Letter from the Editor: May, 2020

To Our Dear Readers,

Hi! My name is Lasya. I’m the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for COVID19 Demystified.

The idea behind COVID19 Demystified began with me (along with every other undergrad) getting kicked out of my lab due to the COVID19 Pandemic. “Go home,” said the lab manager, poking his head quickly out of his office, “until campus opens again.”

I went home (one thing that’s important to learn- the lab manager often knows best). I sat in the living room and watched the news and felt my heart break when I saw the fear and uncertainty in everyone’s eyes. I realized that I was lucky, immensely so, to have the scientific education that I did. I was lucky to know what a virus was, to know how it infects cells, to know what sort of treatments and preventative measures could be put in place. I was lucky to be able to read the latest research and keep up to date on the efforts from around the world. And more than anything else, I was lucky because I knew at an instinctual level that no matter what happened I wasn’t going to be facing this pandemic alone.

I knew that science was fighting for me. I knew it always had been. And that knowledge- as silly as it may sound- brought me a lot of comfort. COVID19 Demystified was born of a desire to share that comfort. I wanted to find a way to share the latest research with people who didn’t have the same background as me. The key goal of COVID19 Demystified has remained unchanged from this earliest iteration: our goal is to bring COVID19 research to the public by presenting it in laymen’s terms. No jargon or complex terminology- just pure science.

On March 20, 2020 I made a website using WordPress. I was the only author. We had no expert reviewers, no editors (besides me) and the website looked… well, I tried my best. That evening I sat in my backyard and wrote two articles- one highlighting work from Scripps Research Institute and the other explaining the principles of mutation.

Eventually the website needed money to develop further (a site with ads and without a proper domain doesn’t look great). I reached out to WordPress and the Schulich Leader Scholarships, who were happy to help with the funds needed. Thanks to them the website now looked a lot better.

Our team began to grow enormously as I started get the same message over and over again across several platforms: ‘I think what you’re doing is important. I want to help.’

We gathered more authors. I began to recruit expert reviewers (beginning with my professor and mentor Dr. Scott Covey) in an effort to ensure scientific accuracy and faithful interpretation of the research. We cleaned up our site, built up a marketing team and a Twitter presence and set up collaborations with illustrators to promote our articles in a visual medium. I started to get emails from across the world- from people that I’d never met before and, if it wasn’t for this project, never would have met.

Soon our volume of incoming posts was so high that I was scrambling to get them all expert reviewed in time. I put out a call for virologists and I got an answer so beyond anything I could have anticipated. Offers of help poured in from virology researchers from as far away as the Netherlands- professors, postdoctoral students and industry researchers alike. All of them reached out with the same sentiment again- ‘I think what you’re doing is important. I want to help.’

On April 22, 2020 we crossed 10,000 views from over 55 countries across the world. Two weeks later we are well on our way to hit the 14,000 view mark. We’ve collaborated with amazing projects from across the world including COVID Graph and the COVID19 Physician’s Hub. Our posts undergo a rigorous, well established editorial process that ensures that every single post we put out is held to a high scientific standard. We’ve been given advice by experts in scientific education and communication and have had a chance to work with some of the top virologists in the world. We’ve begun to move into translations and have found an enormous demand for those posts. People are actually reading our posts, and it feels like we’re making a difference.

COVID19 Demystified has now become a collaboration of scientists from across the world and across career levels. It’s served as a meeting place, a communal goal and a central cause that has worked to highlight the attitude of scientists around the world: ‘This is important. I want to help.’

If there’s anything I really wanted to say in this letter, it’s this: Scientists do what they do, work the hours they work, study for as long as they study, because they want to understand the world better. They want to figure out how to make our lives better. They want to help you. Most importantly, science is fighting for you every step of the way.

Science is a love affair with the universe. I hope that through this site we can share some of that love with you. As a parting reminder: everything we present is data gathered by professional scientists- we just translate it for everyone else.

Sincerely yours,

Lasya Vankayala

Editor-in-Chief, COVID19 Demystified

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