14 March 2020 by Jennifer
Strange times, strange measures. Everyone’s having to learn. Who knew how hard it could be not to touch your face while out & about? :-)
I’ve read a lot this week about the new coronavirus – what’s happened so far, e.g. in China and Italy, what’s happening now, what’s likely to happen next.
My current baseline, as of a few days ago, is: stay home for at least the next few weeks unless there’s a really really good reason to go out, e.g. getting food or helping someone more vulnerable than me, or unless it’s just a walk or bike ride by myself in the early morning. No meetups/gigs, no visiting friends. I had booked a room to organise a thing, and I’ve unbooked it.
And if I do go out, try to pick times when places are the least busy, try not to touch things outside if I don’t need to, and wash my hands when I get in. When I went on a train the other day, I changed my clothes when I got in as well, and put the clothes to sit for a few days so any virus on them would die.
I’ll probably still eventually get the virus – possibly quite soon, because I live with people whose jobs/situations mean they may have to go out more than me. (And I’m old enough that it could hit me pretty hard if/when I do.) But at least I’m taking steps to break the chain of spreading it.
Here’s my line of thinking:
People can be infectious for 2 to 4 days before they show any symptoms at all, so telling people to stay home “if they have a cough” isn’t going to stop it transmitting – though it will enormously help. If I have it already, I don’t wanna be breathing on people.
Cases in countries like the UK are spreading very fast. In that kind of a pattern, early changes make more difference.
Every 1 more person who catches the virus today… because of how fast it spreads, that means maybe 8 more people have it after a week, 60 or 70 the week after. By the same token, every 1 fewer person who catches it today, that’s many many people not in hospital at the point when the hospitals start getting overloaded.
(This kind of pattern is sometimes called “exponential growth”. An example would be 50 → 100 → 200 → 400 → 800 → 1600 → 3200 → 6400 → 12800. An example of not growing exponentially would be 50 → 100 → 150 → 200 → 250 → 300 → 350 → 400 → 450.)
The real number of cases is much higher than official UK stats show, probably about ten times higher and rising. We don’t know exactly, because not everyone is being tested and you can have it without knowing. But you can make a pretty good guess from the number of deaths.
The main way of transmitting the virus is human to human, via the air or by touch. It does survive for 3 days on at least some surfaces, and it’s a good idea to keep that possibility in mind – hence cleaning door handles & suchlike. But it’s thought the main way the virus gets from one person to the next is via teeny tiny droplets coming from an infected person’s lungs when they breathe out or cough.
(This is why, if you have to be in the same space as someone, it helps to stay further apart than usual – makes it more likely that any of those droplets either of you breathes out will harmlessly fall to the floor.)
This virus is very dangerous to anyone whose heart or lungs aren’t that great, or who are on immunosuppressant drugs. For people who survive it, it’s not yet known how much lung damage will remain.
Someone might think, “but they’ll get it eventually anyway”. And that might be true. But the death & damage rate doesn’t only depend on what the virus does to our bodies & how vulnerable the person was. It also depends on how much medical care is available by the time people get sick. When hospitals get overloaded, people die who could’ve lived, or have lasting after-effects they needn’t have got.
Reducing my interactions with other people at this critical time might mean I save someone’s life without even knowing it.
In the space of about two weeks, Italy went from “2 deaths” to “doctors having to choose who gets a chance at treatment / at life, because not enough doctors & not enough equipment”. The UK’s second known COVID-19 death was on 5 March.
Even though not everyone can completely stay away from each other, every little can add up to a lot. Research suggests we could easily halve the transmission with changes in our social habits.
In the 1918 flu epidemic, St Louis cancelled things proactively, Philadelphia waited till things got bad and had twice the death rate in the end. We’re in that choice now.
As well as directly limiting the spread of the virus, every cancellation or little piece of social distancing helps other people to sense the new reality, and feel like “oh, this is how things are at the moment”.
I realise I haven’t given sources for all my info. I may add more of that later – I just wanted to put this up now in case it was useful.
Respect to everyone who’s cancelling or postponing their events & trips, or moving things online. Sympathies with people who are in a financial predicament due to this: government please initiate universal basic income as a health measure. Let’s be ingenious in looking after each other, entertaining each other, and making it all work :-)