It’s all we can talk about this “Covid 19” – and no wonder. What started just a short while ago in China has swept across the world. Countries are closing their doors. From Asia to Wall St., markets have crashed. So have airlines. Streets and stadiums, shops and shop floors are empty. Unemployment rates are skyrocketing.
Words like “quarantine” have come back from history, new terms like “self-quarantine” and “social distance” have become part of our daily conversations. And with no one going out, no one working, no goods going anywhere, it’s no wonder that life as we knew it is collapsing.
So are we totally over-reacting? Really, quarantines and lockdowns?
Well, you do the math. If one person has the virus and infects just two people and the next day those two people each infect just two more people and so on for a week – seven days – each person infecting just two others, that one person will be responsible for 128 new cases. Suppose, however, there were some sort of self-quarantine and self-distancing in effect so person-1 infects just two people in three days, and each of them infects just two more people every three days for a week, that one person will be responsible for slightly more than 8 new cases.
Why does this matter?
Again, you do the math. On average about 15% of Covid-19 cases require hospital care and 5% require ICU care. In case one, 19 people will be hospitalized and 6 will require ICU care. In case two, 1 will need hospitalization and “1/2” will require ICU care.
Even without considering the huge cost differential, the problem is that the world does not have enough hospital beds for all the anticipated Covid-19 patients. (The US, for example, anticipates 100,000,000 cases, of which 15% is 15,000,000, about 16 times as many patients as there are beds in the entire hospital system and 150 times as many extra beds as there are above normal requirements.) Cutting infection rates by a factor of 9 through quarantine can make a huge difference in the number of people who must be turned away without hospital care and so in the number of deaths from Covid-19.
Cutting infection rates this way is called “flattening the curve.” It does not mean that fewer people will ultimately be infected. It means that fewer people will be infected really fast all at once. (After all, a hospital bed can be used over and over again, but not twice at the same time!) It will not save us entirely, but if we can “manage” our response to Covid-19, we can save some lives and much suffering.
What to do?
The obvious things. Make test kits as fast as possible. Make needed hospital equipment like respirators as fast as possible. Build emergency hospitals as fast as possible.
What’s the catch?
“As fast as possible” won’t do much to slow down a fast moving virus.
What can we do right now?
Stop the virus by stopping new infections.
Why didn’t we see this coming?
Well, we did. Scientists have known that it was just a matter of time before this happened. They held their collective breaths for avian flu, SARS and MERS – and we dodged the bullets. People thought they were crying wolf and ignored them. The wolf was there before, just not hungry. This time the wolf is here again and very hungry.
Why aren’t we prepared?
This is two questions. The first one is political. Why don’t we have the needed reserve of hospital beds, respirators and masks. The answer is simple: Like all insurance, it is hard to pay a high premium policy for something that may not happen for a very long time. How much would you have been willing to see your tax bill go up to build a pandemic reserve?
The second question is scientific. Why don’t we have a vaccine against Covid-19 like we do against the seasonal flu or medicines to cure it? The simple answer is because we have never seen this little guy before.
For a more complete answer, a microbiologist at the CDC explains:
Understanding the Corona Virus
“Feeling confused as to why Coronavirus is a bigger deal than Seasonal flu? Here it is in a nutshell. I hope this helps. Feel free to share this to others who don’t understand…
It has to do with RNA sequencing…. I.e. genetics.
Seasonal flu is an “all human virus”. The DNA/RNA chains that make up the virus are recognized by the human immune system. This means that your body has some immunity to it before it comes around each year… you get immunity two ways…through exposure to a virus, or by getting a flu shot.
Novel viruses, come from animals…. the WHO tracks novel viruses in animals, (sometimes for years watching for mutations). Usually these viruses only transfer from animal to animal (pigs in the case of H1N1) (birds in the case of the Spanish flu). But once, one of these animal viruses mutates, and starts to transfer from animals to humans… then it’s a problem, Why? Because we have no natural or acquired immunity.. the RNA sequencing of the genes inside the virus isn’t human, and the human immune system doesn’t recognize it so, we can’t fight it off.
Now…. sometimes, the mutation only allows transfer from animal to human, for years it’s only transmission is from an infected animal to a human before it finally mutates so that it can now transfer human to human… once that happens..we have a new contagion phase. And depending on the fashion of this new mutation, thats what decides how contagious, or how deadly it’s gonna be..
H1N1 was deadly….but it did not mutate in a way that was as deadly as the Spanish flu. It’s RNA was slower to mutate and it attacked its host differently, too.
Now, here comes this Coronavirus… it existed in animals only, for nobody knows how long…but one day, at an animal market, in Wuhan China, in December 2019, it mutated and made the jump from animal to people. At first, only animals could give it to a person… But here is the scary part…. in just TWO WEEKS it mutated again and gained the ability to jump from human to human. Scientists call this quick ability, “slippery”
This Coronavirus, not being in any form a “human” virus (whereas we would all have some natural or acquired immunity). Took off like a rocket. And this was because, Humans have no known immunity…doctors have no known medicines for it.
And it just so happens that this particular mutated animal virus, changed itself in such a way the way that it causes great damage to human lungs..
That’s why Coronavirus is different from seasonal flu, or H1N1 or any other type of influenza…. this one is slippery AF. And it’s a lung eater…And, it’s already mutated AGAIN, so that we now have two strains to deal with, strain s, and strain L….which makes it twice as hard to develop a vaccine.
We really have no tools in our shed, with this. History has shown that fast and immediate closings of public places has helped in the past pandemics. Philadelphia and Baltimore were reluctant to close events in 1918 and they were the hardest hit in the US during the Spanish Flu.
Factoid: Henry VIII stayed in his room and allowed no one near him, till the Black Plague passed…(honestly…I understand him so much better now). Just like us, he had no tools in his shed, except social isolation…
And let me end by saying….right now it’s hitting older folks harder… but this genome is so slippery…if it mutates again (and it will). Who is to say, what it will do next.
Be smart folks… acting like you’re unafraid is so not sexy right now.
#flattenthecurve. Stay home folks… and share this to those that just are not catching on.”
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