Everything you really need to know about the coronavirus
Yes, you really do need to go out and buy toilet paper and two week’s worth of food. But not because we’re all going to die. Not even because we’re all even going to get sick. You should do it because it’s the best thing you can do for the rest of our society.
You are probably going to get the Coronavirus.
In fact, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch predicts that in the next year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. He does, however, say that he doesn’t think those four billion or so people will get really ill — most of the cases are mild, and up to 25 percent of the people who get the virus have no symptoms at all.
So, if up to 70 percent of the world will get this virus, why shouldn’t we be panicking? Honestly, because you’re not panicked about getting the flu every year, and this virus isn’t much worse. The coronavirus really isn’t much worse than the regular flu, unless you’re a smoker, you’re older with other health issues, or you have respiratory problems. If you are in these categories, the flu would worry you, too. Yes, we think the death rate is higher with the coronavirus, but we don’t know by how much, because medical care and reporting in China are so different than what we have here. It’s possible that the death rate in the US will turn out to be below one percent, or about the same as a really bad strain of the flu.
So, if it’s just like the flu, why are we being told to stock up?
Why are countries closing schools, shutting down sports events and banning travel?
Because we need time.
There were 32 million cases of flu in the United States during this flu season, and 310,000 people were in the hospital. More than 18,000 people died. But no one is advising people to stock up and buy juice and two weeks' worth of food because of the flu. Why not?
Because those 310,000 hospitalizations were spread out over the entire country over the past five to six months. That’s “only” about 50,000 hospitalizations a month, or 1,000 per state — though obviously the flu isn’t distributed evenly among the states, the numbers give you an idea of how much easier it is for any hospital to handle a few cases a week than 1,000 all at once.
This is where you come in, and this is where the new coronavirus is different from the flu: It’s not going to spread like the flu does, because this is the first time we’ve been around it. With the normal flu, lots of people are immune. And almost HALF of all Americans get the flu shot, so the spread of flu is limited: When this virus hits, it’s going to spread fast, and it’s going to hit hard. And it’s going to spread without anyone protected from it.
Let’s say that over the next couple of months, the coronavirus hits here as hard as the flu does. We don’t know how likely this scenario is — in China, there have “only” been 85,000 cases, vs 32 million cases of flu. We’re a bigger country and more spread out, with fewer people, so it might spread more slowly, but we’re also not going to lock people up in apartment buildings and shut down whole cities, so let’s go with that number for now.
Let’s say we end up with 32 million people getting the Coronavirus in the United States, just like the flu: But almost all cases are in California. Or almost are all of them are in the same month. So far, about 80 percent of the people who got the coronavirus had mild cases. In 15 percent of cases, the illness was severe, and five percent were critically ill.
Five percent of 32 million is 1,600,000 people. All critically ill. They’re going to need hospital beds, and supplies, and help. In a regular flu season, ICUs are filed with people on mechanical ventilation. In a severe flu pandemic, the federal government says we’d need ventilators for 740,000 people. There are 62,000 ventilators available in the country. So we don’t have what we need for everyone to get sick all at once.
So what’s the answer? We can slow down the rate of the spread of the disease. Odds are pretty good that the coronavirus is going to spread, and it’s going to become a permanent part of our landscape, like the flu and like colds, and every year, people will get it. In a few years, we’ll be used to it, and it will be part of “flu season.”
But for now, together, if we can slow down the spread of the disease so that instead of everyone getting sick in one month, everyone gets sick over four months, or six months, then we’re talking about increasing the quality of care and the impact of the disease exponentially. Hospitals can cope with cases that trickle in over a longer period of time. They can’t cope with everyone sick all at once.
Stores can cope with everyone coming in now, to buy soap and toilet paper, when they’re not sick, when everyone is just throwing a few extra things in the basket. They can order more Tylenol, and they can get more Gatorade. They can’t cope with panic buying, in a month, when everyone is sick and really needs it, when the schools are closed and there are empty shelves, and people get scared. We need to not overrun systems with panic, and with disease: What we need is more time.
So, what can we do? Stocking up helps. Not touching your face helps. Making sure that you stay pretty healthy so you don’t need to go to the hospital for anything else will help. Washing your hands really does help. The new virus is an “enveloped” virus, which means it’s surrounded by a fat layer. Soap and water can dissolve this greasy fatty layer around the virus and kill it.
So, our mission as good citizens of the Earth is to help slow the spread of this virus to help even out the load on society, on panic, on supply chains, and on hospitals.
We do that by having two week’s worth of supplies at home, if we can afford it and have space for it, and by looking out for those who don’t have the resources. Everyone can use common sense practices to stay healthy, like not touching your face, washing your hands, and trying to prepare for the event that someone at home might be sick — get some juice, don’t take sick days now in case you might need them later (if you get sick days,) check on people in your neighborhood and make a plan in case someone is sick and needs some soup. Otherwise, just keep on with normal life. Just with clean hands.