown to target lipid envelopes, which may help as an antiviral. Most cold and flu viruses are caused by rhinoviruses, however it’s important to note that COVID-19/ SARS-CoV-2 (interchangeable meaning), as far as we know do not share the same docking mechanisms as cold and flu viruses. They share the same docking as SARS-CoV. In other words, cold and flu interventions are likely not able to reduce risk for COVID-19.
Supplementation: There is no scientific body of evidence such as randomised controlled trials of the efficacy of supplementation for COVID-19. I am sharing below my findings, however there is no scientific evidence to support that they aid in the prevention of COVID-19. Please see on the back of labels for dosages and if you are on medication, or are unsure consult your health care provider.
Elderberry: The antiviral properties in elderberry contain caffein acid, which has been shown in monkeys to block viral docking by binding to ACE2 receptors, or where COVID-19 docks into on the cell of its host. This is the entry point into human cells for SARS-CoV (SARS) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). This presents mostly in the small intestines and lung, hence why SARS symptoms include diarrhea and COVID-19 expresses mostly in the lungs. Elderberry has been shown to have a modulatory effect (determining whether receptors need to be up-regulated, or down-regulated) on cytokines (inflammation). We have begun taking Elderberry extract in syrup form. Capsules, or lozenges are also fine to use.
Zinc: One of the symptoms of COVID-19 many patients may present with is loss of smell and taste, which is often a sign of a zinc deficiency. Oysters are a rich source of zinc. Phytates found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes (peas and beans are all legumes) can inhibit zinc absorption, so opt to take it either with other foods, or on an empty stomach. Zinc capsules, or Ionic zinc lozenge work well to supplement.
Garlic: Allicin (the antiviral compound found in garlic) requires fresh garlic to be crushed and left out in the open for approximately ten to fifteen minutes before being consumed.
Vitamin C: Our immune system depends on vitamin C, however in the case of COVID-19 and coronaviruses there is no need to take high doses, as it can contribute to worsening of the lungs if infected. Vitamin C may increase interferon (signalling proteins) that heighten the cells anti-viral defenses, which in SARS was a trigger for the “cytokine storm,” (inflammation.) It is best to keep with adequate dietary sources of vitamin C, however if you wish to supplement with capsules (we do), or chewable (our kids prefer these) do so with the recommended dose. Studies have been carried out on the efficacy of vitamin C given intravenously to participants with compromised lung function and it showed to double their chance for survival. Conversely, when it comes to coronaviruses there aren’t any studies that show vitamin C given intravenously is efficacious, as participants in previous studies did not have a coronavirus. Making sure you receive vitamin C from dietary sources and if needed supplementing (not at high doses) appears to be the most sensible. The highest dietary sources of vitamin C include guava, red and yellow bell peppers (capsicum). Next is kale, broccoli, kiwifruit, jalapeño peppers and red chilli peppers. Lastly, orange, strawberry, lemons, pineapple cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.
Vitamin A and vitamin D. These vitamins are necessary and important, however excessive high-doses in the case of coronaviruses have been shown to increase expression of ACE2 in cells and could up-regulate ACE2 expression. Make sure you are getting the Recommended Daily Intake, or Reference Daily Intake (RDI). Animal and plant sources of dietary vitamin A along with sunshine and foods that contain vitamin D should be sufficient. If you are not getting enough sun please go ahead and supplement with vitamin D3, we do both.
It is important to note once again that not one of the aforementioned supplements/ vitamins have been tested against COVID-19. This information is not to replace social distancing, hand washing and other important measures instructed by the CDC, WHO, or NIH, CHP (or equivalent in your country) for best prevention practises. Also, the situation is constantly evolving.
Please be cautious: Speak with your physician with regards to taking Ibuprofen if you have COVID-19, as this can reduce immune function and make it more difficult to fight off the virus, which has been shown in some studies with coronavirus. Acetaminophen (Advil, Panadol, etc) are usually safer options, however please speak to your doctor.
