Coronavirus Chronicles — Water

Imagine a huge pond whose water is so placid the surface looks like glass. If a stone is flung into any sector of the pond, ripples will ensue, and they will affect every molecule of the surface, to the farthest edges. The effect is more visible on a calm surface, but the basics of fluid dynamics apply in agitated water too.

Put some salt in a boiling pot, and all the water becomes salty. Water is actually a good metaphor for the overarching effect of the COVID-19 virus on the entire planet. Everything is affected.

Some experts think that life on Earth will never be the same, and will be subject to periodic shutdowns, as the contagion flares back up or another one takes its place. According to the authors of this article,

The experiences in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore suggest that social distancing orders, if lifted after short periods, will have to be periodically re-instated to control COVID-19 flare ups.

Inevitably, this would make the “vacation effect” even worse, with constant escalation of child obesity.

While most places are still in the first wave of the pandemic, others appear to have a good head start on their second wave already. When rules about social distancing and personal protective equipment are relaxed, the whole thing takes off again with renewed energy. Science writer Robert Roy Britt says,

Between people who are sick but have not been tested and the unknown number of people carrying the disease without any symptoms and transmitting it […] epidemiologists says it’s completely unknown how many people are actually infected.

We are nowhere near having a handle on this thing. As we have seen, people more likely to suffer severe cases, and to die, are those with underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes which share their comorbidity status with obesity. None of those predispositions is likely to disappear any time soon.

We may cling to a naive belief that hot summer weather will quell the virus, but as immunologist Mark Cameron says,

COVID-19 has already bulldozed through multiple different climates in the Northern and Southern hemispheres quite easily.

The World Health Organization defines an “improved water source” as “water that is supplied through a household connection, public standpipe, borehole well, protected dug well, protected spring, or rainwater collection.” In the world, around 780 million people do not have access to any of those alternatives. In many developing countries, clean water is a luxury, while in others, it may not be obtainable for even the relatively affluent class. There are places where the nearest drinkable water is three miles away.

More than 1.38 billion people live in India — that’s 17% of the world’s population — and water shortage is a way of life. Most people do not have running water in their homes. In some areas, the women walk a mile or more to wait in line for water that they carry home, where they store it in anything that doesn’t leak.

There are communal taps in public places, and so, writes Nilanjana Bhowmick,

They can wash their hands or they can keep their social distance, but it’s hard to practice both methods of warding off the disease at the same time. A single 20-second wash plus wetting and rinsing uses at least two liters of water, more than half a gallon. For a family of four washing 10 times a day each, that’s 80 liters just for handwashing.

If there is water, there may not be soap. In rural areas, citizens depend on the government to deliver water in trucks — with any luck, enough for handwashing, but not for anything fancy like cooking or bathing. India’s caste system is still strong, and of course the upper-caste people have first dibs. And if the trucks fail to show up, as often happens, even the relatively wealthy inhabitants are out of luck.

Next time, we look at some other hot places with insufficient water supplies.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID‐19 Related School Closings and Risk of Weight Gain Among Children,”, 03/30/20
Source: “The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Only Just Begun,”, 04/04/20
Source: “Global WASH Fast Facts,”, undated
Source: “Handwashing helps stop COVID-19. But in India, water is scarce,”, 04/07/20
Image by Oxfam East Africa/(CC BY 2.0)

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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