Why I’m being especially careful about Covid-19 (and you should, too!)

I haven’t read a succinct explanation for why one should take the Coronavirus seriously, so I thought I’d take a shot at writing one.

I have heard this a lot: “Over ten thousand people have already died from the flu this year. Coronavirus is nothing compared to the flu!”

I sincerely hope that Covid-19 turns out to be no big deal. That would be great! However, there is a meaningful chance that is not how things will shake out.


Some stats:

Covid-19 is 2x as contagious as the flu…

…and significantly more deadly. Those who catch it are something like 20x more likely to die from it.

Here’s how I interpret these two things:

The average person who gets Covid-19, gives it to somewhere between 2 and 3.1 people (let’s call it 2.5). And those 2.5 will give it to 6.25. And those 6.25 will give it to 15.6. And so on.

As I understand it, it’s more contagious because it has a longer incubation period. Something like two weeks vs a few days. And people are asymptomatic for longer, so they aren’t doing as much as they could/should to avoid spreading it to others—infected people are just naively lallygagging around smearing a deadly virus on their friends!

More contagious + more deadly = lots and lots and lots more risk.

The regular flu isn’t all that deadly. It knocks you out, but it is really unlikely to kill you (even if you are elderly). Covid-19 is different. At current mortality rates, if somewhere between 30 and 50 people get it, one of them is going to die. 1 in 400 for those under 40, 1 in 30 for those in their 60s, and 1 in 7 for those over 80. If every grandparent gets Covid-19 within the next few months, in 2020 we could lose 10% of all the world’s grandparents to the virus!

That sounds terrible, and especially so if there is nothing we can do about it. However, there is something we can do!

We are some indefinite period of time away from a vaccine (maybe a year, maybe more, maybe less), and while everyone is eventually going to be exposed to this, the more we can slow the spread, the better a chance we will give to those who are unexposed that they can be immunized via a vaccine or protected via herd immunity. Also, I imagine a year of experience will improve our treatments for those infected.

If, however, it spreads super fast—say, everyone on the planet gets it within three months—that’s 8 billion souls getting exposed, and 2% to 3% dying. At 2.5%, that’s (gulp) 200 million people dead.

“Only” about 500,000 humans die each year from the flu.

However, if we are super diligent about slowing the spread (canceling conferences, washing hands, elbow bumps, etc), we can dramatically decrease the mortality rate and the rate of infection. I assume that in a best case scenario, we can reduce the Covid-19 rate of transmission and mortality rate down to something like that of the flu. Maybe we could even eradicate it (I don’t know if this is a possibility, but I guess anything is possible).

Of course, I’m unlikely to die from this; I am a young (46 year old) whipper snapper. But I take it as my personal responsibility as a gentleman to do my best to postpone my inevitable exposure for as long as reasonably possible, thereby limiting my likelihood of transmitting it to others.

If I get it today, then someone who is somehow connected to me is going to die. But if I am not exposed to it for another year, then that’s probably (hopefully!) not going to be the case.

So wash your hands, people!