Empty shelves for disinfectant wipes wait for restocking, as concerns grow around COVID-19, Tuesday March 3, 2020, in New York. A man from New York City’s suburbs was hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 on Tuesday, a case that prompted school closings and quarantines for congregants of a now-shuttered synagogue. The state’s second confirmed case also raised the possibility that the virus is spreading locally. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
I’ve been trying not to post too much opinion on the virus because we just know so little and so much of what so many people have said has turned out to be wrong. In an era where the “experts” all seem to be saying different things at the same time, I want to be careful not to add to the confusion or misinformation. Also, we’re in this weird place where being wrong about something just once gets you canceled.
I’ve been wrong on this stuff more than once. I am extremely anxious to get the economy back open for business. I think that a long-term quarantine is an insane proposition, and one America won’t and can’t stand. But I’ve also been doing some research while I wait for the next day’s inevitable contradictions.
I know people who are as anxious as I am to reopen America are frequently comparing this to the flu and thus comparing our responses. But, I’ve looked at the flu numbers for California in particular over the last 10 years. I look at the COVID-19 numbers for my county and state every day. I just want to explain from my point of view what I see as the problem here in layman’s terms – without too many numbers or too much fancy terminology. Perhaps there are some readers out there who care what I think and are looking for my assessment. Even if I’m wrong, it is literally my job to tell people what I think about what’s happening in our world today…and pandemic is happening, so bear with me.
The flu has thus far been more lethal, but it isn’t the mortality rates that are the problem. The problem is that COVID is much more contagious than typical flu strains and the level of care needed for severe cases is extremely complicated, unlike the “normal” flu.
California’s sharpest spike in flu deaths was in 2015, but we didn’t hear about it because that spike didn’t overwhelm the hospital system. With COVID the type of care required is very specialized, which of course we know from the news about the need for ventilators and PPE. On a normal basis California might have about 7,000 ICU beds for respiratory patients. That is a minuscule portion of California’s 40 million residents, and more than enough on any given day in pre-COVID California. The total rate of death from COVID is certainly going to be minuscule in comparison to our population and, yes, even in comparison to the flu.
However, the rate of dire cases needing ICU care can continue to be relatively “minuscule” in the face of population numbers and still completely overwhelm the current ICU capacity in any given state or city – and that’s the real problem here. If those beds get overwhelmed it causes a ripple effect in the healthcare chain. The number of people requiring specialized care is still a tiny percentage of the population, but once you have to start turning people away from beds they go home to spread the infection and so on and so forth.
I know I’m saying things most of you know already, but someone may need to hear it. The severity/concern of this virus is in the treatment, not the mortality rates. Overwhelming our system can lead to overwhelming our defense capabilities, supply chains and response times. Overwhelming those systems can lead to much more dire consequences outside of our national health concerns.
This is one reason why it isn’t crazy to assume China has been messing with biological weapons like this. In the game PlagueInc (which I played a lot until a month ago) your greatest weapon in spreading disease is gene mutation. You can accumulate points and “buy” the mutations. In the game, the quickest way to spread disease is to introduce a coughing mutation. The quickest way to cause death is to introduce respiratory failure. I used to be puzzled by this. Why not bleeding, brain deterioration or nervous system failure? Those seem far more serious and far more difficult to combat.
I didn’t know (or care, at the time) what the PlagueInc developers had taken the time to learn: that respiratory failure can quickly deluge the health care system. It is the level and length of care required to save each severe case that causes the breakdown of society, not so much the virus itself. Once the food chain, travel, and security are disrupted, nations are extremely vulnerable. It hastens the spread and the intensifies the death toll. I was weaponizing my game virus to be the perfect killer by creating coughing and lung issues.
And I’m just a stay-at-home mom who gets paid to tell people what she thinks about stuff.
If I were a communist dictator whose only advantage over the world’s lone superpower was the sheer number of people my nation could lose without it creating societal strain, this is exactly the kind of weapon I’d be working on. Did China purposefully release this virus on the world? No one can say definitively yet. I’m only positing a theory, but I think it’s a good and popular one.
This is why even though with each passing day of quarantine I grow more restless to end it, I believe that at this time our current response is warranted. We’re never going to stop COVID. At some point – like the flu – we will all be exposed to it. Most of us will be just fine, but enough of us will require the type of care that could easily gridlock the system. We need a little time to – yes, I’m going to say it – FLATTEN THE CURVE, but also to get our hospital systems up to speed and stocked with equipment. Hopefully in that time we’ll also have made significant advancements in treatments and vaccines (which it looks like we’re doing).
That being said, America can’t and won’t live like this much longer. We’re talking weeks, not months. We’re still a free people and so far most of our quarantining has been voluntary. At some point, Americans will start exercising their freedom because despite our daily whining from both sides of the political fence that we are not truly “free” we actually are as free as a nation can get and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise just to score points in an argument. Our freedom genes will kick in and that’s when we’ll start kickin’. America will need to reopen for business very soon. Our leaders have a duty to prepare, and we have a duty to tell then when enough is enough. It feels like that day is coming sooner rather than later.
Until that time it really is imperative that we follow stay-at-home directives and help to slow the spread at it’s peak. Not because we need to obey the government, but because we need to get back to business as soon as possible. That means offering the government some time to prepare. We’ll need them when we head back into the post-COVID world. The disease will remain until a cure is found but Americans will only stay in one place for so long. Let’s speed up this process by slowing down for just a little bit longer. We can do it.
Then we’re going to get back out there and crush it, like we do.