What we have personally been doing as a family:
Nutrition & supplements: Anecdotally, as a family we are taking our usual multi-vitamins, DHA/ EPA, probiotics, B vitamins, vitamin D (when not enough sun out) and we also have begun supplementing elderberry, zinc, vitamin C (as per the label, not in high doses.) We also try to get allicin from garlic, however, it is heat sensitive and there’s no way my kids are eating raw garlic! The best whole food ‘supplement’ we have on the daily is my Thrive Smoothie. This easy deliciously nutrient-dense smoothie containing mostly whole foods I make for my family every day, especially now. For the kids, I make one recipe and halve it. We also cook most of our meals (using my nutrient-dense recipes) here at home and all of the soups, stews, chili, buns, bolognese sauce, flatbread chapati, curries, and so many more freeze well! So, for the days we don’t feel like cooking we bring one of my pre-frozen meals out and voila! Faster than you can get a takeout it’s ready for the family. All we might need to do extra for the kids is mix with some cooked & cooled rice (this raises resistant starch to feed our microbiome), gluten-free pasta or steam some veggies to pair with the meal. I grocery shop once a week now only. We do all shopping for pantry stable items online and go to the local grocery store or nearby farmers market for produce.
Exercise for the family: When we moved into this new house I said to my husband we have to have an at-home designated gym room. We were fortunate to be able to do that, however many of you (me included for years) have to workout in your living room or a small space. That’s OK! You can get a lot of sweat on to include a full-body strength workout with just a mat, pair of dumbbells, a resistance band and your body weight. It honestly doesn’t have to be complicated! You just need to be consistent with exercise to see and feel the results long term. Whilst we had to push back filming and production for my new exercise program due to launch now at the beginning of summer if not before, I will put up some simple full-body workouts you can do from home shortly. There’s no shortage of at-home workouts and apps that you can do with trainers online. As for what we have been doing with our kids, we have hoops (basketball) out the backyard and a trampoline on the roof, so they get plenty of rebound exercising in. If it’s raining we get creative and play something off YouTube for them to do such as a bodyweight workout to music for kids, or dancing – we love https://www.gonoodle.com On the weekend we go for a family hike in nature and thoroughly enjoy it. Getting back in nature is our jam! I wish I could take the kids on hikes every day, but I also have to carve out time to get my work done, otherwise this website and programs I’m working on would never happen!
Playdates & house guests: At the time of writing this, we are at the 8-week mark tomorrow (Monday 22nd March) of homeschooling and myself and the kids being at home 98% of the time. I leave to grocery shop and for our weekend hike, but that’s about it. For now, we have halted all of the kids’ playdates, except for a few neighbor friends whose families we know have been home. We also don’t allow anyone (except for a few of the neighbors kids) into our home. Right now, as Hong Kong is experiencing its second surge of COVID-19 due to travelers returning we have stepped up our vigilance and social distancing. Given the uncertainty of the situation, we are doing all that we can.
I think it’s important we pace ourselves just like we would if we were running a marathon. This is going to take some time and often humans don’t like to wait and patience wears pretty quick. None of us know when this pandemic is going to be contained this is why it’s so important for each of us to individually take care of ourselves and our family, focus on the now and not project our thoughts into the future.
Individually, we can make a difference to flatten the curve:
Social distancing: Try and stay home with the family as much as you can and work from home wherever possible. This isn’t always feasible, or even possible for those working outside of the home who need to be vigilant taking public transport and only do so if needed. PLEASE have empathy and understanding that there are people losing their jobs, have dual incomes and unable to work from home, are single mothers, or fathers and are struggling to facilitate homeschooling their kids let alone finding care for them whilst being at work. This is not a time for preaching without the full picture. This looks different for everyone and no one has the right to judge another. Try to avoid places where contagion is at higher risk such as malls, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, etc. Reduce visitors to your home (I asked the three men who were helping to fix a drain at our house yesterday politely not to come inside the house when they had asked to check something.) Now is the time to embrace digital communication. Face call that friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while, create a google meet, or use zoom for an online gathering, or meeting and shop online where possible. Don’t distance yourself from digital-social interactions.
