Report Open Access
The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a severe test of current epidemiological and immunological frameworks and technologies. Several striking features have presented themselves, including the extreme disparity in infection and mortality rates from one country to another (and from one state to another within the US), the typically very slow decline of the epidemic after peaking in a given country, and the relatively low levels of infection in some countries (based on antibody testing) despite months of epidemic status. Clarity and consensus on the underlying reasons for these features is urgent in order to craft optimal strategies for ending lock-downs and planning for possible subsequent waves of COVID-19. In this paper we describe a framework that has the potential to explain these features of the pandemic. We hypothesise an emergent, long-ranged pre-conditioning field (PCF), generated by infected individuals and provoking a preliminary immune response in distant non-infected individuals. We show that incorporating a PCF within the simplest SIR model is capable of describing the epidemic features described above, and also predicts subsequent waves of epidemic if pre-conditioning deteriorates too rapidly over time. Long-ranged dispersal of viral detritus from infected individuals is discussed as a candidate mechanism for the PCF, and biophysical and immunological arguments are provided for its plausibility. Our main conclusions are relatively insensitive to the precise form of the PCF. Should the general concepts given here prove compelling, some proactive steps to tackle the pandemic within the PCF framework can be considered prior to a detailed specification of the PCF itself.