Exploits medical and political vulnerabilities
February 28th 2020
I want to talk about the coronavirus, and why while it is more serious than your typical flu outbreak, it’s cause for concern, rather than alarm. So to do that, I’m going to have to throw some numbers at you. They’re pretty important numbers, and while some of them are alarming, others are reassuring, and you need them to make a balanced and informed response.
There are far worse possible pandemics waiting out there, such as ebola, smallpox, the plague and measles. Possibly even worse are the ones that don’t exist yet, or are lurking in the thawing grounds in the far north. Compared to those, coronavirus might be considered a warning shot, since even the worst case scenarios have it killing perhaps one percent of the population. That’s a lot of people—seventy million worldwide, but we have a lot of population.
This specific version of coronavirus (there are many) broke out in China late last year and infected much of the city of Wuhan before it was identified and the seriousness of the problem established.
In some ways we’re still in early days, and so the numbers, like the virus itself, will fluctuate and mutate as we go along. Numbers that are accurate today may not be so a month from now. I’ll go with what we have.
The estimated death rate from covid-19 is about 2%. So if you catch it, there’s a one-in-fifty chance you’ll die from it. That’s about 10 to 15 times the death rate from the various forms of flu that come around every winter.
That said, that’s two percent of known cases. Epidemiologists estimate that only one in five cases is severe enough to require hospitalization, usually because pneumonia has set in. Of the other 80% of cases, most are mild enough that people don’t seek medical attention, and thus go unreported. We don’t know how many cases there actually are, and that affects all the numbers. It’s a complete guess how many people are infected by the virus and show no symptoms at all.
That’s the unknown element that skews all the other forecasts about this disease. A lot of unreported cases would suggest a higher communicability factor (ability to spread from one person to others) but with less consequence.
So put it this way: if it hits you hard enough that you notice you aren’t feeling well, there’s a better than 4-in-5 chance you’ll be fine in a week or so. Even if hospitalized, you might be in a regular room rather than in ICU on a vent—only seven percent of all known cases are critical. And a two percent chance your relatives will be engraving “Better him than me” on your tombstone.
So wash your hands frequently, and if it invades your area (and it looks like it will) then avoid public gatherings and public transportation, especially planes, get some good masks, and if you must work with the public, get some latex gloves as well. Better not to catch the disease in the first place, right? If you don’t get it, than two to three other people who otherwise might have caught it from you will be spared.
If it does become a pandemic, then don’t assume as the cases die down and things start returning to normal, that it’s over. Such pandemics tend to ripple around the world in decreasing waves, (in some historical instances, the second wave was actually worse than the first). And in the case of covid-19, there is evidence that it can reinfect, in the first known case less than a month after the original infection and illness had passed. While that case could be a fluke, it suggests the unsettling possibility of a very high mutation rate, which not only means various forms of this sickness sweeping the global at the same time, but would make developing an effective vaccine nearly impossible. Let’s…just hope that doesn’t happen, OK? If does, we’re screwed, pure and simple.
Americans are more vulnerable than most people in the developed world, partly because of the twenty seven million people who are uninsured, along with a vicious corporate attitude that punishes employees for calling in sick. Other Americans are looking at sizable copays, and aren’t going to live on Ramen for six months so they can see the doctors for a case of the sniffles. You are at the mercy of these people if you are lucky enough not to be amongst them already.
A fellow named Anand Giridharadas @AnandWrites tweeted: “Coronavirus makes clear what has been true all along. Your health is as safe as that of the worst-insured, worst-cared-for person in your society. It will be decided by the height of the floor, not the ceiling.”
And we have a nightmare administration to deal with this. Putting the psychotically god-struck Mike Pence in charge is like taking the homeless guy with the filthy rag and the bottle of glass cleaner who stands on a busy street corner and rants about the reptilian people and putting him in charge of the military.
Actually, looking at who IS in change of the military, we already have that. Donald Trump gave a presser that had some of the least convincing lies ever told, even by him (such as there’s only 15 cases and it will be over in two weeks because April come she will) and is more furious at the world markets for panicking then he is worried about containing the virus.
It is fair to blame Trump and the Republicans for our lack of preparedness: they deliberately and systematically dismantled the government pandemic response organization because it was set up by Obama, and they are deliberately destroying anything Obama did. Historians will never understand why this administration is so viciously, self-defeatingly stupid, because minds like Trump’s are so far outside our normal experience.
And they’ve already ordered the remaining public officials to have any and all public pronouncements screened through the administration. So ideology will trump medical necessity, and expect to hear many unconvincing lies from that crowd, that being their only way of dealing with it.
Contamination and training processes were totally blown off when the administration decided to evacuate Americans from the stricken Chinese city of Wuhan. They flew the people, both infected and uninfected on the same plane to Travis AFB. There, untrained government reps interviewed and processed the returnees without benefit of protective gear or even basic sterilization procedures. Then the asymptomatic people, and the people who dealt with them, were free to go their own way. At least one took a commercial flight to Boston. Not surprisingly, a woman in nearby Vacaville developed the disease several days later who had no known contact with Travis or the alleged contagion teams. And as of a few minutes ago, this popped up: The Washington Post quoted Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins centre for health security, as saying:
“I think there’s a strong possibility that there’s local transmission going in California. In other words, the virus is spreading within California, and I think there’s a possibility other states are in the same boat. They just haven’t recognised it yet.” That’s a couple of hundred miles from me, but I’m not worried. After all, Donald’s going to protect me, right?
Don’t trust the government on this, but don’t panic, either. The known numbers suggest that while you are likely to catch it, you’re more likely to get over it in a few weeks. And you can greatly improve your odds of not catching it by washing your hands frequently, and if you must be in close contact with the public, wear a mask and gloves and don’t let your hands (or anyone else’s) anywhere near your face.
We’ve already survived Trump and the Republicans thus far. We can survive this, too.