Wash hands: For proper handwashing CDC recommends 20 seconds, wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry. If soap and water are not available to use employ a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol – read the product label. Be sure to cover your mouth and nose whilst sneezing (sneeze into your elbow, not your hands). Additionally, here in Hong Kong most people here do not go outside without a face mask. Although this is not a replacement for social distancing or hand washing, we have learnt from SARS that this may in another precautionary measure that doesn’t hurt to employ. Further, six out of seven studies that tested mask efficacy which came out of SARS showed up to a 70% decrease of the spread when wearing one! That’s a significant finding.
Nutrition: Making sure we are consuming the 5 to thrive where possible at each meal. Look on your plate for protein, healthy fats, fiber, dark leafy greens and colored cellular carbohydrates, which are basically carbs with their cell wall still intact and wrapped in fiber including all vegetables, nuts, seeds, seaweed, etc.) Ensuring we are getting enough fiber is key to feed out gut buddies in our microbiota, which is advantageous to have to proliferate at this time. Lacto-fermented vegetables, prebiotic vegetables, and probiotics also can help to build a robust microbiota. My kids, huz and I make and drink my Thrive Smoothie every day, which contains all of the aforementioned. You can search for it in my recipes.
I recommend keeping a small stockpile of frozen organic kale, spinach and dark leafy greens in the freezer. As a caveat, please think of others when you shop so there are items left and let the elderly go ahead of you at the checkout – they need our kindness. Also, frozen berries (you can make my smoothie ‘sans-fruit’ too) and unsweetened nut/ seed/ coconut milk in the fridge, or you can freeze the milk into ice cube trays. Another idea is you can add 1Tbsp of nut butter with 1.5 cups of water into your blender to make ‘quick milk,’ to add as your liquid smoothie component, or just use water. This reduces multiple trips to the grocery store and helps to reduce your risk for exposure. The remaining ingredients in my Thrive Smoothie are all pantry-stable, BONUS! Whilst supplements may be helpful, it’s not necessary to race out and purchase these. Keep to the basics and refer to the experts (see below) with the science that has been shown to be most efficacious.
Exercise: Studies support that exercise and in particular strength/ resistance training and cardio can act as an immune system adjuvant (immunological agent), has an anti-inflammatory influence, decreases stress levels and in recent emerging evidence exercise plays an important role in enhancing the gut-microbiome. There is no shortage of online classes and app subscriptions with trainers at your service, or a simple walk out in nature, or walking to work will also have a positive effect on your brain, body, and microbiome. We were born to move and now is definitely not the time to stop.
Prioritize sleep: A lack of sleep can greatly weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to illness. It is our ultimate recovery superpower and nothing trumps it! When we have an infection, inflammation, or are stressed cytokines (a type of protein) produced by our body need to increase production in order to bring our body back to health and alignment. Cytokines are decreased when we are sleep deprived along with infection-fighting antibodies that compromise our immunity. Scheduling in some good shut-eye is more paramount than ever.
Keep calm: Fear puts you into a fight or flight response, which negatively impacts your biochemistry. Try: Meditation, breath work, a walk-in nature, take a bath soak, play with your kids, your dog, read a book, watch something funny on Netflix, or immerse yourself in that work project – whatever works for you. Dr. Huberman, Professor of Neuroscience and lab director at Stanford University School of Medicine provides extremely useful fast and effective simple tools to calm us, which assist in altering our biochemistry: “A double-nasal-inhale, followed by a long exhale repeated 3x helps to balance the ratio of 02 and C02 in the lungs (note: this is about stress, not an infection.”) He also has a free breathing body scan script along with many other tools, which you can check out on his website: https://www.hubermanlab.com/ and over on his Instagram page @hubermanlab which I like to visit often.
