JACKSON — There’s a lot of good news on the COVID-19 front: New cases are dropping. Daily deaths are dropping. Our hospitals are managing their caseloads. We haven’t run out of ventilators. All and all, we are responding to this viral challenge.
Every single country that has encountered this virus is producing the classic bell curve first postulated by William Farr, the founder of modern medical statistics.
Farr discovered that epidemics follow a normal bell shape curve. Initially, the number of cases rises rapidly. Then they level off and fall back down in a predictable pattern.
National death predictions have dropped dramatically, from millions of deaths down to 60,000. That’s fewer deaths than killed by the flu in the 2017-2018 flu season.
It stands to reason, international lockdowns have helped stymie the virus. To what extent will be debated for decades to come. Sweden decided to continue on as normal and its stats show the same Farr’s law curve that lockdown nations exhibit.
As we begin antibody testing, we are discovering that most people who get the virus have no symptoms or very mild symptoms. As a result, COVID-19 is turning out to be a lot less deadly than we initially thought.
Last week, Germany conducted the first wide-scale antibody testing by testing an entire city. Turns out 14% of the population had COVID-19 antibodies compared to 2% that got COVID-19.
That means for every one sick person there were seven people that had no illness or had an illness too mild to notice. This is bad news in one way. It will be very hard to stop the transmission of a virus that is unnoticeable in seven out of eight people it infects. But it’s good news in another way. The virus, on a percentage basis, is far less deadly than we initially thought.
Factoring in the asymptomatic exposures, the novel coronavirus has a fatality rate of one out of every 337 people who get infected. In comparison, the common flu kills one out of every 1,000 people infected.
So COVID-19 is three times more deadly than the flu. This is a serious disease we are grappling with, but it’s not outside of the scope of the world to handle. Earlier reports indicated COVID-19 was 30 times more deadly than the flu.
Once you get exposed to an infection-level dose of SARS-COV-2, the average incubation time is five days before you get sick (if you get sick). After that, you are infectious for up to two weeks. That means a one-month national “shelter-at-home” quarantine should knock the wind out of this virus’ sails, if possible. The entire world is united behind this great effort. It is amazing to see such a global effort. But if this one-month effort fails, then it may be time to acknowledge that the virus is not containable. Despite our best efforts, it may run its course like the flu and all the other infectious diseases that plague mankind.
This is a trade-off that our leadership must assess carefully. We cannot let a disease three times worse than the flu destroy the global economic system that saves far more lives through its productivity than COVID-19 could ever kill through its lethality.
More affluent nations could withstand such an economic depression, but poorer countries will face catastrophes, indeed, starvation.
Economists estimate that the economic shutdown has caused up to a 30% decline in economic production. Spread out over 12 months, a one-month economic decline of 30% is only an annual decline of 2.5%. We can afford that. We can overcome that.
But a two-month shutdown becomes a 5% decline and so on. We begin to enter depression territory. Each month takes a greater financial toll with no guarantee of successfully stopping the virus.
Already 16 million Americans have lost their jobs. Unemployment causes stress which can weaken the human immune system, our greatest defense against COVID-19.
We already get infected annually with four less deadly coronaviruses every year. They cause 30% of common colds. This new coronavirus will probably evolve to a less deadly form. There are already dozens of different strains of the disease. Typically, viruses evolve toward a symbiotic relationship with their host.
What I am saying here is that we need to have perspective, indeed a sense of statistics, or we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.
In a typical month, 100 people die in Mississippi of respiratory diseases. So far, that’s how many Mississippians have died from the coronavirus in all of March and half of April. Over half of these victims were more than 80 years old. Almost all of these victims had underlying issues.
This is identical to how pneumonia works. The chance of dying from pneumonia increases each year after age 60. By the time a person is 80, pneumonia is a serious threat. It is the seventh-leading cause of death. It kills older people and people who have compromised immune systems. We’ve been living with it forever, and life goes on.
There are dozens of viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia including rhinovirus, influenza virus, adenovirus, and parainfluenza and four other common coronaviruses.
What we really need to know is whether the overall death rate in the United States and Mississippi has increased or not because of COVID-19. Unfortunately, those statistics are not currently available.
A thousand different viruses attack our immune systems each year. Most haven’t even yet been identified. Yet only one, COVID-19, threatens to send us into an economic tailspin. We have to be careful lest the mouse frightens the elephant into jumping off a cliff.
Rather than being overcrowded, our nation’s hospitals are practically shut down because all elective surgeries have been cancelled. The halls and beds are empty. This is causing untold human suffering. Perspective!
As a nation, we need to take a cue from the heroic efforts of our doctors, nurses and health care workers. They are not sheltering at home. They are going about their business of saving lives.
Just the same, many of us produce food, medical products, critical services and products that are vital to the functioning of our society. We are going to have to overcome our newly acquired hypochondria and get back to work.
After this month is over, we will still need to be cautious. Elbow bumping can replace hand shaking. Sick people can self quarantine. Vigorous and frequent hand washing needs to be practiced. But we will have to get out of our homes and get back to work.
COVID-19 is tracking to kill about as many people as car accidents this year. Car accident victims are often young, healthy and in the prime of life. Yet every day we get in our cars and drive. We accept the risk for the convenience. Many even speed.
Eventually, in a free country, each individual must decide what risk they want to take. Those who want to continue to shelter at home are free to do so. But soon the government should let each individual decide how they want to handle this risk. These government decrees must have a time limit.
It is so ironic that the government banned churches during Easter, preventing tens of millions from worshiping the one who conquered death. Death is noxious and a plague on mankind. But it does not get the final say.