Still not convinced you should care?
- Only 1% fatality? 1% of this country is nearly 3 million people. We have no vaccine and no herd immunity (everyone in susceptible), so the original “if we do nothing” CDC high side estimate of nearly 2 million deaths makes sense. That’s nearly 1000 times more deaths than 9/11.
- Only an old people problem? First of all, your grandma is saying shame on you. Second of all, should this thing overwhelm hospitals and you get into an accident or your kids need help, guess who else is gonna be SOL? Good luck getting an ICU. If this peaks, we will have 1 ventilator for every 8 people who need one. Also remember that western countries like ours have a very large elderly population.
- Only a problem with countries that socialized medicine? Guess again. Finite resources are finite. It’s flu season and our hospitals are already running near capacity. Only so many beds, so many doctors, and so much equipment. The capacity is designed for normal times and not for country-wide surges. There are only 790,000 hospital beds and 100,000 ICU beds total in all of the hospitals across the country. Johns Hopkins predicts 9.6 million people will need to be hospitalized and 3 million will need ICU care. According to Harvard projections, even if we were to empty 50% of currently occupied beds, we’d need 3-5x more beds than we have to care for the patients.
- Don’t understand “flattening the curve”? Look no further than the TP aisle in your grocery store to see what happens when a finite resource goes into high demand over a short period of time. If you’re more of a visual learner, check out the animated graph below that illustrates the importance of early action.
But are seasonal flu and H1n1 worse?
So, how does this compare to something like H1N1? I’ve heard repeated claims that this is no worse than seasonal flu or H1N1 (swine flu), so let’s compare on some critical dimensions.
- Existing immunity. Nearly one-third of people over 60 years old had antibodies against H1N1, most likely due to exposure to an older strain earlier in their lives. No such luck with COVID-19.
- Fatality rate. The fatality rate for H1N1 was .02% compared to 2-5% for COVID-19.
- Contagiousness (R0). For every person who contracted H1N1, they spread it to 1.2 to 1.6 people. For every person who contracts COVID-19, they are spreading it to 2 to 4 people.
- Existing treatments. With H1N1, we had antivirals to help facilitate recovery. We have no such treatments for COVID-19; antivirals lessen severe flu symptoms, reducing the need for intensive care and reducing the risk of death.
It’s more infectious. It’s more deadly. We have fewer options for fighting it. Given all of these factors, it puts our medical system’s ability to handle it at far greater risk.
Timing is everything
Right now is the only time we can hope to control any of it. We have a long historical record in this country and proof from overseas that social distancing works to flatten the curve and either lessen or distribute the medical system burden over a longer, more manageable period of time.
- We need to buy the time necessary to build capacity and give our healthcare system a fighting chance.
- We all need to do our part in distancing and in getting the word out to help those who won’t be able to help themselves if we mismanage this.
We’ve seen this play out two ways on the international stage. It’s been a disaster in places like China and Italy that didn’t get out ahead of it. Countries that learned from H1N1 like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea enacted strict travel controls, social distancing measures and as a result, have much lower proportionate numbers of infections and fatalities.
The risk to you as an individual today is quite low. The risk to our larger community is quite high. This too shall pass, but how we talk about it with our grandkids will depend on the steps you take today. 🙏🏼
Sources and recommended reading
I’ve compiled a list of my sources below and will continue to update whenever I find helpful visuals and information useful to combatting the awful misinformation that continues to circulate.
Visualizations and Estimators
- New York Times: Best and Worst Case Scenarios
- Medium: Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
- Vox: Why we’re not overreacting to the coronavirus, in one chart
- Washington Post: Why outbreaks like coronavirus spread exponentially, and how to “flatten the curve” (h/t to former Axios colleague Harry Stevens for the great work on this one)
- Tim Ferris Blog: Predicting Hospital Capacity: Why to Act Early, How to Think About Lag Time, and a Model You Can Use
- COVID Act Now: State and county-level projections.
- Johns Hopkins University: Cases by county (US)
- CDC: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
- CDC: H1N1 Pandemic
- World Economic Forum: Coronavirus vs flu: how do they compare?
- New England Journal of Medicine: First Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States
- USA Today: US hospitals will run out of beds if coronavirus cases spike
- New York Times: Younger Adults Make Up Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.
- New York Times: Measures needed to protect the US against a fast-moving pathogen.
- Axios: Coronavirus The big picture
- Axios: How the coronavirus pandemic differs from the flu
- NBC News: ‘This is a war’: NYC doctors describe fight against coronavirus as cases surge
Deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse universe of sources, including but not limited to, software development, management, business matters, work from home life, emerging tech, and STEM parenting.