Exponential Growth It's a big building with patients but that's not important right now Life nonlinear dynamics Problem Solving Randomness real world Risk Statistics

COVID-19 & You

Well, now we face the hard reality of being human. As the World Health Organization officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic, the recriminations abound about how slow nations around the world were to respond to it. Bottom line, this is going to get worse before it gets better. Worse than that, it is already worse than we think, because we don’t have the testing available to understand the scope of the problem.

How much worse is the pressing question for all of us, and it is unlikely that, without actual testing, anyone really knows. Although people would like to believe that what happens in the weeks to come is dependent on how aggressively our government acts to contain or slow this thing, our basic truth is we do not know. We can assume, as we see already, we will suffer costs related to social and economic disruptions. Yet, what will come, and how bad it will be, is highly dependent on the virus itself, how many are currently actually infected and infectious, AND what we do if we ourselves are not feeling well.

The situation, on the one hand, shows the incredible fragility of interconnected systems that came along with the benefits of globalization. It shows how we the people, and our elected leaders, have neglected this highly probable threat even though everyone involved knew of the enormous impact. I mean, seriously, does no one else recall Richard Preston’s 1994 nonfiction thriller “The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story?” I know that one scared the b’Jesus out of me back then.

Enter xenophobia (not helpful): since COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China, some people have started calling it the “China-virus.” However, the evidence is not there to support this racist claim. As has been observed by the scientists researching the outbreak, the earliest case, the patient became ill on December 1, 2019 and had no reported link to the Wuhan seafood market. “No epidemiological link was found between the first patient and later cases.” Their data also shows that 13 of the 41 cases had no link to the marketplace at all. [see:].

Link to Wuhan seafood market weak (source: Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China | The Lancet |  VOLUME 395, ISSUE 10223, P497-506, FEBRUARY 15, 2020)

The sad truth about being you (and me), is that you (and I) are both subject to the various risks of disease that impact us as humans. This idea that the virus is “Chinese” in nature is just ridiculous. It is decidedly human in nature. I mean really? We know the virus is not respecting Chinese borders AND we have seen a spate of new infections which have now developed in the United States, Iran, and Italy. Shoot, let’s get real: most places on the planet.

World map showing countries with COVID-19 cases
COVID-19 cases around the world as of March 11, 2020

Yet, in another example of how he just doesn’t get it, US President Donald Trump has announced a ban on travelers to the United States from Europe for the next 30 days. Another one of these weird misguided attempts to blame the spread of the coronavirus on others. I mean seriously?!?!

Calling coronavirus a “foreign virus,” Trump then attacked Europe for not taking the same actions to control the disease that he supposedly had taken. “As a result” of Europe’s inaction, Trump said, “a large number of clusters” of coronavirus “were seeded by travelers from Europe.”  I guess he doesn’t understand that both the US and Europe were well in the thick of it (like the rest of the world) back when no one really knew what was going on (December 2019), and we are all now subject to the same exponential growth. I believe that rate of growth to be in the neighborhood of 15-20% based on backing into these numbers off the daily published new cases in the last two weeks.

Key Idea Here: The horse is out of the barn. The ship has sailed. Disruption, vaccination, and natural immunity are really all we have left in our arsenal. If we fail at disruption in the short run, we will likely overwhelm our healthcare system.

So, what is the best way to disrupt? Some people are taking this to an extreme. They worry about the wrong things, like taking a plane for example. Why? Well, for starters, COVID-19 is not airborne. Instead, it’s transmitted through droplets of fluid or mucus that you cough or sneeze out, which generally don’t travel further than six feet. So, if you have a cold, do the rest of us a solid and stay home. If you don’t, then don’t worry about traveling by plane.

What can you do? If you have any symptoms of a cold, stay home. If you start to experience respiratory distress, call your doctor and make a plan. If you know you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home. If your company allows a work from home situation and you normally work in an office with lots of people, stay home. Use the interwebs and your cell phone to stay connected.

If we reduce the rate of new infections as much as possible, our healthcare system will be able to handle it. In turn, this will drive the fatality rate down. If we are successful at spreading the new infections out over time (new infections are inevitable) we will likely reach a point where vaccinations are widely available which can help eliminate almost all of the future the risk. So, our collective realistic goal is to not eliminate all future COVID-19 infections right now, but to delay them to a future point where we humans are better able to cope.

Look, a lot of smart people are trying to come up with the best advice they can. Some of it will change based on new information. The situation will get “worse” in terms of accurately reporting the number of people infected as testing catches up with reality. However, like MERS, SARS, N1H1 and even the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome we will ultimately figure this out.

In the mean time, keep yourself up-to-date by tracking this site:

Leave a Reply