The way I am thinking about the coronavirus today is a complete 180 degrees from what I thought earlier this week.  I now feel like the coronavirus is a ticking time bomb that, depending on how quickly we act, can either have a greatly reduced negative impact or turn into a massive, tragic bomb for all of us.

You see, this pandemic is not just about you and me.  It is about everyone.  Why should I be scared?  I am 53 and healthy.  Big deal — even if I do get sick, chances are I’ll be fine.  But that is the wrong way to look at this because it doesn’t take into account so many other factors.

I read a long but very informative article by a software developer named Jason Warner that made me completely change my outlook on the coronavirus.  Although Warner is not a pandemic expert, he’s a math wiz, and the way he breaks down the numbers about the pandemic is very compelling.  Now I am convinced it’s something we need to take seriously.  I am going to summarize the long article I read into three crucial points that I feel are worth sharing.  Our information on this virus is evolving so rapidly, and all we can do is try to weed out the most reliable information and go from there.  I wouldn’t be sharing this information if it hadn’t affected me so strongly and if I didn’t feel that it was rational and level-headed. I’m no expert on this subject, but if I can share information that seems sensible to help keep people safe and healthy, I want to do so.

If you’d prefer to read the full article by Jason Warner, you can do so here: The Sober Math Everyone Must Understand About the Pandemic

3 Crucial Points to Understand about the Coronavirus


1. The real problem is a shortage of hospital beds and ventilators, leading to many more deaths than necessary.

If we don’t slow the spread of this virus, we will overwhelm our medical professionals and hospitals and won’t be able to properly treat everyone who contracts the virus.  This means that many people will die who wouldn’t otherwise have to.  There are approximately 1,200 hospital beds in the area where I live.  According to the article we’ve linked to above, it’s statistically likely that 65% of them are already full (for people being treated for medical issues unrelated to coronavirus) and it’s possible that only 5% of the hospital beds and needed equipment are available to contain this type of disease.  Whether it is a lack of ventilators, doctors, or the beds, our hospitals will be overwhelmed way beyond our capacity.  Social distancing reduces the burden on hospitals and health care workers, buying us time to treat everyone who becomes infected in phases instead of all at onceIt could be the difference between being treated in the hospital or in a parking lot med tent.  And remember, it’s not just coronavirus victims this will affect.  If your aunt needs emergency surgery or your friend gets in a car crash in the next few months, there is a high likelihood that there won’t be hospital beds or skilled surgeons available to help them.

This graph shows the incubation period of the COVID-19 coronavirus compared to other infections, including pneumonia and swine flu.

 

2. We are looking at the wrong numbers.

As I write this on March 19, only 14 cases have shown up in our little town of 400,000.  Seems trivial at best when compared to other things like the normal flu.  The problem is that for every known case there could be 50 others who are infected and don’t know it yet, because it can take days for any symptoms to show.  The people who don’t know they have it yet are infecting others every day when they are out in public.  Mathematically, if we don’t self-quarantine, the author of the article estimates that those 14 known cases can become 14,000 cases within 30 days.  He also estimates the amount of infected people will double every three days if we do nothing, but we can stop it from spreading at this pace by practicing social distancing. 14,000 cases in the Reno area would mean that some people will die because they won’t be able to get the medical care they’ll need.  There just won’t be enough beds and resources to treat them.

This infographic from the Nevada Independent shows the rate of spread here in all of Nevada.  You can see the live updates here.

 

3. The sooner we take action and practice social distancing, the more people we will save.

If we take the hard road and more or less shut down everything as much as we can for a 3 to 4 week period, we can reduce the rate of infection and buy ourselves time.  If we don’t, it will continue to spread and the time and cost of dealing with it will go on for much longer.  That 3 to 4 week period will allow those affected to not only seek medical care as needed, but gives us time to get tested and identify who is infected.  I am sure those who are infected would not be going out in public once they are aware.

Social distancing helps to “flatten the curve,” which means to slow the spread of the virus and prevent overwhelming the health care system.  Check out more graphs like this here

Our brains have a hard time with the concept of exponential growth.  This whole thing reminds me of the example of doubling a penny every day for 31 days in a row to demonstrate how compounding works.  A single penny turns into $10 million dollars at the end of 31 days.  Our minds have a hard time believing numbers like that are even possible.  We have the same problem believing a virus could spread so rapidly and get that out of control.

A few days ago, I would have told you that the public response was overblown, probably politically motivated, and one more way for the government to stick their grimy claws into our business.  I was wrong.  If we take this seriously and social distance ourselves for the next 30 days or so, we could potentially save many lives and make a big difference in the final outcome.  If we don’t, many of us and others will pay the price for our inaction.

Nothing is fun about social distancing. The economy will be negatively affected, and small businesses will struggle to stay afloat.  But the choice is to either rip the band-aid off now (no pun intended) and try to mitigate the spread of the virus as much as possible or face a much more bitter outcome down the road.  Our company has decided to work remotely for the next 3 weeks at a minimum and my family is practicing social distancing.  Here is what I keep telling myself, “This too shall pass.  It always does and we will get through it.”  I wish the best for you and your family during these challenging times.

P.S.  We have inside information from someone who works at a large hospital in our area that backs up these possible numbers.

  • The ICU beds in our area are normally at capacity, so adding the coronavirus on top of that is not good news.
  • Nurses are specially-trained to care for patients who need ventilators.  We likely only have a handful of these nurses in our area and other nurses cannot be trained quickly in this specialized skill.
  • Our local hospital already has a shortage of surgical masks, and the nurses are being asked to wear them until they have a hole in them.
  • There is a possibility that the hardest hit cities, like Seattle, will be attracting travel nurses to them by offering them lots of money.  This could drain our local supply of nurses, as we depend heavily on travel nurses to fill our shortage.

We’re not saying this to scare you.  We just feel this is information that not everyone knows about or is considering.  Look – this whole thing could be completely overblown.  But since we don’t know… isn’t it better to err on the side of caution?