We may have reached a tipping point this weekend with recognition about the severity of coronavirus. On top of all the other cancellations and closures, the Governors of Ohio and Illinois ordered the closing of bars and restaurants. California’s Governor ordered the closing of bars, reductions in restaurant capacity, and home isolation for all seniors. Yet spend anytime on social media and you’ll still see people skeptical such steps are necessary or doubting the impact of coronavirus and covid-19.
The only appropriate response now to such doubters is “Stop it!“
To those not yet believing this is a grave public health problem, including by citing current case numbers in the United States (which as-of-today small compared to a full, normal flu season), let’s talk exponential growth.
Above is the rise in cases in Italy, the worst hot spot in the world today. The exponential rise in their case numbers is why they put their country in near lock-down several days ago. And coronavirus has still overwhelmed their health care system. We do not want to repeat that.
Not so fun fact: our trajectory of new cases in the US troublingly mirrors where Italy was at about 10 days ago.
We have a pretty clear choice in the United States. The actions by assorted Governors today were correct, and match what countries like Italy, France, and Spain have done in recent days to shut down places of public gathering, in addition to other social distancing measures, in belated steps to control spread of the virus.
To be clear, Italy gets more attention but, a number of countries in Europe are in deep shit. France and Spain, among others, have ugly trajectories:
One country who had a major outbreak who got it under control has been South Korea. Once they realized they had a major problem brewing they implemented aggressive testing, tracking, containment, and social distancing. They’ve turned the corner, bringing down daily new cases successfully:
We want to be South Korea, not Italy…or France…or Spain.
You still might say, what’s the big deal? It’s just a bad flu, right?
Seasonal flu has a fatality rate of 0.1%. Here are current fatality rates in key countries dealing with coronavirus right now:
- Italy: 7.3%
- Spain: 3.7%
- France: 2.3%
- South Korea: 0.9%
Those are deeply painful. The US fatality rate is currently at 1.7%. Those numbers will change. Like Italy, Spain, and France, our testing regime has not been adequate (samples of media coverage here, here, and here). We’re only catching up now, which means if things are going well case numbers and deaths will naturally rise sharply in the coming days and weeks. If they’re not going well — including because we refuse to take social distancing seriously — they’ll skyrocket.
That’s where our choices now come in, especially if you’re anywhere near a coronavirus hot spot in the US. Take all the CDC-recommended hygiene steps like washing your hands well and frequently. Stay home where possible. Keep space between you and other people where possible when out and about, and be highly prudent about when you go out and about to begin with.
Flattening the curve via social distancing is critical to making sure our health care system isn’t overwhelmed, which would spike the number of deaths as some cases get lesser or no treatment and patients with other major hospital needs, such as heart disease, have trouble accessing care. That’s the brutal reality in Italy now.
What role do each of us play? Those with coronavirus but no symptoms are still major spreaders of the disease. Sure, even many of us that get it with symptoms will be able to self-quarantine and recover at home, indeed like a bad flu. Senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, etc. (all of which are sadly too common in America) we spread it to will not be so lucky. They’re dying in Europe right now in large numbers.
China managed to turn the corner after a tardy response (and attempted cover-up) only by literally locking down entire cities, including Wuhan, which has a population larger than any American city. They still had a fatality rate of 3.9%…after taking those extreme measures.
If we do this well, we’ll look back and feel like maybe we didn’t need to take these drastic steps. If we don’t, we’ll make Italy’s horrific numbers look like kindergarten.
Let’s not do that. Be calm, wash your hands, practice social distancing…and take coronavirus seriously.