Minimize media exposure: This doesn’t mean to be uninformed. It means protecting your fight or flight response from constantly focusing on the situation. If the news triggers you take a break. If you’re ok with it check in maybe once, or twice a day and turn off notifications on your phone. Where you put your focus matters for your physical and emotional wellbeing along with your families too.
Please be vigilant: Remember that even mild asymptomatic individuals can infect other people. What we want to avoid are new strains of COVID-19, which would dramatically escalate the current situation. Higher risk individuals are those with pre-existing lung and immune conditions also the elderly and those with diabetes, high blood pressure and who are pregnant. My dear mother down in Sydney Australia has recovered from repeated bouts of pneumonia this past year and has a lesion on her lung, which puts her in the high risk category.
Trusted scientific sources:
It’s important we are ‘critical thinkers,’ in such profound uncertainty. Also, give yourself a ‘well done’ for doing the best you can at adjusting to such a steep learning curve. I wouldn’t have thought we would have been homeschooling our kiddos for seven weeks, but here we are. Initially, I allowed frustration of the limited time I could spend on my business and projects consume me, but then I let it go because it wasn’t serving me, my stress levels, biochemistry and hence my health. Is there anything you can let go of that’s not serving you right now?
A few ideas to calm the mind in a time of heightened uncertainty:
Instead of playing into fear & frustration, we try to look at this volatile pandemic interim as an opportunity for ‘family bonding.’ I’ll take cabin-fever any day over a virus. Saying that is in fact a privilege at the moment, as many people can’t be at home during this time. Prime your mind that this pandemic could sustain many months globally until the curve is flattened. One profound way I was able to get relief from the magnitude of my recent accident was to bring myself into the NOW. This is a very effective tool I use whenever I feel a sense of overwhelm, or anxiety consume me. Simply bring your focus into the now by looking around you as if you are seeing and hearing things for the first time. Allow your senses to become acutely aware of your immediate environment right now with all the little details. Projecting ourselves into the future can be all too overwhelming. Practise staying present by focusing on the now. If that doesn’t work for you try some breath work (I highly recommend Dr. Huberman’s work linked above), or a meditation/ mindfulness practise that helps you to decompress and disconnect from feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and/or anxious. Also, after my accident and soon after the overwhelm of having to homeschool my kids with limited time to get to my work now, I started a new habit. I keep a notepad beside my bed and write in it 5 things that were a WIN for me during the day, meaning 5 things that went well. This helps me to focus on even the smallest of WIN’s for the day, instead of going to bed with overwhelm, frustration and feeling defeated.
Getting yourself into as calm a head space as you possibly can will also help you to be kinder to yourself and others. We are collectively united now more-so than ever before, so make sure you send out some much-needed love into our beautiful global community and and receive love back. Your experience right now really does depend on the focus of your attention. Try to be mindful of where your focus is and if it’s not serving you shift it using some of the tools I have mentioned above. Let’s all do our part so that the health professionals on the front line in our hospitals can do theirs, as they selflessly and tirelessly work to try to contain this virus. If you are one of these people, THANK YOU for all that you are doing right now and please stay well! Thank you too to those who work at grocery stores, public transportation and to flight crews who are still operating – also putting themselves at higher risk. Please keep well and know that I do not stand alone when I say, THANK YOU!
Let’s all try to be critical thinkers at this time. There’s a lot of misinformation circulating. Look to the scientists and epidemiologists in the field and government websites I have mentioned above for the most credible prevention information. I believe we are all going to learn a lot from this and that we will come out of this TOGETHER with MUCH more than when we went in. Please feel free to share this information/ link with colleagues, friends and loved ones if you feel this could help give them a succinct insight into the current situation, which is always evolving. I hope this has been a helpful read and I want you to know that I would LOVE to hear from you and how you are personally doing. If you have a questions than I have not covered here please feel free to ask me! I am mostly present on Instagram @priscillasoligo.com so drop me a message on my feed (fastest to reply) or DM me (slower to reply.) Hopefully I shall see you there.
❤️ Sending you so much love. Stay well, everyone!