The gravity of the current coronavirus epidemic/pandemic cannot be overstated. Because of the heavy dependence on imports for ingredients in organic food and supplements (and the likelihood of hoarding), it will certainly have an impact on the farming community. International trade is already being disrupted in conventional food and patent drugs. If you have not already seen product shortages, they will likely appear in the near-term.

The Natural Foods Expo in Anaheim, CA, was recently canceled (“postponed”) after a substantial number of companies like General Mills, Organic Valley, and Whole Foods withdrew. This is the largest industry tradeshow with an expected attendance of 88,000. Although I wasn’t planning to attend this year, I have in the past and have never been anywhere more crowded. I’m not surprised companies and people were bailing out.

In my neighborhood here in Wisconsin, the CROPP Cooperative (Organic Valley) has canceled their annual membership meeting and, reportedly, banned visitors from their offices. I don’t know of a single farming or food conference that is going ahead as planned. Many other businesses in the organic sector have prohibited travel and asked their employees to work from home if at all possible.

Below is an authoritative letter forwarded to me by an OrganicEye member which I think contains some very well-taken expert advice and analysis, some of which hasn’t been widely disseminated by the media. I have also added a few thoughts of my own.

If organic food is an important part of maintaining your health and the health of your family, you should think about stocking up on staples and whatever else you would need to stay at home for a period of time if that is required or recommended in your area.

Please take this seriously. Virologists are now predicting that this virus could be widespread and well-distributed throughout our country in as little as two weeks.

Mark Kastel

What I am doing for the upcoming COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic by James Robb, MD UC San Diego

Dear Colleagues, 

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 US are only probable, due to continued insufficient worldwide data, but it is most likely to be widespread in the US 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. [Many experts are now suggesting no physical contact.]
  2. Use ONLY your knuckle [or better yet, your elbow] to touch light switches. elevator buttons, etc. Lift the gasoline dispenser with a paper towel or use a disposable glove.
  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. [Again, the elbow is effective on most 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 [the most recent recommendation is for at least 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!

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.

What I have [additionally] stocked in preparation for the pandemic spread to the US:

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.

2) Stock up now with disposable surgical masks and use them to prevent you from touching your nose and/or 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. [Unfortunately, in the days since this email was originally sent by Dr. Robb to his colleagues, many of these supplies are very challenging to procure]

I, as many others do, hope that 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. You are welcome to share this email. Good luck to all of us!


Additional thoughts from Mark Kastel: 

While I am not a medical professional, I would also add the following suggestions:

  • You may want to investigate using a neti pot for nasal irrigation, especially if the zinc lozenges recommended are no longer available. I am now doing a neti pot whenever I return from being out. I have also started isolating myself more — not all that hard, since most of the events I would attend are being canceled.
  • If you can’t find disposable gloves, you could use some cotton work gloves, washing after each use in hot water and bleach. These should be available at Farm and Fleet or elsewhere. Even if they only provide minimal additional protection from the virus itself, they will remind you not to touch your face with your hands — no one is going to stick their gloved hand into their eye. 
  • And although the cheaper masks might not protect you, if you are at all symptomatic, they might provide some protection for those around you.
  • In addition to masks, you might want to procure safety goggles (again, available at farm suppliers, hardware stores or home centers).
  • However, most importantly, you can protect your community by isolating yourself if you have a fever or are exhibiting respiratory symptoms. And if anyone in your household is ill, you should exercise the utmost caution if going out into the community. Having a neighbor do your shopping and leave your food on the doorstep, if possible, might be most prudent for everyone.
  • If you have to seek medical attention (due to the coronavirus or any other malady) you are strongly encouraged to call first. This will give the medical facility the opportunity to route you to an entrance that will isolate you from other patients and where the staff is already gowned and wearing other protective equipment. Some institutions are actually meeting patients in the parking lot so they don’t have to get out of their car for triage.