On the one hand, it seems everyone is collectively loosing their minds, stockpiling toilet paper and acting like the world is about to end. On the other hand, people are complaining the mass hysteria is completely unjustified and this novel virus is no big deal. In both cases, the conspiracy theorists are in high gear. What are the actual facts, particularly now that we are in a National State of Emergency?
First, the transmission rate of this bug in an otherwise healthy population that has access to and practice with basic hygiene is not precisely known. All the data being put out is based on the small percentage of those who have been tested. But, that can still give us a baseline and some educated guesses. For the record, all the numbers and data below have been culled from the CDC, WHO and respected experts, not internet conspiracy theorists who last month were experts on Constitutional law. Still, because there are a lot of unknowns, we’re going with very general numbers, just to make the point.
There are approximately 320,000,000 souls living in the United States. The actual experts all agree that before this virus burns itself out 80% of the population will be exposed, which means 256,000,000 people. Of those who become infected, 95% or 243,200,000 people be asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms they will not need to seek medical treatment.
The CDC and WHO know only a few things for certain about this bug, but one of them is that approximately 5% of those who become infected will become ill enough to require medical intervention, aka, a hospital stay.
That means 12,800,000 people may require hospital beds. This is the first of the numbers that have the experts concerned, and the reason for the travel bans, the cancellations of public gatherings, the lockdown of nursing homes, and the declaration of a National State of Emergency.
According to a report released by the American Hospital Association, there are 6,146 hospitals in the country, with a combined total of 924,107 beds. If the transmission of this virus, the actual infection rate, isn’t slowed down the entirety of the health care system will collapse.
In this perspective, it makes sense that we take some pretty extreme measures to limit this bug’s opportunities to spread.
Here are some other facts on which the experts agree at least in theory, based on experience and current research. This virus does not like hot or humid conditions, or sunlight. There is disagreement on the actual numbers, but the half-life in the environment of this virus seems to be 5-7 minutes according to some, and 9 minutes according to others. Other research shows the virus can live in the environment in proper conditions for 9 days or more. But all the research agrees this bug does not like temperatures above about 78o, sunlight, or humid conditions, any or all of which reduce the half-life to 2.5 minutes or less.
In other words, it will burn out as the season turns and the weather warms up. It also means we will likely see a resurgence of this bug come fall when the weather turns again. However, by then we will have probably reached the 80% saturation level and the Covid-19 will be just another seasonal bug.
In the meantime, we must take this seriously and do as the experts advise, not because we’re all going to die, but simply because there are finite resources. Most of us will become infected. Some of us will get sick. A few will get very sick, and some will not survive. Most of those who will not survive will die because of poor health or weakened immune systems, both of which are more common the older we get. This is certainly sad and a tragedy for those few individuals, but it does not justify the hysterical hoarding of toilet paper.
Just in case anyone thinks I’m being dismissive, I visited my mother yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the nursing home where she lives was put on lockdown. She’ll be 80 years old this August.
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